FAQ: Sticker Shock
FAQ: Why are some wines more expensive than others?
I had dinner with a few friends last Monday night at my place. They cooked the main course; I provided the wine and cheese. As we were eating our lamb and drinking our Chateau Le Puy, one of them asked, "So how much does something like this cost?" While I think the sticker shock may have made him choke on his roasted potato, the conversation that ensued as to WHY it cost that much was definitely an eye opener.
So, for those of you who have ever wondered, here it is: why are some wines more expensive than others?
Where the wine came from or a sense of place. The term is all encompassing; including soil composition, weather, aspect, what else is growing there; the list goes on. The more site specific a wine is, the more expensive it will be.
For example, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru Monopole is one of the most sought after, expensive wines in the world. It comes from a vineyard site that is 5.03 hectares in size, and they produce about 4,000 bottles of wine per year. Mark West Pinot Noir comes from all over California; not Napa or Sonoma, but literally anywhere in California. California is 42,397,000 hectares, and Mark West produces over 600,000 bottles per year, which is why they are able to offer it to the consumer at a miniscule fraction of the price of DRC La Tache. The example is extreme, but you get the idea.
There's La Tache in the middle...teeny, tiny terroir.
I'm sure you have all heard the expression, "Time is money." The longer a wine has been aged prior to release, the more expensive it will be. It basically has to pay rent for the years it spent living in the winery before it made it your house. Gran Reserva Rioja is a great example of this. Minimum ageing before release is 5 years; on the low end average price for one of these wines is $30-$40. You can add, at minimum, $1 for every year of ageing.
Bodegas Lopez de Heredia's current Reserva release is 2004...that's 13 years of ageing before it even leaves the winery.
Oak barrels are expensive! They can add $2-$4 to the price tag per bottle. A new French oak barrel will cost a minimum of $850 and can cost up to $3600 depending on quality.
Furthermore, Coopering (the job of making the barrels) is lengthy, dangerous and arduous work. It takes years to become a Cooper, and there just aren't that many of them running around. There are only a few dozen Master Coopers in the world.
So what does new oak bring to the table? It allows exposure to oxygen (tannins in the wine will become less intense, taste of the wine becomes smoother), and imparts different flavors depending on the type of oak.
4. WHAT'S IN IT AND WHO MADE IT:
A general rule: The less stuff in your wine, the more expensive it will be.
It is more difficult to make a wine that tastes amazing without the addition of 'stuff'. By NOT putting things like pesticides, sulfur, cultured yeasts, sugar, geraniol etc. (the list goes on) into wine more time has to be spent making sure those grapes are of perfect quality. The fruit has to be at it's peak expression, instead of something that has been engineered with chemicals to taste a certain way.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Wines from lesser known regions/varietals nobody has ever heard of (what's Jacquere?) tend to be less expensive. Great values come from this category!
And on the opposite end of the spectrum, you may be paying extra for a name. A famous, not to be named, Napa producer adds a boat load of sugar to their wine to increase alcohol content, then waters it down to achieve a desired flavor. Average cost of this wine runs at about $80. In this case, you are most definitely paying for the name, not the quality of juice.
Now that I've spilled the beans, let me end by saying there are THOUSANDS of less expensive wines out there that will blow your socks off with taste and not with sticker shock. How do you find them? A few tips for finding a great value wine: Keep an open mind. That lesser known varietal that comes from somewhere you've never heard of may taste better than you think. Shop Old World: you are more likely to find these options in Old World style wines ($12 Cotes du Rhone vs. $30 Grenache from California). Lastly, trust the people in the wine store. We taste a LOT of wine, a lot of it is mediocre, but the stuff on our shelves made the cut for one reason or another and we are more than likely very excited to tell you why.
Holly Phillips CS, Asst. Wine Director
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