What’s Behind the Pricy Label


By Charles Fredy, Advanced Sommelier


Ever wonder why certain wines are so expensive, others so cheap? The better question might be, does the wine’s quality justify its price? Many factors can influence higher wine prices, some as straightforward as supply and demand. The 2013 documentary film Red Obsession showed how the demand for top Bordeaux wines by China’s wealthy class pushed the prices to ridiculous heights, placing those wines out of reach of many oenophiles who wanted to drink them for the pleasure, not just the prestige. One example: in 2007, a 2001 Chateau Lafite Rothschild sold for an average $273. During the buying frenzy of 2011, the price hit $1,300!

The more valid reasons for a wine’s price relate to its quality and complexity — the concentration of flavors it delivers. The more flavor complexity a wine exhibits, the more expensive it will be. That’s because it takes meticulous farming practices to produce such wines: you start with perfect fruit and then add the winemaking skill, the wine’s time in the cellar, the equipment used. A brand-new French wine barrel holds sixty gallons, and costs approximately $1,200. Leave the wine in that barrel for three years instead of one, and your cost goes even higher. Farming organically or biodynamically can push up costs, too. It’s the hard way to produce wine, but it can also increase the quality of the grapes.

One of the ways I like to evaluate a wine is its “cost per flavor.” Say the price for a particular bottle of wine is $20. As you savor it, see if you can enumerate all the individual elements and nuances you experience in the wine. If there are twenty, you’re paying $1 per flavor/enjoyment. Now let’s say a second wine costs only $10, but you struggle to list even five flavor elements. That means you are paying $2 a flavor. So much for value! If you figure out what you like in a wine, and the pleasure you get from the experience, you will find the range of wines you are comfortable with.


Here are some of my selections that offer excellent value in cost per flavor:

  • Henri Bourgeois, Sancerre, Les Baronnes Blanc, Loire, France, $30
  • Chateau de Pierreux, Brouilly, Cru Beaujolais, France, 2012, $20
  • Ramey Wine Cellars, Claret, Napa Valley, 2012, $45
  • Obsidian Ridge Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Hills, Lake County, 2011, $30
  • Chateau Rousseau, Bordeaux Rouge, France, 2012, $15
  • Vina Cobos, Felino, Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2013, $20

Got a wine question? Contact Charles Fredy at facebook.com/ChambersWinesHawaii.


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