Wine Ink: Wine values are in the eyes of the beholder
June 27, 2018
I was in my local wine shop perusing the high-end selections when I spied, near the checkout stand, a bottle with a sticker that read "33 PERCENT MORE WINE." Yes, in all caps. I picked up the bottle, which was selling for just over $10, and was immediately intrigued.
"That's a great bottle and an amazing value," the shop's proprietor said as I picked it up. Now, I had previously been looking at wine that sold for anywhere from eight to 10 times the bottle I held in hand. For the guy who runs the store to not try to upsell me but rather show enthusiasm for the wine that sold for 10 bucks was a testimony to both the integrity of the wine shop and my winemonger. Good on them.
"These wines are great," he explained. "They are from Domaines Paul Mas in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, not far from the Mediterranean Sea. I have visited there and they have this incredible restaurant. They make a wide range of wines, but the wines under the Côté Mas label are great wines for everyday drinking." Needless to say I made a purchase of the 2016 Côté Mas Rouge Intense he had recommended.
Value in wine is squarely in the eyes of the beholder. Just because a wine is inexpensive, or cheap, does not necessarily mean that it is a value. A bad wine, no matter the price, is not a value. It's just a bad wine. Conversely, a wine sold for a price that exceeds its pedigree, say on a restaurant wine list, where it has been marked up three times or more from wholesale, is not a great value either, even if it goes well with your meal.
Rather, a great value in a wine is one that meets both the expectations of what the wine should be and is sold at a price that fits the budget expectations of the consumer. That would be you.
Say you have the wherewithall to buy a bottle of a coveted cult-cabernet for a grand. You open it at your daughter's wedding and it is a memorable and revelatory wine. That, my friends, may be money well spent. Beyond just the value of the wine.
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Conversely, let's say you stop at the local wine store on the way to a salmon BBQ at a friend's house and you buy a bottle of the Kendall Jackson Vintners Chardonnay for a sale price of $15. I guarantee the wine will pair well with your fish and the bottle you bought will likely cost less than the salmon did.
There are a number of ways to find value in wines. One is to do what I did. Ask the proprietor or your sommelier for wines that they feel represent good wines for the price in their stores or on their lists. A good wine professional will be happy to tell you about the bargains and will likely take pride in having made them available. It shows that they are pros.
Also, look for wines from places that may make wines from similar grapes than more heralded regions but are a bit off the radar. Maybe Mendoza instead of Bordeaux, or the Willamette Valley instead of Burgundy, or perhaps Walla Walla instead of Napa. There are so many places where great wines are produced that don't necessarily carry the price cachet of renowned regions but still produce outstanding wines. The entire country of Spain, for example, provides amazing wines for prices that are seemingly always below their quality levels.
Oh, and about that $10 2016 Côté Mas Rouge Intense: exactly as my wine guy said, it was both delicious and a great value. The 33 PERCENT MORE WINE referred to the fact that it came in a full liter bottle rather than the standard 750mm that most wines are sold in. The winemaker, Jean-Claude Mas, has created a rather large empire in the Languedoc-Roussillon, one of those lesser-known and less expensive wine regions.
The Rouge Intense was a blend of grenache noir, carignan, cinsault, merlot and syrah that was sourced from the over 2,000 acres of quality vineyards that Domaines Paul Mas owns or contracts with. Though they also produce a plethora of other higher-end and estate and single vineyard wines, this juice comes from the same sunny place.
And, in the eyes of this beholder, it defines the concept of value.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.