Monday, November 5, 2012

Rant: Wine Prices Matter Plenty

Forget the type of grape or blend. Forget the name of the wine region. Forget the pretty labels. Probably the most important factor in buying wine is price. It may seem obvious yet it often is unsaid or ignored and is worthy of more prominence.

This past weekend, I hung out with my friend Adam of Wine-Zag, and the issue of wine prices arose on two different occasions. The first time was more indirectly, at a poker game where we drank four different wines, including the 2009 Damien Lorieux Tuffeaux Bourgueil. This was a superb wine and what made it even more compelling was that it only costs $15 per bottle! Such a great value wine in that $10-$15 sweet spot.

It is these types of wines, inexpensive but that over deliver, which really excite wine lovers. It is easy to find and enjoy high-end wines, but there is a special thrill in finding those special, low priced wines that present a great value. Very few people can afford to buy expensive wines all the time. If you drink wine regularly, maybe 4-7 times a week, you have to stock up on inexpensive wines, especially those $15 and under. Very good wines can be found at this price point and I recently gave people advice on buying wines under $10. Everyone wants to know about these types of wines.

We have certain expectations for a wine dependent on its price point. For example, what we expect from a $10 wine is different than what we expect from a $25 wine. In essence, we expect that a more expensive wine should be higher quality than a cheaper wine. It is seen as a generalization and we understand there are exceptions at all price points. When we talk about "value" wines, we generally mean that a wine exceeds our expectations at its price point, that its quality reflects what you would expect for a more expensive wine. A $10 wine might taste like what we expect from a $20 wine. It is those type of value wines which are great discoveries.

The second time the issue of wine prices arose was more directly, while Adam and I were walking toward Pizzeria Posto to have cocktails. Adam asked me about the questions I ask customers at the wine store when I help them select wines. I mentioned that inquiring about a customer's price point is a standard and vital question. To most customers, price point is usually the most important aspect of their purchasing decision.

Adam mentioned that wine writer Eric Asimov, in a recent article on sommeliers, also spoke of the important of price. Eric wrote that wine prices are "...the single most important point in narrowing down a wine selection,.." at a restaurant. Though his article dealt with restaurants, it seems reasonable that Eric would expand that importance to consumers at wine stores as well. It is good to see the issue of price getting such prominence in a major newspaper wine column.

I have found that many consumers are open to trying different wines, whether it be from an unfamiliar region or made from less common grapes. Though they might prefer a Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, they can be persuaded sometimes to try something like a Portuguese red blend or a Spanish Mencia. But, if they mention a price point, they usually are locked into that decision. The price point is extremely important to them, far more than the type or region of the wine. They want value for their money and get excited when you recommend an especially good value wine.

Wine writers would do well to pen articles about great value wines, those under $15, as such would potentially interest the greatest audience, from people new to wine as well as long time wine lovers. For example, each year I write a compilation post, my Top Ten Wines Under $15, collecting reviews of my favorite inexpensive, values wines of the past year. It remains a very popular post because price matters to people.

What value wine, under $15, has captivated your attention recently?

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