My sister phoned me the other day to ask whether or not she should buy the ‘expensive’ champagne. I asked her what she meant exactly, and she said, ”You know…when I want to buy champagne (she actually meant sparkling wine but I didn’t correct her because apparently I always do that), is there a real difference between the cheap stuff from California and the expensive stuff from France?” I replied, “Is there a real difference between a Lamborghini and a Prius?” So, I gave her a list of names and what she should expect from each producer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized…I probably should have told her to buy the cheap stuff.
The truth is, a wine’s flavor profile is subjective just like everything else and a quality wine may or may not be your thing. I taste quality wine all-the-livelong-day, and I appreciate the subtle nuances in every glass. But if you’re like most of Americans and drinking wine isn’t something you do throughout the day (alcoholics excluded), you may not feel that the $75 bottle of wine is any better than the bottle that costs $12.
Now, I’ve used the term ‘quality wine’ a couple of times and I’m not trying to be a wine snob, so I’ll explain. First, quality wine is subjective and can mean different things to different people. Some believe it can’t be measured and some believe you can measure it precisely. Everyone can usually agree that several factors are encountered when making a quality wine, and they are typically controlled by either wine laws or by the producer. This control is what differentiates a quality wine from a table wine.
Now that we have that out of the way, quality wine and price ARE NOT directly proportional so I can’t generalize and tell you to go out and buy the most expensive wines if you want the best.
And you can’t expect that the wines with the highest classification to be superior either. For example, Sassicaia is a Supertuscan wine which was initially in the lowest classification tier in Italy, but they declassified themselves by their own hand in order to include certain grapes varieties that weren’t lawfully allowed in the making of quality wine in Tuscany.
So when it comes right down to it…does it really pay to buy the expensive stuff? If you don’t know what you like in a wine, my advice would be no. But don’t worry about it, I know Master Sommeliers who won’t spend more than $40 on a bottle of wine, so you’re in good company. Everyone has something they won’t spend money on. For me, it’s technology. I have an AM/FM radio walk-man, a desktop computer and no camera on my cell phone. I don’t even own a TV. Would a gift card to the Apple store be wasted on me? Oh yeah. But I’ll trade you for a bottle of that table wine they call Sassicaia and we’ll call it even.