How Much Should a Good Bottle of Wine Cost?
Sommeliers weigh in on the enigmatic world of wine pricing—and pick the best bottles for your buck.
One of the most common questions sommeliers get asked is “what’s the tipping point between a cheap bottle of wine and a good one?”
The short answer? “Anything below $15 is a value wine,” says James Fairbrother, sommelier at Ardesia Wine Bar in New York City. “Bottles between $15 to $30 are an approachable sweet spot, and above $30 start to feel like a premium—with the exception of certain appellations like Burgundy that, even at the low end, are likely above $25.”
You’ll be hard pressed to find a worthwhile bottle under $10, he says, since “wine is an agricultural product that requires a lot of work to produce.”
Factors that affect wine pricing are complex. Aged wines in oak barrels are more expensive than wines produced with oak chips, says Fairbrother. Pinot noir is a finicky grape compared to merlot, which is robust and does well in most places. Difficult terrain that’s harder to harvest, import taxes, climate variations like a late-season frost or a wildfire, and unique soils can all drive up costs.
Related: Best Lesser-known Wine Varietals You Should Try
If you’re looking for a great bottle that drinks more expensive than it is, “focus on smaller regions and lesser-known areas that have a history of making quality wines,” says Jay Fletcher, master sommelier and guest panelist at the Chardonnay Pinot Classic and Cabernet Classic at The Meritage Resort and Spa. Some U.S. spots he suggests checking out include Lodi, Paso Robles, and Lake County in California and Columbia Valley in Washington. In France, look to Macon, Touraine, and Roussillon; and in Spain, hone in on Ribera del Duero, Toro, and Montsant.
Beyond the price point, you should be able to taste balance in a good bottle of wine.
“Does it taste too acidic? Too fruity? Is the alcohol jumping out at you, making your cheeks flush?” says Kathleen Standridge, wine director at The Shipwright’s Daughter in Mystic, CT. “Whatever style of wine you prefer, a good rule of thumb is that no single element of the flavor or mouthfeel should stand out or overpower the others. All these factors can be indicators that a wine may not be entirely well made.”
We asked wine experts to share their picks for quality bottles that drink more expensive than their price tags might suggest. Here are five they recommend.
5 Wines That Taste Pricier Than They Are
1. Kir-Yianni Ramnista Vineyard Xinomavro 2018
If you like big, bold Barolos made in Italy, one of Standridge’s favorite dupes are wines that come from Naoussa, Greece. “The wines from Naoussa regularly stump big time somms into thinking they’re drinking the best wines Italy has to offer—and they come in at a fraction of the price in the low $20 range,” she says.
Related: 10 Wine Regions Better Than Napa
One of her favorite examples is from Kir-Yanni. Silky and simultaneously powerful, this wine shows notes of soft leather, tobacco, and green olive with an overwhelming similarity to the best old-school Barolo.[$33.99; wine.com]
2. Aslina Sauvignon Blanc
This sauvignon blanc is a perfect crossover in style between Sancerre and New Zealand, Fairbrother says. It’s citrusy and slightly grassy with some white flower aromatics. The winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela, went to university in her native South Africa, then trained in Bordeaux, bringing classic technique to her process.[$19.99; vivino.com]
3. Filipa Pato 3B Rosé Extra Bruto
Both Spain and Portugal have made wine for roughly 2,000 years, but they haven’t enjoyed the same spotlight that glows in France, says Scott Carney, dean of Wine Studies at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Therein lies the value with wines like this sparkling blend from the Bairrada region of Portugal, which is a combination of two Portuguese grapes—the red baga and the white bical. “If you’re a fan of brut Champagne, then you’ll appreciate the notes of blood orange and light red fruit in this wine,” Carney says.[$20.40; vivino.com]
4. Muga Rioja Seleccion Especial Reserva, 2016
A solid wine with a long history, Muga Rioja retails around the $50 mark, “but swings way past that price in its mouthfeel, texture, and harmony,” says Fletcher. Old vine tempranillo, grenache, Mazuelo, and graciano are aged 26 months in French oak casks made by their own cooperage and fined with fresh egg whites. Expect “deep layers of dark fruit, spicy notes, great complexity, and depth with this bottle,” Fletcher says.[$43.99; totalwine.com]
5. Niepoort Douro Twisted Tinto
Niepoort is known for its port, but it also has a vast array of dry, more experimental styles in the portfolio. If you like Napa cabernet sauvignon or bold zinfandels, give this red wine from Northern Portugal a try. “This one has big, bold, jammy fruits with a solid tannic backbone,” Fairbrother says.[$14.99; vivino.com]
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