A Wine’s Cost Isn’t Always Its Worth

An image of friends enjoying a bottle of wine together
Photo by Tom Arena

In the last century, wine reached new heights as a luxury product. The rise of mass media, from television to magazines and billboards, followed by the internet, social media and influencer culture, ushered in progressively glossier perceptions of “fine wine” and the lifestyle surrounding it. Collectively, these entities defined what many still feel it means to be a wine lover and what makes for a good bottle.

The worst myth of this century-long marketing campaign? That the best wine is the most expensive.

Wine enjoyment should be based on how a wine tastes and your experience with it, not how much it costs. A luxurious bottle could be $700, or it could be $7. A boxed wine at a barbecue can provide just as much enjoyment as, if not more than, a first-growth Bordeaux. Though, to be fair, that scenario depends less on the wine and more on the barbecue.

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Still, none of us is completely immune to the perception that price corresponds with quality. It’s easy to know, on an intellectual level, that the cost of a wine is decided by countless factors beyond its quality—everything from vineyard cost per acre, tariffs, packaging and shipping costs, to marketing budgets and real or imagined scarcity. But it doesn’t change the gut feeling many still get, that the person at a dinner party who pulls out an $80 Barolo brought a “better” wine than the guest with a really cool $15 País.

It’s time to step back and reevaluate how we define value. While there’s a thrill to sipping something rare or tasting the unique history found in often expensive, older vintage wines, it’s the experience that matters, not the bragging rights over how much you paid for it. Some of the greatest wine experiences of my life didn’t come from marquee pours in the Wine Enthusiast tasting room—they were a $10 Long Island Sauvignon Blanc at a local winery after a chowder festival, or a $5 happy hour Prosecco on-tap at a bar after a sweaty bike ride with friends.

There’s a well-worn saying that you should spend money on experiences, and not things. It’s one we’d do well to remember in wine.

Published on November 5, 2021
Topics: Viewpoint