Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Splurging on Fine Wine...Is It Worth the Cost?

Once again, I've been struck by how, well, snobbish oenophiles can be. George read an article from a foodie magazine in which a guest's $40 bottle of wine was dismissed as barely acceptable for cooking. The host seemed to feel that if you pay less than $100 for a bottle of wine, you're clearly a Neanderthal.


In another article, a host substituted cheap wine in an expensive bottle, and all but one of her wine-snob guests praised the wine. Most were extremely put out by her trick, probably because it hurts to have your dellusions of oenophile grandeur dashed by a sub-par zinfandel.

In the Raihala household, we routinely drink wines in the $10-$15 price range and consider a cooking wine either a) something we paid $6 or $7 for, or b) what's left of a bottle that's been open for a little too long. Sunday, George made a delightfully flavorful Bolognese sauce with the remainder of a $10 bottle of Mark West pinot noir that we opened a few weeks ago. When we splurge on wine for a special occasion, we might pay $20, and if it's a really special occasion, $30.

Clearly, we are Neanderthals.

Given that several scientific studies concluded most people can't tell the difference between expensive and inexpensive wine in blind taste tests, I wondered if we were wasting our money with these splurges, so I decided to engage in a little quasi-scientific experiment of my own.

I bought these two wines at Kroger (which proves we have no taste at all). The Burgess cost $22, and the Cline cost $13. George only knew they were two different labels when I asked him to taste and tell me which he thought was the more expensive and which he liked better.

He tried the Burgess first. "Very dry," he said. "Not much fruit. It's good."

Then he tried the Cline. "Fruitier. I like this one better."

I of course knew which I was drinking. As far as taste, I agreed with George's feelings about the Burgess being drier and less fruity, but I liked them both about the same. I definitely didn't like the Burgess $9 more than the Cline.

One study sample hardly yields results that are useful for universal application, so the only real take-away from my experiment is that George and I are Neanderthals who are going to save some money and enjoy our $10-$15 bottles of wine on extra-special occasions.

If you, too, are a Neanderthal, give Cline wines a try. Pretty much all Cline varietals are very drinkable, affordable, and easy to find. And maybe if someone at Cline reads this, they'll send me a case or two. Hello, Cline? Is anyone listening?

Now it's your turn. Share your favorite wineries in the comments!


  1. I don't drink wine, but my hubby does. When I shop I have NO idea what I'm buying (I go by the pretty labels, lol). He tells me what type to buy (i.e., merlot, pignot) and the price range (typically under $10). My brother spends more, but my hubby says the difference usually isn't worth the price. I do wonder if the much more expensive wines are better, but he'll never splurge more than $30 so we'd never know, lol.

  2. I have always thought that expensive wines were charging for the label, much like designer clothing labels. I am not a label wearer nor a label drinker. I have had some expensive wines that I thought were horrible, and I have some $7 wines that I buy over and over again. Whenever we are in a nice restaurant, I ask the waiter for recommendations and have discovered some new favorites this way. I keep a list in my wallet, and whenever I taste a wine I like it goes on my list for future reference. As for cooking, a chef on a TV cooking show once said that you should never cook with a wine you wouldn't drink, and I have found this to be good advice. I once had an open bottle of Shiraz that I didn't care for, so I used it in a Sauteed Mushroom recipe that I have made several times, and it was ruined by a crappy wine. Never again, now I open a bottle I like, pour myself a glass, then use some in the recipe.
    To answer your question about favorite wineries...I don't really have a favorite. I live in a small town with one liquor store, so don't get a lot to choose from...but the owners have been very good about ordering in special requests. I lean towards Australian Shiraz, Canadian Chardonnay and Ice Wines, Argentinian Malbec, Californian White Zinfandel and German Reisling. Usually I buy bottles in the $10-15 range, I'd rather have a wine rack full of $10 wines than one bottle of $100 wine. Depends on what mood I'm in and what food it's paired with. An open bottle is an empty bottle :) Whenever I get together with my sisters we each bring 2 bottles of wine, and have fun tasting them...but by the time they are empty we can never remember which one we liked better ;)

  3. We buy what we like and for Australian wines that would be around the$10 - $15 mark. I just can't bring myself to pay a large amount for a bottle, I leave that to our rich friends and enjoy it when they bring them.

    Favourite? I am heavily biased towards Aussie wines, Brown Brothers Chardonnay, South Australian reds (that tip is from my husband) and sav blancs from NZ

  4. I love, love, love wine. Certain wines you can tell the price point, others you can't. You should drink what you love, regardless of the price! I love some $8 bottles and $120 bottles. Never let anyone tell you what you should drink or why it's good or bad. It's all about what tastes good to you.

  5. We're Neanderthal's too and totally okay with it! Having travelled to Spain twice in the last 3 years, we've got a soft spot for Spanish wines. That said, we buy lots of wine from Ontario wineries as well since we live in the province. I firmly believe there is no need to spend $100 on a bottle of wine.

  6. Wollersheim, which is about 45 minutes drive from here, is wonderful. You can tour the place and enjoy the wine-soaked air by the casks before buying your Prairie Fume, which is fantastic. I'm not really a wine drinker, but this stuff is worth setting down my beer.

    If you come back to Madison for the Ironman again I'll get you a bottle.

  7. Here's my tip: Cheap wine in a good glass tastes better than expensive wine in a too-small glass. By "good glass" I mean a proper glass for the varietal, with lots of room to swirl the wine and let it breathe. We used to be in a wine-tasting group with several friends, and one of our little experiments was tasting Two-Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw wine, $2) next to a much more expensive bottle. The glass made the difference. Two-Buck Chuck in a good glass was better. So invest in crystal wine glasses rather than one expensive bottle.

  8. We love our wine, but we are Neanderthals.

    We like what we like and we don't like what we don't like.

    There are plenty of fantastic wines out there that are not expensive. Why pay more?

  9. My brother studied viticulture and winemaking, and my parents were constantly asking him what he thought of this wine and that wine... his response was always the same - "What are you asking me for? I can tell you about acidity and the flavours, but only you can tell if you like it. Drink what you like!"


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!