How Much?

I finally finished my wine inventory a few weeks ago. It took me a solid three weekends. Shortly thereafter, we went out to Napa and Sonoma and visited a few wineries, bought about a case and a half of wine and I added that in to inventory. Through all the counting and organizing, I realized that I pretty much have a rather solid threshold of how much I will pay for a bottle of wine.

But why is that? Certainly, some has to do with economics–I am not independently wealthy. I think the most I have ever paid is $100ish for some Champagne, but Champagne does not count. I go to tastings though and see bottles north of $100 and never even consider buying them. Would I rather have three bottles at $30, or one at $100. For me, at least, that is a fairly obvious choice. Is $100 bottle twice as good as the $50 bottle that I do buy occasionally?

romanee-conti-domaine-de-la-romanee-conti-2009For me, there are numerous wines that I would love to try, but there is no way in heck that I will ever buy any. Joe Roberts (1winedude) recently went to a Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) tasting up in NYC (why he did not let me tag along is a subject for yet another rant). As many of you probably already know, DRC, located in Vosne Romanée in Burgundy, produces what is widely considered the most expensive wines in the world. Sure I would love to taste them, but paying several thousand dollars a bottle is completely ridiculous.

I guess I have an upper threshold above which it becomes meaningless. I am not talking about the money here, per se, but the quality. I use a 100 point scale here on this site (I know that there is a bit of controversy over the 100 point scale in general, but that will have to wait for a Thursday rant). I consider anything above around a 92 to be “Outstanding”. How much more cash are you willing to put out to go higher on that scale? It seems that each “point”, each incremental increase on the level of quality is met with a much larger increase in price. [For you math geeks out there, I consider it an exponential relationship.]marcassin_three_sisters_vineyard_pinot_noir--vintage_2002_2002_2_bottl_d5654886h

So my questions to you:

How much are you willing to pay for a bottle of wine?
Is drinking a bottle of say, a Marcassin Three Sisters Pinot Noir (~$150) three times better than a HIrsch Vineyards San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir (~$50)?Hirsch

I have pulled enough corks that I think I can tell the difference between wines at different price points. Usually a $20 wine is better than a $10 bottle. $30 is usually still better, and so on.

At what point does it just become ridiculous?

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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56 Responses to How Much?

  1. Asueba says:

    My vote is for Hirsch…A friend recently told me that he think Turley has lost her touch.

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  2. Great post…I am always looking at wine prices. Artisan wines tend to be a little more although you may find some great Artisan wines at some great prices… (wink wink) – I believe most people will buy what they are use to buying, whether it be a $100 bottle of wine or a $10 bottle of wine.

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    • I imagine it has to be tough on your end trying to find the right price…

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      • It is very difficult. I want to have it affordable so people will buy. Not have it so inexpensive that people think it’s not good. And not have it so expensive that they won’t buy it. Your thoughts?

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      • I once heard of a winery that was having trouble selling a certain label. They discounted it and sales tanked even further. Later, they raised the price beyond the original price and it sold out in two weeks. It seems like a really wacky market–does the average wine buyer base purchases on taste?

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  3. Duff's Wines says:

    Agree with passagiowines. People get into a price point comfort zone. On an absolute scale, I can’t see how the experience can ever justify some of the prices that wines command. Market factors, in my opinion, create the price almost as much as experience. Agree that price (eg. $10 versus $20) can be determinant with exception of value regions like Rhone, Spain, and Southern Italy where I’ve found price point not as important. On the question of what I buy, nothing over $100 for sure and most $20 to $30. And while we’re talking about price point, it’s getting a little nuts out there. Way too many big ticket wines.

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  4. talkavino says:

    Jeff, this is an excellent post – but the subject is very tough. Yes, I really would like to know how many bottles of Screaming Eagle at $2500 each are actually consumed versus just become an object of snobbish bragging and future resell.
    I have no problems buying and enjoying wines at $1.99. At the same time, my approach to wines is based on the idea of experiences – I would like to experience different things in life when I can – therefore, for instance, we paid with two friends $400 for the bottle of 1947 Rioja – it was a good price for experience.

    Now, looking in generic terms, wine is not any different from any other things in life – someone is driving Ford Fiesta, and someone is driving BMW 7-series. There are many people who can afford to pay $400 for a bottle of Harlan and to do it every day – and this is what they do…

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    • Great point about buying an experience, some of my more memorable wine experiences were “splurges”. It was as much about the company as it was about the wine.

      The thing about the Fiesta v. BMW comparison: you drive them each more than once!

