Wine Prices and Value

POSTED ON 11/04/2012

MANY factors determine the price of wine, but it is possible to find wonderful vintages offering value that approximate the world's most expensive wines. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to avoid following the crowd. Anthony Rose raises a glass.

Famous for his rapier-sharp wit,
the 19th century Irish author
Oscar Wilde said that a cynic is “a
person who knows the price of everything
and the value of nothing.” Do I
hear Oscar Wilde turning in his grave?
In its application to wine, the price of
everything is now a simple thing to

Thanks to the worldwide spread
of communications, the Internet in
particular, the price of wine whether
in shops, restaurants or at auction, has
become transparent. How much are
we influenced by price when we buy?
How much too by packaging that may
flatter to deceive, the name of a fancy
brand or a famous wine region?

My impression of the complex
Chinese wine market is that decisions
about buying wine have been largely
determined by such factors, but they
don’t really tell us what the true value
of the liquid in the bottle is. Ultimately,
value is the price you and I as wine
consumers put on a wine rather than
its producer.

I raise it in my first article for Shanghai
Daily because in China’s booming
market, I believe understanding the
value of wine is the key to buying
wine well. Anyone can buy on price or
reputation, but buying a wine based
on its value is the best way to spend
your money. How to work out that true

Let’s start with the liquid and what
it costs to produce. Wine is an agricultural
product made from fresh grapes.
There are hundreds of different grape
varieties in commercial use. A producer
buying grapes from a grower pays
a different rate according to whether
the grape variety is premium Cabernet
Sauvignon or a lesser variety such as

The rate also varies with the location
and how the grapes are grown.
The cost of central valley Merlot in
Chile yielding 20 tons to the acre is
considerably less than Merlot grown
on Andean mountain slopes yielding
2 tons. The cost of investment in the
vineyard, the winery and the marketing
add up to give you an idea of what
each bottle costs to make.

It’s still only half the value story.
Stripping a wine of romance and
character fails to account for the
yawning gulf in price between an
everyday bottle of basic Bordeaux
with a supermarket label costing 50
yuan (US$8) and the stuff of dreams:
Château Lafite 2000, for example, at
14,999 yuan. What is it that puts the
Château Lafite on a different planet
from the everyday Bordeaux to justify
its extraordinary price?

History and pedigree, embellished
with subtle marketing, are all part of
what make Château Lafite an icon. Its
prestigious name resonates around
the globe and across centuries. The
iconic status of a luxury brand puts it
on a par with brands such as Ferrari,
Cartier or Dior. Giving it pride of place
on your wine rack confers status on its
owner, whom everyone presumes went
to the best schools and has impeccable

Just as the enduring qualities of a
genuine Picasso could well be worth
more to an art collector than a cheap
reproduction, a bottle of Château
Lafite may similarly be worth more to
a wine lover than a cheap supermarket
Bordeaux. Demand may have blown its
price out of proportion but its owner
is unlikely to worry about that if he
or she bought the Château Lafite with
investment or status in mind.

Wine drinkers looking to buy wines
for good everyday and special occasion
drinking can find better “value”
in comparable quality wines at much
less than “status symbol” prices if they don’t follow the crowd but know
the right places in which to poke their
noses. I’m talking about wines of
quality and character that combine
the characteristics of location and the
stamp of the wine maker in subtle but
effective ways; wines that can transform
a simple meal into a great one or
a mundane experience into a thrilling

Instead of a Bordeaux First Growth,
you might seek out a lower level cru
classé or cru bourgeois. New World Pinot
Noirs can be excellent alternatives
to red Burgundy, Australian Chardonnay
to white Burgundy, South African
and Chilean Sauvignon to Sancerre.
Instead of the classic French regions,
the south of France and Mediterranean
regions of Italy and Greece are fertile
areas of exploration. Check out Spain
and Portugal and their growing list
of great value wines. The list of good
value alternatives and how to find
them deserves a column on its own.

Between wines that sell on price and
luxury brands sold on status, it’s in
this rapidly expanding area of quality
and character that the best values are
to be found. Ask yourself “is that wine
worth the asking price?” and you’re
halfway there. This is something that
we as consumers can evaluate with
increasing precision in the light of our
own tastes, judgment and experience.
We are becoming discerning drinkers,
and the true discerning drinker is the
one who knows the value of everything
— and not just the price.

Anthony Rose

He is the wine correspondent of the Independent and the i newspapers in the
UK. He writes a weekly column ( and contributes
wine news and travel articles. He teaches the Leiths School of Food & Wine
certificate in schools and the Wine & Spirit Education Trust intermediate certificate.

One of his specialist areas is wine investment on which he gives talks
and contributes the wine auction and investment sections in The Oxford Companion to Wine. He has a blog on his website:

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