Whether you’re at the grocery store or specialty wine shop, finding a good wine for any occasion is intimidating and confusing. You have different colors, styles, and countries of origin and hen there’s the different bottles and boxes. Several different things go into how to determine the right price and quality of wine. Even without any knowledge of what tannin or terroir means, you will be able to have an easier understanding of wine quality and wine prices by the end of this article.
There never seems to be an obvious and distinct difference in how wine gets its price and the label never actually tells you anything about the quality unless you are familiar with a brand already.
Where It Comes From Matters
Where grapes are grown and how wine is made makes a huge difference in the quality and price of the wine. Certain wines are only produced in certain regions of the world, which may make them rare and more prestigious.
A perfect example of this is Champagne.
Champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of France. To make a sparkling wine true champagne, it must be produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region, and it must be produced in a strict European Union regulated manner.
True champagne must be fermented a second time in the bottle, so it produces carbonation. It must also follow strict pressing regimes and specific vineyard practices.
You can find a very inexpensive, low quality sparkling wine at nearly any wine selling establishment. But to find a true champagne, you will pay for the rarity of the grape and the strict production process.
This doesn’t mean that all sparkling wine is subpar compared to champagne, it only gives more understanding as to why champagnes are held at a higher level than, say, Cook’s sparkling wine.
Not only does location matter, but actual placement of the grapevine matters. Winemaking is a science that very few are able to master without years of practice.
You can’t have a successful vineyard just anywhere. There is a reason certain regions in the world have been successfully producing wine for centuries and climate matters as well.
Climate and weather are major factors in how wine turns out. Some wines thrive better in certain climates than do others.
The effects of climate and weather can have a deciding factor on the quality of wine. When grapes get too much water, they lose a great deal of flavor, which leads to poor quality vintages.
Wines from cooler climates tend to be more crisp, light, and fruity while wines from warmer climate tend to have bolder flavors, fuller bodied, and dark fruit flavors.
Where geology and soil make large differences in how a grape can be grown, the flavor really comes from the climate.
How does knowing about climate help you pick a quality wine? Well, if you are trying to find a good, full-bodied red wine to take to a dinner party, knowing that it was produced in parts of France, Italy, or California or even in Australia or Argentina may help you realize that those are optimal regions for full-bodied reds and you’re heading in the right direction.
Grapes Make a Difference
Just because you have grape vines in your backyard, it does not mean you can turn those grapes into wine — the grape matters.
Take the Malbec grape varietal for example. This grape is said to have originated somewhere in France and is known to be one of the six varieties found in a Bordeaux wine. The Malbec grape found its way to Argentina where it has learned to truly thrive.
Malbec is a dark red grape with thick skin. It can add a deep purple color and plenty of tannins to a wine blend like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Because of Argentina’s sunny and hot climate, the Malbec grape is able to also stand up as wine on its own, not only as part of a blend. In France, the climate did not allow the grape to thrive, so it was commonly used as part of a blend. In Argentina, Malbec grapes are delicious enough to support a 100% Malbec wine.
Knowing about the grape also makes it important to know the quality of wine. Again, leading back to climate and where the grape and wine comes from allows you to make an easier decision in the wine aisle.
Malbec grapes may have originated from France, but they are thriving in warmer climates like Argentina. Knowing this about the Malbec grape allows us to know that picking out a Malbec made by your favorite Oregon winemaker may be a bad idea when there’s an Australian or Argentinian Malbec on the shelf at roughly the same price.
Winemakers Make the Difference
Running a vineyard is hard and successfully running one is even harder, particularly those that last for decades or even centuries.
With unpredictable work environments, like war, weather and disease, winemakers have their work cut out for them.
Again, those grape vines in your backyard aren’t going to make a quality wine, unless you know what you’re doing (and if the grape isn’t of a good quality, of course).
A good wine should be balanced in acid, tannins, alcohol and sugar. A talented winemaker should know their grape varietals and understand what each grape brings to the wine.
A good winemaker should also be an expert at the tools and winemaking process. What barrels should they use for what wines? How long should they be in barrels? Should the wine even go into a barrel? How do you know what grapes to blend?
These are all questions a winemaker should confidently know about their vineyard and supplies.
Just like with champagne, winemakers must dictate the process of winemaking from knowing how to press the grapes, what kind to press, and other factors.
Winemakers are the magicians that make beautifully grown grapes into deliciously produced wine. When we familiarize ourselves with certain labels and brands of wine, we are actually familiarizing ourselves with the winemaker. Essentially it is their series of decisions that create the beverage we choose to buy and enjoy.
This doesn’t mean that you should spend all of your hard earned money on the most well-known wines because everyone else says they are good. It means that a good quality wine starts with the grape, but ultimately gets projected by the winemaker and finding a brand that you can afford and enjoy is always good for a go-to bottle.
The bottom line is that quality wine completely depends on the grape, growing conditions, and the winemaker. You can’t always rely on wine prices to dictate that a wine will be good. It also depends on your preference.
If you are near a wine specialty shop, many of them have tasting notes on a card near the label and price tag of each bottle. These shops are initially incredibly intimidating and overwhelming, but once you shake the jitters, they can provide a wonderful wine experience.
Most wine retailers don’t offer tasting notes, nor do they have a wide variety of wines or price ranges. These specialty stores have both, and they have knowledgeable staff that can help guide you through your experience.
If you have the opportunity to participate in a wine tasting, do it! This gives you more understanding of what wines work for your pallet and which ones don’t. These tastings also provide a range of wines based on varietal and price.
For those that don’t have wine specialty shops near you, or just don’t have the time to stop in and browse around, keep the information you learned here in mind.
Good quality wine is probably not going to be found in a box or a bottle for less than $8-$10. You can find a decent bottle for a decent wine prices ranging between $10 and $20. But good quality wines start between $15 and $50.
Unless you are a wine connoisseur, you may not be able to tell the difference in wines that are priced at $30 and wines that are at $70 or $80 (or higher). You may not have the budget to buy a $40 or $50 bottle of wine. You can find quality and budget-friendly options that meet your taste buds’ needs.
Having a better understanding of where wine comes from and how it achieves its quality helps with justifying the cost of a $20 bottle over a $5 box. Keeping in mind that certain grapes thrive in certain areas helps in making a decision over the wines that will more likely be of higher quality.
Most wine labels won’t tell you if the wine is good or not, but they will tell you the grape varietals and where the wine is made. This information alone should help you narrow down your options in any wine aisle. Go in knowing how much you want to spend and remember that quality does cost just a little more, so be reasonable with your budget.