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      • talkavino says:

        Jeff, we need to continue this F2F – this might be a very long thread otherwise. Let me try this:
        1. Every time you drive BMW, you probably enjoy it more that someone enjoys driving Fiesta.
        2. Let’s say that 7 series costs $100K. This is enough money to enjoy that Harlan bottle at $400 for about 250 times.
        3. Some people might be choosing wines, and some people might be choosing cars – the question is only how people prefer to spend their money. Both 7-series and Harlan are not basic necessities and not something you have to have – it is only something which you decided you want to have…

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      • I think we might be in a bit of a heated agreement here. I agree that at different income levels, people make different choices. Someone who make $50K a year will likely not drive a BMW or drink $100/bottle wine. As you move up the income ladder, generally speaking, your “tastes” move up as well. I do think that wine is a bit different than most goods in that it is a one use product (you could argue that “possessing” the wine in the cellar provides some pleasure or “worth” and I would agree). Some might opt for a Honda so they can drink more Harlan, others might opt for Coors Light so they can justify a BMW.

        More to my point was how much are you willing to spend for a small, incremental increase in quality? At what point does it become the law of diminishing returns?

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  5. I tend to drink primarily inexpensive wines. And my blog at Oenophilogical is focused on quite inexpensive selections (aka cheap). That is in some part due to the fact that over the years I HAVE purchased wines that were over $100 a bottle – a Heitz Cab, an Opus One, a Gaja Barbaresco, for example. Yes, I can tell the difference in an OK wine, a decent wine, and a better wine. Often the price points correspond: low, medium, and high. But … not always. That’s the treasure hunt I’m on – finding those exceptions. I agree with you that the higher you go on the wine price scale, the more you pay for a smaller increase in the quality. Knowing myself, I’m sure I’ll splurge again. But it won’t be a frequent occurrence to be sure.

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    • I think you have done a great job looking at the inexpensive selection side of things–and that is kind of where I was trying to go. If there is good/great wine at lower price points, why is there so much at higher prices? Is it just those with a lot of disposable income setting the market?

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  6. I am just recently delving into my exploration with different wines, so my perspective probably doesn’t have as much legitimacy as those of you that have experienced so many fabulous wines. Maybe my palate isn’t as refined yet, but when I did a blind tasting, not knowing the pricing of the wines we were drinking, I could not differentiate between the good values and pricier wines. For a weekday wine I prefer to spend $10-$15, weekend wines I stay around $15-30 and special occasion wines I will go up to $50 or $60.

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    • Well, in my opinion, everyone’s experience has “legitimacy” no matter the level of “experience”! Wine is a great product that supplies many people with a lot of joy. Your expenditures are very similar to mine–no need or ability to go crazy all the time.

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  7. cyardin says:

    I think you are right, once you get past the ~$100 mark, it starts getting to the point of silliness and the frivolity of wine snobbery. There is definitely a difference in the quality of a $10 wine versus a $50 wine, but there is now wine on the planet which is 50 times better than the $10 one.

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    • It would be great fun to do some blind tastings with those that spend $100+/bottle. At the same time, maybe the “label” or price tag supplies them with some pleasure as well (and I say that with no judgment–we both know riding a Colnago vs. a Schwinn is not really a fair fight–even if there is no discernible difference!).

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  8. dakegrodad says:

    This is very interesting . In my country”canada” you can get cheep wine and it is not good and you can get good wine and it is not cheep. Being the patriotic person I am I try to drink local wines, my threshold is around $35 there are times I go to $50 but seldom. There are not many drinkable wines from here under $20. There seem to be quite a few wines available in the $25 to $30 range.

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    • I am with you, it is the rare under $20 bottle that I find all that compelling any more. Glad to hear you have a similar “problem” in a way—I thought I was becoming far too snobby for my own good!

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  9. Jeff,
    This is a very interesting topic. I started tasting and enjoying wines when I was in High School and let us just say that a $30 bottle of wine then was a King’s Ransom to me, but it allowed me the chance to see what a wine from a great vineyard should taste like, and I try to find affordable wines from those areas that I enjoyed without breaking the budget. I will probably never buy another DRC and I am glad that I had a surprising chance to enjoy a glass of Screaming Eagle, because it is way out of my league. It is amazing what one can find by working backwards in the pursuit of wines. I have had Chateau Margaux several times, but if I can find a minor chateau from Margaux I am ecstatic. I don’t know what my maximum threshold for price is, I guess it depends on the moment and the wine. I know that I have have been pleasantly surprised at a great wine at a bargain price and been disappointed by an expensive bottle, but that is part of the joy of wines and why I am a Raconteur.
    – John

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    • Great comment John! I often hear stories similar to yours about wine prices before I started drinking wine and I am quite envious—they just sound way too good to be true. Will wine drinkers, say 30 years from now, look back at today and feel envious? “You mean you could get Dom Pérignon for $125?!?”

