Have you ever encountered a wine drinker who believes that the more it costs, the better it tastes? You know who I mean, the folks that won’t touch a bottle that goes for under $50 retail or $100 at the restaurant. It’s that kind of logic that makes me enjoy Jon Thorsen’s “Reverse Wine Snob; Thumbing Your Nose at Bottles over $20”. Jon created a successful career built on the concept of how to buy and drink great wine without breaking the bank and by doing so helped me validate my own satisfaction with a $15 bottle of wine. I’ll admit that over the 15 years or so that we have been drinking wine more “seriously” the price of admission has crept up, but we still have a few favorites in the $15 range that taste just fine and are kind to our budget.
Other than showing off, why would you spend more for some wines than others and what makes a bottle worth the price? The wine business, just like any other, has successful marketing, cult followings, and celebrity branding to boost the acclaim and consumer demand for the product. Are you paying more money for a great wine, or its snob appeal? Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Regardless of advertising, publicity, and peer pressure, it all boils down to the wine tasting good to you. Over time a wine drinker becomes more attuned to its nuances. The variety of fruits, aromas of earth and spice, tannins, and finish all become part of the experience. You may need to bump up your budget to achieve a harmonious balance of a wine’s complex characteristics but with some trial and error, it can be accomplished without breaking the bank.
What’s the best you can expect for under $15? A cheap wine needs, at the very least, to get the acidity balanced. If the wine is flabby or tastes sour or tart, it gets crossed off my list. A lower priced wine may be one-dimensional, but if you think of it in terms of “rustic” it will have more appeal. A rustic wine’s simplicity allows it to pair easily with food. Although you may not have complete satisfaction from nose to finish, there should be some redeeming qualities, like some secondary aromas, non-fruit flavors on the palate, or soft tannins on the end.
Red wines in the $15 to $30 range have really hit a sweet spot for us. It seems to be a price point that allows the winemaker enough room to produce a quality product. A well-balanced, blended red from Sonoma, a spicy, ripe, fruit-laden Zinfandel from Lodi, or delectable, fig-laced Brunello di Montalcino all can be had for under $30. And yes, you can get a very good Napa Cabernet Sauvignon for under $30!
Whatever the price of admission, we learn about wine by drinking it. What could be more fun?