Wine prices…is there really a difference in quality?

Last night, for my parents 40th Wedding Anniversary we opened a $100 bottle of wine.  A 2014 Brian Arden Cabernet to be exact.  It was just how I remembered when we tasted it at their Calistoga winery a few months back.  Smooth, full bodied and very intense.  After the bottle was (sadly) gone, we opened a $20 Pickpocket California RedThis wine was okay, with boasting flavors of black cherry, oak and vanilla blended with velvety dark chocolate.  But boy could we tell the difference between the two when it came to flavor, aromas, and overall quality.

The more expensive wine had deep, rich, bold flavors and what I consider a “knock your socks off” wine.  Don’t get me wrong, the 2nd was just fine, but nothing like the $100 bottle. 

My curious “wine” brain went home and did some research on wine price points, specifically why the pricier wines are so much more fulfilling.  I’ve come to find out, the price and quality of a bottle reflects a few things.  


  1. Bottle making costs: There are the raw materials of grapes, barrels, and bottles.  High yielding grapes from an unknown vineyard fermented in a stainless steel tank won’t cost as much to make as a wine made from a low-yielding, marquee vineyard, fermented in brand-new oak barrels by a highly sought-after winemaking consultant.  Plus, you need to factor in utilities, labor, administrative, sales and marketing costs.
  2. Profits for Distributors, Wholesalers and Retailers: This is why there are markups along the way.  Everyone needs to get paid, right? Often the biggest markups are with restaurants…luckily we live somewhere where most restaurants are BYOB!   
  3. Whole supply/demand: Ahhhh, the variable of Mother Nature—some vintages can vary dramatically in their yields, and some challenging vintages bring higher labor costs.  For example, the wild weather currently hitting places like Spain, Italy, and France is also hitting wine lover’s wallets.  This is because the extreme heat and cold lead to shortages in grapes therefore higher prices.
  4. It’s all about the “label”:  Expensive wines are expensive because they can be.  This is all so real when it comes to wines that fall into the “lavish” category.  Some wines could carry a $300 price tag or higher and sell out every year.

Like me, you may get a lot of fulfillment from an expensive wine, or you might find that any bottle over $20 doesn’t give you more than $20 worth of enjoyment.  My takeaway from last night’s dinner, is to not always jump right to the most expensive bottle.  Try to work your way up, starting with the less expensive bottle(s), and finish the night with a knock your socks off glass or two.


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