After 10 years of drinking wine, I can definitively say, I don't know... But what I can do is share some of my reasoning and thoughts around it.
Why are some wines more expensive than others?
Well, like most products there are multiple factors affecting price, not just quality, so let's have a look at some of those.
Vineyards are businesses. Businesses have overheads. Overheads vary depending on numerous factors. For example, land in Bordeaux is expensive, but the best land for growing is the most expensive. So vineyards based on this land will already have a higher overhead than say land on a shady side of a mountain.
Depending on how the wine is produced, will determine your labor costs. For example, machine harvesting is quite popular in Bordeaux, however, most of the more prestigious vineyards still rely on handpicking. This hand picking means grape bunches that are not quite ready can be left for longer ensuring that only grapes which are just right for the winemaker’s requirements are used. This extra quality needs extra manpower which means more costs!
Established Reputation for Quality
Some vineyards with a particular reputation for quality will only produce wine if the harvest was up to a particular standard that year. So if the wine maker doesn’t feel like the wine will meet the high standards of the chateau, they’ll either cancel production or if it is already produced, sell it as table wine under a different name.
This ensures its customers know that wine carrying the name of that vineyard will always be of a high standard and so they can charge accordingly.
Possibly one of the most famous examples of this Dom Perignon over in the Champagne region. Ever try to find a bottle of Dom Perignon from 2007? Well, you can't because they didn't make one!
Possibly the most subjective factor of the cost is ratings. If someone with a reputation like James Suckling gives your wine a 98 or 99, you can bet your Bordeaux you’ll be adding a few euros to the price!
Does this mean that expensive wines are better?
Well, yes and no… Sure, on average if you pick up a €50 bottle it will be better than an €8 bottle. But not always. In a vintage like 2015 which was an exceptional year in Bordeaux, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad bottle. Some of the €12 bottles I’ve had, taste like €50 bottles from other years.
Also, the quality of wine is very subjective. There’s a €9 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in Lidl which makes my tastebuds sing! However, that same bottle might make someone else gag.
There are €30 bottles of wine which I buy as gifts (especially if I know they’ll be sharing it with me!), but there are €30 bottles of wine which I can’t stomach.
Wine is like art. Some people love the Mona Lisa and will spend hours in The Louvre staring at it in amazement, others don’t see the big deal. Some people will see a piece by their local artist which brings them instant joy.
How to find a great bottle for a great price!
I am absolutely not any kind of expert on wine. About 1% of the good wines I have bought have come from my own knowledge. For the other 99%, I rely on recommendations.
I follow a lot of wine experts on social. Over time I have grown to know the experts who have similar taste to my own. I pay close attention to their recommendations! So get on the 'gram, search #winereviews, follow a few people and see where it goes!
I do buy wines from supermarkets, but generally only if I am there anyway. When I am intentionally going out to buy wine, I will go to a wine shop or off-license who specialise in wine.
Most of the time, the merchant will spot you looking bemused and offer help. Take it! Let them know what you like, what you don’t like, your budget and ask them to recommend you something. I have very, very rarely been let down this way!
About 50% of the wines I drink are new to me. Sure, I have my favorites which I go to when I know what I want, but I also make sure to try new styles, try new vineyards, try new grapes.
Most wine buffs will find this shocking, but only in the past few months have I discovered Ripasso. I have been drinking wine for 10 years and had no idea what this was. It was recommended to me and so far I have tried 5 different Ripasso and every single one has been absolutely excellent and varied in price from €15 to €23. I’ve tried €60 euro bottles which I would rate less. This style just suits my particular taste perfectly and I only found this out by giving it a go!
What is the best wine?
If you absolutely love your €8 bottle of merlot at fridge temperature while you Netflix and chill, then that’s your drink!
If you and your friends like to spritz up your €15 Chardonnay with a little lemonade, then it sounds like you’ve got yourself a party!
If you spend each weekend drinking Dom Perignon for €180 a bottle, but make sure to chill it to a perfect 7 celsius and only open it with the antique Napoleonic era saber you bought specifically for the purpose of opening very fine champagne, then invite me to your next party - because I want to do that at least once!
The best wine is the wine you like to drink, how you like to drink it, in the company of your favorite people.