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  10. Fitwellmom says:

    I would be willing to pay about $150 cdn for a bottle but I would be heartbroken if I didn’t like it. For the record, the most I’ve paid is about $100.

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  11. herschelian says:

    A thought provoking post – these days I am an advocate of moderately priced ‘good’ wine rather than expensive ‘great’ wine. One reason being that my husband, I, and our friends and family probably drink too much of the stuff, and it would become ruinously costly to buy the top wines. Another reason is I learnt a sad lesson 20+ years ago. My husband is a Burgandy lover rather than a Bordeaux fan; we were on our family summer holiday driving through France and decided to stop for lunch in Romanee-Conti. In a fit of mad extravagance I decided to buy a case of R-C to be put down for a few years to be a birthday gift to my husband when he turned 50 (BTW it was very, very expensive but nothing like the jaw-dropping prices they get now). It was a good year, and I was very pleased with myself and my generosity. Came his 50th birthday. I arranged a very special dinner party with good friends, most of whom were quite knowledgeable about wine. The wine had been brought up from our cellar, then a couple of hours in advance I opened a couple of bottle ….half an hour later I tasted the wine…arghh the first bottle was corked. So was the second….and the third. There were then two great bottles, then another corked bottle. I was distraught – it was like pouring money down the drain. In all, out of the whole 12 bottle case there were only 7 drinkable bottles. We did enjoy them but it was disappointing to say the least. Since then I have never ventured into the higher-reaches of wine buying – having said that a friend and I splashed out one lunchtime recently on a superb bottle of Chateau Beychevelle to celebrate her 60th birthday.

    One of the wine bloggers I read regularly is The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club, you might enjoy reading it too.

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  12. Good discussion topic! I have a hard time spending more than about $50 for a bottle. I do like supporting small producers, and feel that $20-40 can be well worth it for a unique, enjoyable product.

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  13. I may lose face in the wine world with my answer, but the most i have ever spent was $30. I just can’t justify spending more on that. I’d say my average weekend wine is $15-$20 with special occasion wines topping that number. During the week, and don’t judge, we drink Black Box.

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    • There is no losing face here (Lord knows I have tried)! I conducted a tasting with some box wines not too long ago and they are certainly not to be sneered at—good wine, great price, no spoilage, environmentally “better”.

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  14. How much am I willing to pay for a bottle of wine? Well, I’m definitely willing to pay more now than I was 20 years ago. I think price point is something that evolves — along with your pocketbook and your palate. When my husband and I were first married (20+ years ago), $20 was a major expense for a bottle of wine. But back then my husband was a boot lieutenant in the USMC, and well, no one joins the Marine Corps for the money. But over the years, our professions have changed, and so have our palates and our price points for wines. Currently, my price point is between $10 (on the low end) and $100 (on the high end), with most of my wines in the $30-60 range. I buy what I like . . . and what I like seems to cost between $30 and $60 with a handful of exceptions on both ends.

    I agree with you that price makes a big difference in the jump between meh wine and outstanding wine. You get what you pay for . . . to a point. I’ve wasted a lot of money over the years trying to find a $10 (or even $20) bottle of Pinot that I like. But at that price point, they are just meh for me. A $30 bottle is better. But make the leap to Pinot in the $40-70 range . . . it’s like Bacchus just handed me the keys to Mt. Olympus. After that, the lines start to blur. I’ve never been convinced that a $500 bottle of Pinot is $430 *better* than a $70 bottle.

    My two cents . . .

    Salud!!

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    • I am completely with you on the Pinot thing. If there were a bottle of $20 Pinot that did not taste like watered down Kool Aid without the sugar, I would be all over it. And you are exactly right—$50 is pretty much the threshold for a really good bottle of Pinot for me. $500 for a bottle is just insanity…..

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  15. Stefano says:

    Personally, I agree with your approach, Jeff. Or at least, that’s what I do too.
    I don’t mind getting to taste super expensive bottles at wine tasting events or whenever lucky breaks occur (I am sure glad I got to try the Caberlot, the Annamaria Clementi, Opus One, a 1974 Yquem and the 1995 Sassicaia) but I am not prepared to shell out the (to me) absurd kind of money that buying those bottles requires. Especially because I think there is, relatively speaking, greater quality differential between a $10 bottle and a good $40 bottle than between a good $40 bottle and a $200/300 bottle. I like it better to spend the time to get to know the various producers and their wines trying to identify good bottles that I enjoy drinking at decent price points than paying an obscene price tag for that one bottle that, after I drink it, is going to remain just a memory and it is not going to be replaced in my cellar any time soon.
    Great post as usual.

