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Does More Expensive Wine Really Taste Better?

Ever wondered what a $4,500 bottle of wine could taste like? Or perhaps whether paying more for a bottle of wine from the liquor store could be a guarantee that the wine is good?

While expensive things might seem better, taste is subjective. Many factors are considered to determine the price of a particular wine, and taste is not the only one. However, could it be the most important criteria explaining why some wines are more expensive?

Whether you’re simply curious about the answer or genuinely would like to make more educated decisions when it comes to purchasing wine, keep reading as we assess whether more expensive wine really tastes better. The answer might surprise you!

Expensive Wine is Scarce


The reason as to why Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or Screaming Eagle wines are so expensive is that these estates focus on low-yield crops and smaller production, creating scarcity and therefore driving the price up. Indeed, a bottle of Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc is sold on average for $5,974, according to Vine Pair. most expensive wine in the USA.

Do Expensive Wines Really Taste Better
With only a mere 500-850 cases produced each year on average, the limited availability undoubtedly contributes to turning the famous wine into a precious commodity, making it the

The story is the same regarding other world-class estates such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The burgundy producer is one of the most prestigious estates in the world, and the price of a bottle for these premium wines range from $1850 all the way to $20,000. As is the case for Screaming Eagle wines, low-crop yields explain the small production, which ranges from 6000 to 8000 cases a year, here again, creating scarcity and driving the price up.

Comparing two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Producers


Now, as an example, we’ve compared what critics say about Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon and Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet. A bottle of Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet costs around $18. Oberon Napa Valley Cabernet reviews describe the wine as displaying smooth and silky tannins and exhibiting cherry, blackberry, and spicy aromas, as well as having a long finish. They also mention how well it pairs with a steak.

Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon was described by famous wine critics James Suckling, Robert Parker, and Wine Spectator editors as exhibiting silky and smooth tannins, blackberry flavors, and a spicy aroma as well as a long finish. Wine-searchers even recommend pairing the iconic wine with beef or venison.

Although a simple example, this shows that smaller and relatively unknown wineries can produce wines with similar characteristics to legendary wines from renowned low-yield estates. Both wines exhibit similar aromas and texture, and both are enjoyed by wine enthusiasts. There is little doubt expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better taste in this case!

A $9 bottle of wine can taste as good as a $25 bottle of wine if it has the right balance, structure, texture, and exhibits interesting flavors.

Expensive Wine is a Collectible


To use the Screaming Eagle example again, let’s see how international accolades and reputation stemming from acclaimed wine critics can influence the price of a wine. In 1992, famous, influential wine critic Robert Parker gave the first winery’s vintage a 99 out of 100 rating marking the beginning of its success. Later on, the critic would also give a perfect 100 out of 100 rating to other vintages, including for 1997, 2007, 2010, and 2012, turning the small production into a valuable commodity. Victim of its success and unable to keep up with demand, the estate decided to create a mailing list where only a few privileged clients feature. Then, the winery started to sell their wine privately to their elite customers, creating a sense of secrecy and rarity in wine enthusiasts’ minds. This explains why bottles usually sold privately for $750 are flipped for over $3000 on the secondary market.

Another example is the Abreu Vineyards Estate, which became extremely popular after Robert Parker praised its wines and gave 100 points for its 1997 vintage for the first time since the winery’s inception. Since then, Abreu Vineyards wines have been rated 100 points By Robert Parker on numerous occasions and won countless wine competition prizes. One of the estate’s most acclaimed wines, the 2012 Abreu Cabernet Sauvignon, sells on the secondary market for $700 a bottle on average. Needless to say, the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon often features in international rankings.

Both these estates received the coveted100 point rating from Robert Parker, both have become world-class vineyards, and both enjoy a stellar reputation in America.

Indeed, they’re part of the exclusive circle of California “cult cabs’’; these desirable wines that everyone thinks of as unattainable and inaccessible, as explained by famous wine expert Karen MacNeil. Being able to purchase one of these cult cabs means being part of an elite inner circle, having social status, and being powerful enough to be on the coveted mailing list. Ultimately, it means being part of a carefully selected pool of wine connoisseurs giving buyers a genuine sense of achievement. The secrecy feeds wine enthusiasts’ perception that this wine is inaccessible to most.

Expensive wines can be compared to fine art. The same way art collectors are on the hunt for the perfect masterpiece to add to their collection, wine collectors are always seeking the perfect wine bottle. Therefore, the price of the perfect bottle is no longer defined by taste alone, but by its reputation, the prestige possessing such a wine provides, and wine connoisseurs’ emotions. Exhilarated by the experience of hunting the wine, their quest contributes to driving the price up.

This demonstrates that wine prices can be driven by many other factors than taste, including reputation and desirability.

Expensive Wine Plays on Perceived Value


A blind tasting carried out by the University of Bonn showed that the price of a wine bottle influences our perception of the wine, increasing the likelihood of us liking it.

Indeed, researchers asked 30 people to taste different wines and describe them. The wines they tried were all poured from the same $14 bottle and labeled as three different wines costing $3, $7, and $21. The researchers also rigged the participant’s brains to an MRI to observe their brain’s reaction when tasting the “different” wines. Without fail, participants thought the more expensive wine tasted better and MRI scans, looking at their brain activity while tasting the different bottles, substantiated their claims. This example shows that more expensive wines can trick our mind into thinking they taste better while not necessarily being the case.

Besides, many affordable wines have earned recognition and awards over the years and across the world, proving cheaper wines can be as tasty as more expensive alternatives. A few examples include an  Australian wine,  2016 St.Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon retailing at $6 which won the gold medal at the Melbourne International Competition in 2017, and the $8 bottle of Exquisite Collection Cotes de Provence Rosé, which was rewarded with a silver medal the same year at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.

Closer to home, a bottle of California Copperwood Merlot costs, on average, $6 while the wine earned a silver medal in the 2016 World Wine Championships. While some expensive wines taste superior to a lot of other wines, many affordable wines are also high-quality, perfectly balanced, and have a great taste. Ultimately and as always, determining whether an expensive wine tastes better than a cheaper version will depend on your palate and your personal preferences. Expensive or cheap, in the end, the best way to tell whether a wine is good is to try it 😉 If you’re budget conscious, you can easily identify affordable and quality wines that taste good by simply looking for accolades and rewards.

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