What is a ‘Value’ Wine?

My quest to explore little-known wine countries and regions is motivated both by wanderlust and miserliness. I love finding excellent, cheap wines. That doesn’t mean that I’m hitting the Jacob’s Creek or the Hogue. But it does mean that I’m unlikely to spend US$80 on a Paso Robles GSM when I know that I can get the real thing from a storied producer in the Rhone Valley for cheaper.

Knowledge is the key here. That’s why I call my events “WineKnow.” American and other wine producers take advantage of both our lack of knowledge and our susceptibility of luxury-brand marketing.

Last night, I went through the back pages of the latest issue of Wine Enthusiast. Just for fun, I set up a spreadsheet that tracked the price per rating point.

For wines that scored 93-95, the range of the price per point was $0.34 (Obsidian Ridge Cab Sauv) to $3.11 (Stag’s Leap Cab Sauv). For wines that scored 89-92, the range of the price per point was $0.16 (J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah) to $1.30 (Bouchard Aine Le Porusot.)

A few thoughts on this:

  • Unlike a dollar, a “point” is a subjective score by a single person on a single wine at a single point in time. That means that point scores cannot be directly compared.
  • Even at the same magazine, wines are rated by different people who have different specialties. The Oregon Pinot taster has a different scale than the the Burgundy Pinot taster.
  • Land prices and marketing costs are a huge part of the total retail cost of a wine. Land in Mendocino is a lot cheaper than it is in Napa. In contrast, land prices for old multi-generation wine families across Europe isn’t even part of the cost base.
  • People are willing to pay more per point for reds than whites, and will pay more per point for global celebrities like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay than less know wines like Tannat or Assyrtiko.
  • In my head, a 100-point wine is more than just 2% better than a 98-point wine. I think most people would agree that their minds process point scores this way.
  • Still, I found the price per point measurement both simple and instructive – which is all you really want from a statistic.
  • You have to realize that massive producers with industrial wine-making facilities have the ability to produce wines with a lot lower price per point. But these will tend to be less complex, homogeneous wines.

I’m going to continue tracking this, with plans to host a WineKnow event on “Value Wines” early in 2020. How you measure wine value? What are your favorite value wines?

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