Is a $15 bottle of wine three times as good as a $5 bottle?

I am often asked by friends, “how much should I pay for a nice bottle of wine” and my answer is typically, “whatever you are willing to spend.”  So that inevitably leads to another question, “if I pay more for a bottle of wine will it be better?” and the answer to that is, “it depends.”  A higher priced wine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better but usually paying a little more will mean you’re more likely to end up with a better tasting wine.

It’s important to remember that the cost of a bottle of wine includes not only the wine itself but the cost of harvesting, bottling, production, distribution and marketing of the wine. You can often find wine these days made from sourced grapes meaning the person that made the wine did not actually grow or harvest the grapes but instead bought them from someone else. Sometimes they buy the grapes and blend the wine themselves and other times they buy wine grown and blended by someone else that they then bottle market and sell. Some is low end bulk juice and some is wine that a grower or winemaker decides not to use that is of high quality. Also, keep in mind smaller production wines often cost more because there are less bottles to spread production and bottling costs over but that does not necessarily mean they are better.

Many stores in the US offer inexpensive wines that are $5 or less. These wines are usually made in huge bulk quantities keeping their costs low. Can you find some that taste good, probably, but you need to look around and try them to find one that you like.  Often stores have their own labels in these price ranges so their buying power brings the prices down on these wines because they are spreading their costs over a huge quantity.  Typically though, if you can increase your budget and pay a little more, ie $6–$12 a bottle, the wine you find will very likely, though not always, taste a lot better than the wines you’ll find under $5.  But remember, if a wine has a lot of marketing or advertising, that cost is recouped by cost of the wine so a highly marketed and puslicized $6-$12 wine could be the same as the under $5 wine and you’re just paying the marketing costs.

To make your money go further when buying wine in lower price ranges, see if you can find wines that are on sale, consider buying something foreign from a lesser known region and a lesser known varietal. Try finding a store selling liquidated or discounted wines. If you find a wine you like, you can also often get a discount by buying a case. And, if you can go to the next pricing range of $13-20, then you’re even more likely to find a good wine.   In my experience, there is less variance in quality once to get to the $13-$20 price range but you have you taste the wines to see what you like as you can often find great wines in the lesser price ranges.

Only you can decide if you think a $15 wine is 3 times better than a $5 one. Generally, at the lower end of the pricing rage, paying more does make a big difference in the taste and quality of a wine. Consider doing some dollar cost averaging when buying your wines. Buy a bottle of the same varietal in different price ranges and compare to see if you notice a difference in the taste of the wines in the under $5, $6-12 & $13-$20 price ranges.

As you become more experienced in wine, it’s likely you’ll begin to appreciate the nuances of wines in the higher price ranges more but you may also find you notice no difference in the taste of the wines.

The most important thing is to find wine you like, drink it, and pay what you are comfortable paying for it.   Wine is very subjective so only you can decide if a $15 wine is three times better than a $5 wine and if you find a $5 wine that you like then drink and enjoy it.  Cheers!

One Response to “Is a $15 bottle of wine three times as good as a $5 bottle?”

  1. David says on :

    This is a good question – much like the chicken and the egg, right? But I think the answer is, “Yes… and No.” And I think your article summed it up beautifully. Find wines you like and that you think complement the food, and drink them. I have $5 favorites form Trader Joe’s that I like a lot better than some $15 bottles – and it all depends (as you note) on the varietal. Thanks for a good article – I am sure there will be a flurry of comments!

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