Thursday, April 26, 2007

What's a Wine Worth?

In one of my (many) previous jobs, I sold high-end stereos. This was the kind of place where it was fairly easy to drop $20,000 on a stereo system.

I didn’t sell many of those systems. In fact, I didn’t sell much of anything.

But I digress. One of the most frequent questions I heard from customers was, “Does it really sound that much better?”

My answer usually was, “Yes, if you're really listening…and that’s your thing.”

Many years later, while selling wine, I was frequently faced with a similar question. A customer would look at a $300 bottle of Château Latour and ask, “Is it really that good?”

My response was always something along the lines of, “Yes, if you’re really paying attention…and that’s your thing.”

For a real Bordeaux-lover, a rare or exceptional bottle might be worth a whole lot more. To the average wine drinker, it might taste better than what they're used to, but it might just as easily taste worse—if they're used to drinking soft, fruity reds. It all depends on your perspective and taste buds.

What anything is worth in monetary terms is highly subjective. Lately, I’ve heard several wine critics and commentators talk about $15-$30 being the sweet spot for really good, interesting wines. While there are lots of great wines in that price range, there are lots of really good, interesting wines below that price range as well.

It seems that once someone has had the opportunity to taste lots of expensive wines, their palate gets tuned into those wines and there’s no going back. It’s not necessarily a bad thing (if your budget allows), but it might cause that person to overlook wines in certain, lower price ranges.

I’m reminded of a customer who once asked me about California cabernets for his wine cellar. At the time, the store where I worked had several cases of 1997 Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon Winemaker’s Reserve, which we were selling for $30 a bottle.

If you happen to have tasted this wine—lucky you—it is fan-freakin’-tastic.

Beyond my humble recommendation, there was a sign hanging on the shelf with copious compliments from the honorable Mr. Parker, who touted the wine’s excellent aging potential and overall yumminess.

My haughty customer, however, took one look at the price and turned up his nose.

“I’m looking for some serious wines,” he said with a condescending sneer.

What a jackass. That wine blows the doors off Napa cabs that are three-times the price, but this guy just had to have the big price tag to impress his buddies, feed his ego or compensate for other unmentionable shortcomings in his life.

The moral of the story is: no matter what your favorite price range is, take a trip outside of it now and again. Let the wine speak for itself, instead of judging by price.

My sweet spot is $8-$12, but I’ve found some lovely wines for $6, and every now-and-again I buy a $30 bottle just to see what’s out there. Once in a blue moon I even spring for something really pricey just to see how the beautiful people live.

There are tasty, wonderful wines in every price range (except the $8-$10 range for 3-liter jugs). Most of us have had the experience of tasting a wine and thinking, how the hell did they make this for that price?

My favorite in that category is 2002 Hacienda El Espino '1707' CMS , a Spanish blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah that my local wine shop sells for $8.99. How they made that wine, shipped it to the U.S. and made any money is completely beyond me.

I’ve learned not to question—just enjoy.


Dr. Debs said...

Still more great writing, John. Thanks for this. I agree, sometimes I drink a wine and think "how did they make any money selling THIS for THAT?" But I keep my mouth shut and buy another bottle to assuage my guilt.

Joe said...

I think too many wine types stay within their set price range. Even worse, they stay with the same two grapes from the same region. One friend only buys $30 Aussie Shiraz, while another only buy Corvo (from Sicily).
I haven't had the Hacienda El Espino, but I have had more "how the hell did they make this for that price?" experiences with a Spanish wine than wine from any other region.

John said...

Thanks, Deb and Joe.

Joe - I agree that all too many wine drinkers stay in their comfort zone. And, I also agree that Spanish wines represent some of the best steals in wine right now. I just picked up a bottle of 2003 Abadia Retuerta Rivola, which is a great example of outstanding under-$15 Spanish wine. Salud!

Joe said...

Never had the Rivola, or any Abadia wine for that matter, but Codorniu seems to be one of the best values in Cava so it doesn't surprise me. I have even had good value Artesa (Codorniu's Carneros estate). Salud!