A Lesson in Expensive Wine

My best friend called me the day after her law firm party to tell me she had a glass of a $30,000 wine. “Did it taste like $6,000 or $7,500?” I asked. “Honestly,” she replied. “Once you get past the $10,000 mark, they all taste the same to me.”

The real goal, if you ask oenophiles, is to find a great wine for under $30. It’s like a game or contest where everyone who plays, wins; but there are rules to it:

  1. Points only get you so far. When choosing a wine because of the number of points it received, remember that many of those will have a subtler taste. Novices who are looking for fruity wines or a lot of oak, might not have a palette that aligns with these judges.
  2. More expensive does not mean it tastes better. The prices can be tricky because sometimes it’s just a fancy bottle and a lot of marketing. Be more concerned with whether or not it is a first growth and how the weather affected the crop during the year it was made.
  3. Know when to drink it now. Some people think expensive wines always get better with age. This is not always true. I’ve had bottles over $100 that turned out to be corked by the time we opened them. This is an area where you should trust the experts. The most expensive wines are vintage, and it takes a trained eye to know their value.

Of course, if you dropped about $200 on a bottle of Diamond Creek or Beringer you probably wouldn’t regret it. Before spending that kind of cash on vino, you should be able to answer these questions:

  • Do you prefer jammy or earthy wines?
  • Do you like wines with heavy tannins?
  • Would you prefer blackberry and spice or something with a hint of licorice?
  • Do you prefer the taste of wine from oak barrels or stainless steel?

If you’re looking at wine that’s less than $200 a bottle, but more than $30 a bottle, there are a lot of American brands in the $50 range (like Stag’s Leap, J. Lohr, Silver Oak, etc.). There are also many Italian wines (Barolo is my fav) and French wines (Dom Belland, Jadot Santenay, etc.) in this price range as well.  

And here’s a fun fact for you, the most expensive wine ever sold (so far) was a bottle of  Chateau Margaux 1787, for approximately $225,000. Less stellar but still noteworthy were a couple bottles of Domaine Leroy Clos de la Roche Grand Cru 1992 for 2,000 euros. Also, eight of the ten top cases sold by Christie’s in 2017 were from Bordeaux.

The last thing you want to do if you’re drinking wine on a budget is fall in love with Burgundy wine. Instead, try lists like the ones from Total Wine & More that offer recommendations under $30; or lists from Food & Wine magazine created by their experts (and editors).

While the price of a wine might go up as the experience of the hand that made it increases, if you find a region, a grape, and a style you like, then you’ll have a better chance of knowing how to put your money where your mouth is.

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