In my capacity as Wine Consultant here in Panama City Beach the question I am most frequently asked after “Where’s the vodka?” is “Why?” This question comes from guests standing in front of the Wines of Distinction case, staring at the prices of certain Bordeaux.
What is it that makes some wines cost upwards of $1000? My friend Randy, who is pretty comfortable financially, will argue that there is no difference between bottom shelf rotgut and an Opus One (roughly $225). I smile and nod and make sure that when I’m at Randy’s house that I hide my bottle of Ladera behind the Nandina bush in the back yard.
If Randy is correct, then the whole wine industry is based on deception. But of course, it isn’t. There are many factors that cause prices of certain bottles to skyrocket, while others, like Yellow Tail chardonnay, can pass through dozens of hands, travel across 3 continents and countless time zones and still retail for $4.99.
First, certain grapes, like Muscadine, are easier to grow while others, like Pinot noir, are much more delicate, causing a price differential before the grapes are even planted. Vineyard location obviously weighs on the final price, with certain areas, particularly around Bordeaux producing viticultural perfection. Hand vs. machine harvesting, as well as winemaker’s methods including pressing, fermentation and aging environment, all contribute to the complex flavors and aromas that make up great wines.
And, like Andy Warhol and his soup cans, certain wines are simply legendary and command 4 and 5 figure price tags. Being essentially a liquor store clerk, it is unlikely that I will ever taste any wine over, say, $200. But I can taste the difference between a $10 bottle, a $25 bottle and a $75 bottle.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking cheap wine, but for a truly sensual experience, drink a beautiful Bordeaux or Napa Cabernet. Better yet, have a blind brown-paper-bag tasting and experience the difference yourself. And once you know the difference, you can be like me, the one at the party with the Mona Lisa smile, hanging out by the Nandina bush.
Joan Holley, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine Consultant, Panama City Beach