Monday, April 19, 2010

How Much Should I Spend?

How much do I have to spend to get a good bottle of wine? I hear that a lot and I have some thoughts.

First, it all depends on what you think is "good." If you like Little Penguin's Shiraz - by all means, buy it and drink it! It's not exceptionally interesting, but it smells and tastes a little bit like fake strawberry candy. It is a wine - a real wine and it's $5 to $6 a bottle and available just about everywhere. If that doesn't do it for you, find out what you like. Read this blog. Read other websites about wine. Go to tastings or wine restaurants. Talk to your wine merchant. Try different wines at different prices. One way or another, see what is out there.

Once you know what your tastebuds prefer, you can start to hone in on price. I try to keep my price under $15, but I am willing to spend up to $20 if it looks like an exceptional value. My average bottle is about $12 and you will read about a lot of wines in the 8 to 15 dollar range on this site.

The most common myth in the wine world is that you get what you pay for... that a $25 wine will necessarily taste better than $10 bottle of the same varietal.
Wrong. So many factors are actually at play here: brand recognition, vineyard size, harvest yield, bottling costs, etc. Not to mention your own palate (as we discussed above).

Take my current muse - Petite Sirah. I recently rated a
Trentadue Petite Sirah. At $18, Trentadue is a price point above the $11 Bogle Petite Sirah. I gave both wines 4.5 of 5 glasses. Both wines were fantastic in my opinion, but the Bogle leaves an extra $7 in your pocket!

There are a lot of resources out there for people in the <$20 range.

  • has a list of 90+ point wines under $20
  • WineLibrary offers their best selling under $20
  • MyWinesDirect sells a lot of six-packs for $70 to $100 (that's $12 to $17 per bottle)

On top of that there are many other blogs like this (but read this one please).

But despite all these resources screaming $20 and under people continue to believe the "good wines" are expensive. I did too, until I read a book. Miles Gone By, William F. Buckley Jr.'s autobiography is one of my favorite books. Now I'm not going to get all political here - so don't get your panties in a bunch. I just want to talk about his approach to wines.

In a chapter of Miles, Buckley discusses his wine purchasing during the 1980's. Although money was certainly not an issue, Buckley endeavored to find the best wines he could under $10. When he found such a gem, he would buy up as much of it as he could and stock his cellar. Years down the road, those $10 wines had softened and matured and become truly fantastic specimens that Buckley shamelessly served in his home (to the delight of such guests such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan... heavy hitters).

Adjust that $10 for inflation and you get $20 in 2010 dollars. So if Buckley were buying today he'd be buying in this range - and if it's good enough for presidents and prime ministers, it's good enough for the rest of us... right?

So get out there and try that $8 Pinot Noir. Treat yourself to that $14 Syrah. Pony up the dough for that $3 Merlot. Know your tastes and your budget and most of all, have fun tasting!

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