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What is the Value of a Wine?

Value is important. We all want to get a good deal on things we buy. We don’t want to feel we’ve overspent by a few dollars, let alone experience the disappointment of paying way too much for something. We read reviews to guide our purchases. We ask friends for their advice.

Wine reviews aren’t perfect though. No review can tell you exactly what your impressions of a wine will be. Reviews can’t even provide a complete picture of what the critic experienced. Words are not sufficient. Add to this the facts that individual bottles of wine vary from one to the next, that wine changes over time and that the environment in which we taste a wine impacts our perception. Assessing value based solely on a review and a price point is very difficult.

There is more to wine than aromas and flavors too. Unlike other beverages, or virtually any product that might be considered a commodity, a good wine is unique. A glass of Pepsi or a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino looks, smells and tastes almost the same every time we drink one. This consistency can be comforting, but such products rarely bring back memories of a particular occasion on which we drank one previously. Good wine does do that. It can be a landmark leading to a specific memory. And, since wine is often — and best — consumed with family or friends, those memories can be very rich. To me, the richness of those memories can add value to a given wine beyond whatever sensory pleasures it provides.

I opened a “bonus bottle” of wine for my tasting group the other day. A bonus bottles is something I pour for the sheer enjoyment of the wine once a serious, all-business tasting is over. After nine Chardonnay and Chardonnay-pretenders from around the world, we were ready for some red wine. Everyone enjoyed the bonus wine. It was rich and fruity, yet interesting. Plush but structured. A young wine, it didn’t offer a lot of complexity but its sensuous pleasures were a great way to end the evening.

As our glasses neared empty, someone asked me what I paid for the wine. I told them the price. “That’s kind of high,” she said. “Would you buy another bottle at that price?” “Yes,” I said. “I bought a three-pack.” “Would you buy it again at that price,” she persisted. It was a simple question on the surface but I saw the potential for layers of answers. I couldn’t answer it directly just then.

Why was it such a hard question to answer? I believe that a given wine can become very personal because of its uniqueness and the memories with which it can become intertwined,. But that personal aspect of a wine doesn’t extend to other people who don’t share the same frame of reference.

A professional photographer told me the difference between a snapshot and a great photograph. A snapshot is only meaningful to those people who have direct, emotional ties to the memory it depicts. A great photograph can make anyone at all stop and say “Wow!” Great wines are like great photographs. But, if a given wine also evokes the personal memories of a snapshot, it has even more impact. To me, the bonus wine was both.

The wine tasted and smelled great, a hedonistic pleasure. And it will age. But it also brought back memories: memories of visiting the winery and various conversations with the winemaker over a period of years; memories of my having taken friends to that winery where they tasted the wine for the first time with me; memories of them loving the wine and wanting to buy it; memories of the rest of that day together in wine country. In me, it also created anticipation of future visits with those friends and, ultimately, their stories of when and where they opened the bottles they purchased for themselves. The wine will develop over time, as do friendships, but it will always be “that” wine.

So, would I recommend that someone else buy the wine at that price? It’s a very good wine. If I thought they would iike the style and could afford it, I would recommend they try it.

Would I recommend that someone in my tasting group buy it at that price? I think the wine is reasonably-priced given it’s low production-volume, high quality and region of origin but, on a purely objective level, one can probably find equal degrees of yummy or more distinct terroir for less money. And I can’t put my memories in someone else’s glass. They have tasted the wine and know their own budgets. It’s their call.

Would I buy a similar, but different, wine at the same price? Perhaps, though I'm currently in a mode of drinking from my cellar rather than adding more wine to it.

However, if the question was truly personal and specific, my answer is clear. Would I buy that wine again at that price? Yes. I would buy that wine again. And I would pay more for it.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Frappucinno is a registered trademark of Starbucks. All rights reserved.