At Palate Wines & Spirits, we offer bottles of wine that range in price from $8.95 to $97.95. Is the latter bottle ten times better than the former? Very likely, yes, and there are probably hundreds of justifications for such differences in price, but I’m going to focus on just a few.
Expensive wines are usually expensive for two reasons. Above all, expensive wines cost more to make. The raw materials can vary significantly in cost. As an example, consider this: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of a ton of Napa Valley grapes was $3,684 in 2013, while the cost of a ton of grapes from California’s Central Valley (where most $10 Cali Cab comes from) was a mere $340 per ton that same year.
For some wines, like reds from Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, barrel aging is essential to developing complex flavors and structure. New barrels can cost as much as $2,600 each and store only about 300 bottles of wine each. According to Jeanette Tan of QB Winery Solutions, an accountant for several small wineries, barrels also take up four times as much space as steel tanks holding the same amount of wine. And every year a wine is held in cask, it is taxed.
It’s also worth noting that the price of an expensive bottle of wine doesn’t mean there’s some billionaire from Napa or Tuscany at the top, gouging you with a smirk on his well-moisturized face; much more likely, that expensive bottle comes from a husband and wife team with kids to take care of, or the son or daughter who took over the family vineyards. Many great wines - most, in fact - are made from hand-selected grapes, harvested on just the right days, and handled directly from crushing and fermentation through bottling.
Finally, the selection process for some wines is so focused, and the section of the vineyard where particular grapes grow best is so small; and the grapes so difficult to grow and maintain, that very little wine from that particular harvest gets made. And, of course, the weather from some years is ideal, making that vintage highly sought after. And whenever there is high demand for a small supply, prices soar.
Will you prefer a $100 bottle of wine to a $15 bottle? Probably, but maybe not. Still, if you ever have the opportunity to try fine, rare wines - whether you can afford them or not - do so. A glass of wine from a great vinter and a great vintage is one of life’s truly awesome pleasures!