Wine, Wine Thoughts

Why is Some Wine So Dang Expensive?

September 28, 2017
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One of the most opaque and frustrating things I ran into when I first got into wine was the wide range of prices for seemingly similar bottles. Why the hell is one bottle $12 when another is $30? IT MAKES NO SENSE.

I mean, it does make sense, but only after learning more about how grapes are grown, wine is made and the history of the places each wine comes from.

In an effort to help explain (and hopefully not go totally off the rails), here are some reasons why some wine is so dang expensive.  

Case Study #1 – Bordeaux

Let’s take a look at Bordeaux, which is in Western France. Bordeaux has been a heavy hitter in the wine world for centuries, and while a lot of that has to do with the high calibre and trustworthiness of their wines.

Another major contributor to the prices this region can garner is the fact that the British have loved Bordeaux wines (or, as they called it, Claret) for a long time, including when it was the biggest power player in the world. The British said ‘I want that’ and everyone else did too, and high prices followed suit.

red wine

Case Study #2 – Burgundy

Another highly priced region is Burgundy, in the northeast of France. Burgundy is a classic case of scarcity and high quality leading to high prices year over year (including this year!). Much of Burgundy is made up of small parcels of land with very specific distinctions (or terroir if we’re getting snooty about it) that have long histories of excellent, high quality wine.

Side note: I used to think that France was overrated and unworthy of the wine-love it got, and then I took my courses. Now I still think some of it is overpriced, but I now think there is a lot of value in the history and rules that govern the French wine world. The more you know?

Case Study #3 – Dessert Wines

Ok, one more example – dessert wines. In addition to the scarcity and high quality thing, a big reason for the high price of dessert wines is the way they’re made – the two most obvious examples being icewine and botrytis affected wine. Let’s do a quick recap of how these two wines get made.

With icewine the grapes are allowed to ripen fully and then left on the vine through a frost. The frost freezes the grapes which are then harvested and pressed (or crushed?), but because a good portion of each grape is now ice, the pressing/crushing doesn’t release as much juice as if the grapes weren’t frozen (duh) – therefore less, more precious (and expensive) juice.

In botrytis affected wines the grapes are also allowed to ripen but grey rot is also allowed to infiltrate the grapes – this is what gives botrytis affected wines, like Sauternes, flavours like orange marmalade, rye bread, and melba toast. But, being a fungal disease, it also grows unevenly on the grapes and leads to lower yields (less grapes) for the winemaking process.

Fewer grapes = less wine = higher cost. Simple as that.

The Ultimate Reason

The real reason wines get so expensive? It’s a reason I kind of hate, being a left socialism-loving weirdo. The ultimate reason is that the market can bear it. There are people out there who will actually pay hundreds or thousands for 750mls of this stuff or, possibly even worse, a 375ml half bottle! I think at that price point you’re probably paying for more than the wine itself – you’re paying for its history, or its prestige, or its rarity – but it’s still utterly ludicrous to me.

 

What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a bottle of wine?

 

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