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  16. It’s hard to compare wine prices between here and the US – I think there’s more to it than simply the exchange rate. I don’t earn a lot of money so I can’t afford to spend a lot on wine. I can usually get a perfectly decent bottle for around £10. £20 will get me a very nice wine, but that would be for a special occasion only. I wouldn’t spend more than that: my taste buds aren’t sophisticated enough to justify it 🙂

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  17. Would you mind if I reference this post in a post I am writing on my blog and include a link to your blog? I love the conversation you have going here and it dovetails into the everyday wine concept I want to write about soon.

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  18. Pingback: Everyday Wines | Savor

  19. Pingback: Sunday Read: The Joy and Mystery of Drinking the Classics | the winegetter

  20. Normally, I think $60 is too much to pay for a bottle of wine. $45 is the top I’ll usually pay for a special holiday/extra-special splurge. $15-$20 has always gotten us wonderful wine by the case–hunting out bargains; I suppose the retail on those bottles would have been $25-$30, but even that is more than I care to pay for a weekday or weekend bottle. Just once, however, we paid $200 for a Grange (which was a great bargain). We’re generally very frugal, and this was entirely out of character. In all honesty, it was THAT much better than anything else I had ever tasted. Shared with a discerning and dear friend on the occasion of a reunion — it was totally unforgettable. I’ll probably bore my great-grandchildren with the reminiscence of it when I’m 90. (Because it’s unlikely that I’ll ever pay that much for a bottle of wine again).

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    • I agree with pretty much all of your price points–$50 is pretty steep for me so it better be really good. I have had a few special bottles that I have saved for particular occasions and they have been memorable. Maybe the subject of another post–is it the wine or the occasion that makes the wine oh so good?

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  21. This is great! Thank you! My husband and I often have this argument over the price of wine and if the price really does determine the quality of the wine or does it determine more the marketing ability of the wine. I came to France because even a cheap bottle of French wine is almost always going be better than any cheap wine I could find in the states- thus far that statement seems to be true. I do miss the ‘big’ bottles, but every once in a while you find an 8€ bottle that stands out. The price is not always a factor. I mean in France, most bottles are the price they are and come with a certain expectation because of their price in history… and history does change sometimes (rather slowly in France) but is can change.

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    • I have had very similar experiences with wine in France–the 5-8€ bottles are usually quite good! The “big” wines tend to be way too expensive still, but with such good wines at the lower end, it takes the sting away quite a bit.

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  22. jimvanbergen says:

    I love this post, and the commentary- and there’s so much of it! The problem is once you’ve tasted the amazing wine. I’ve attended wine dinners, wine tastings, and had my mind blown by high quality stuff. When someone says ‘try this’ and you find sensations you’ve never experienced before, you are often times will to pay the price. My daily quaffs range from 8-15 on average, but I belong to an artisan wine club that sells pricey bottles ($30-75) and I certainly love them all. I do cringe when a bottle is over $50, but there have been times, especially with old world wines, where $100, even $200 is no object for the right vintage. And I’ve bought at auction and paid more than I should for wine I couldn’t find elsewhere. Here’s a good example: I was drinking $56 bottles of red and white Smith-Haut Laffitte until it skyrocketed with the 2009 vintage. I’ve seen bottles going for $250 and more for what I consider to be a great $50 wine that on average sits in the low 90’s point-wise, with the exception of two banner seasons. Ouch! It’s painful to see that scores from a few critics are all the rage- must like the modern financial market. THE

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    • You’re exactly right–once you get that taste of the “good stuff” and are unfortunate enough to know the difference, it is going to be expensive!

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      • jimvanbergen says:

        And after thinking about this for some time, I think in the pricing of wine, value DECREASES as cost increases and there is a ceiling for 95% if consumers. For example, a great $10 bottle that drinks like a $20 bottle, a great $25 or $30 bottle that drinks like $50, but once you pass that $100-200 bottle, you have crossed the great barrier reef and are in MNO (money is no object) or total wine snob territory, because we can all find great wines in the $50-$10 range we’d love to drink that compare well with most vineyards (vineyards, not vintages) in the same range. And I know for me, it’s wine snobbery that makes me spend over $100 on a vintage just to taste that vineyard- ’cause it’s surely not MNO!

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      • That is really a great point–“wine satisfaction” certainly could be found at $50 or under. going over is just showing off!

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  23. jimvanbergen says:

    Whoops, pinkie fail! Apologies!
    Continuing my rant: (the) securities market, housing market, commodities, tech stocks, gold- we’ve seen these fluctuations and the end buyer is usually getting the shaft while the middlemen scramble to buy and sell smart and some people make a fortune while others lose their homes. Is it the same in the wine industry? It appears to be so, sadly. I’m glad my cellar is small and pretty full, so I can’t buy case after case of futures as I’d like to.

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