There’s been a lot of chit-chat online recently as to whether it is worth spending money on wine. Brian Palmer at Slate magazine suggested that we are spending too much money on wine and that a lot of people can’t tell the difference between a $3 and a $15 bottle. He also said that the industry was trying to push the $15 price tag as an everyday wine and that if one were to drink such wine all year, they’d soon be spending about $4,000 a year.
He went on to suggest that European’s don’t spend that much and suggested that the average bottle of wine sold in Germany is under 2€ in price. You can read his interesting article here.
The rest of the wine world was quick on the uptake with many critics claiming that Palmer was simply talking nonsense and that there is a reason $2-3 wine shouldn’t be bought. However, this is an age-old debate. It is also, in some parts of the world, a social discussion where people immediately come up with two arguments against spending money.
Only the rich understand wine and I can’t afford the good stuff.
This is not the case. Everyone can understand wine, it’s just a matter of wanting to get involved and having to invest a moderate amount of money and time into it. I’m not rich and I have a feeling for wine. In fact, I work in a supermarket in an area where money doesn’t appear to be an object and sometimes I have the opinion that those with money simply reach for the top shelf and the most expensive wine without even considering whether it is the best wine in the rack. I tend to be of the belief that the wine experts (albeit those shopping for wine in supermarkets) tend to be those who take their time and purchase the best wine they can with the money they have in their pockets – something the rich don’t have to bother about.
An example: I recently sold a (presumably well-off) lady a very poor bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape (one that I have tried and would probably rate as the worst CdP I’ve ever had the misfortune of drinking). However, it is the second most expensive wine the supermarket sells and I’m sure she bought it purely because of this. A few hours beforehand, a man was at my till and purchased a lovely Italian red for less than half the price which is, completely unrelated to personal taste (I love CdP), a much better wine. He thought about his purchase and he didn’t look like the kind of man who had a Porsche downstairs in the car-park but still knew what he was doing.
I’m sure that the rich have more of a possibility of enjoying and understanding wine but they rarely have to confront the price/quality boundary and I’m a firm believer that “everyday wine” should not only be measured in quality but the quality should be compared to price: an everyday 9/10 pointer wine isn’t a 9/10 wine for me if it costs more than 10€. I’d rather go for an 8 pointer at 6€ than a 9 at 10€ if you get where I’m coming from.
This is common practise in Germany and is commonly referred to as Preis-Leistungs-Verhältnis (literally Price/Performance ratio). A typical German would rather spend 100€ on a pair of shoes that’ll hold for 5 years than a 30€ pair every year – something that drives their quality manufacturing economy and something that isn’t as prominent in other European nations.
I can’t taste the difference between a 2€ and 15€ bottle
Yes, you can. Sorry, but this is a view that I certainly don’t support. I’ll be honest with you; I’m not the world’s best wine taster, that’s why I tend to write a lot about regions, grapes and introduce new areas of viticulture rather than permanently review wines. Most of my expertise in tasting comes from my girlfriend who is has learned how to taste wines properly. I can do it, but I’m not the best and this hinders me in becoming a proper wine taster (which some people have probably noticed).
I was of exactly this opinion before I tried it, I come from a beer drinking family where wine is only sometimes drunk with the roast on Sunday and only because it has to be. Why bother spending 15€ on Merlot when there’s a bottle in Aldi for 2€? The answer is quite simple: because the 15€ bottle certainly is a lot better. Please note that I’m not trying to suggest that it is 13€ worth better (that is up to you). Unless you try expensive wine you won’t know, don’t simply say you won’t notice the difference because you will although I guess you won’t be ready to admit it in a hurry.
When you go into a proper American or Burger restaurant and you order a Hamburger, does it taste better than the ones you get at McDonald’s? Of course it does, its more expensive but the difference is worth it, the story with wine is the same: cheap wines are produced as part of massive manufacturing processes with little attention paid to quality and nearly all attention thrown in the direction of quantity and mass-marketing. If you buy a bottle of Blossom Hill at a fiver, think about it.
Blossom Hill comes from the USA. First and foremost, substitute the tax which makes up most of the wine’s price, and then subtract shipping, the bottle itself, the advertising costs (TV, sponsorship and print). Now think about the massive operational budget of such a huge vineyard and manufacturing process, marketing, flashy-bottle design and how much is left over at the end and is actually spent on making the wine: hardly anything.
This process can, of course, be applied to other wines and producers but, as a (very) general rule, more expensive wine is usually produced in smaller amounts with less focus on advertising and marketing and more of the revenue being spent on vine maintenance and altogether bettering the quality of the wine for future vintages.
Try it, more expensive wine is (in most cases) better and you will notice the difference. Again, remember the German way of thinking: do you need to spend 100€ on a bottle? Probably not and it probably isn’t worth it for a beginner either. Sometimes spending a tenner instead of buying the usual tat is well worth it, even for those who don’t know anything about wine. It doesn’t need to be done everyday.
Basically I’m of the opinion that it isn’t always necessary to spend $15 every day on a bottle, I’d never condone that kind of spending because I can’t afford it either. Furthermore, the price of the bottle should reflect what you’re doing with it. If you’re sitting on the sofa watching Eastenders with a takeaway then I’m sure Mr. Gallo’s wines and those from Blossom Hill are fulfilling their purposes. If you’ve friends round for dinner and you’re enjoying great home cooked food, that cheap Aussie Shiraz should be replaced for something a bit better – you’ll notice it and you’ll be happy you’re doing so.
Palmer’s not incorrect in suggesting that everyday wine shouldn’t amount to four grand in a year but I think he’s wrong in suggesting that most people won’t be able to tell the difference. I certainly believe that everyone, wine drinker or not, can tell the difference and can understand where the difference in price comes from. It’s just important not to go over the top and to make sure that you don’t have such an expensive wine every day.