You get what you pay for, so what are you paying for? (part 1)

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2015 at 9:00 pm

I tasted a group of cheap wines today. And I’m using the word cheap on purpose in an attempt to overcome the negative stigma that I feel is associated with that word, especially when it comes to wine. I’m so accustomed to people objecting to the word, that I autocorrect to ‘value’ or ‘affordable’ almost as a reflex. When I say cheap, I mean in the most objective sense, using the #1 definition listed on; “costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive”. A bottle of wine that retails for $6 is cheap. Not “shitty”. Not “you should be embarrassed if anybody sees you buying that”. Not “the wine steward is allowed to treat you like shit because you like it”. Not “just leave it in the bag and drink it in the park because by buying it you become a hobo in the eyes of society and the law”.

It’s just cheap. And that’s ok.

Now, whether any of those other things I said are true depends on what else happens between the time the grapevine flowered and the time the liquid hit your lips.

If an exceptionally long time has passed between those two moments (let’s say you’re shopping at a local…um…outlet…that sells…um…groceries…) and you find a bottle of wine that’s vintage says it’s 8 years old. Chances are that wine is past it’s prime. That means that either a winery, a wholesaler, or a retailer sat on inventory for too long, and is now trying to get at least a little bit of their money back. Now, let’s say the store is selling it for $3. I’m gonna go ahead and say it’s safe to try. It might not taste great, but worst case scenario it’s cooking wine, and $3 is a fine price for cooking wine.

Let’s say there’s a wine that’s inexpensive, and it’s a current vintage, but you’ve only seen it at one particular retailer. We’ll make up a name. We’ll call it Four Dollar Larry. So, you can only buy Four Dollar Larry at a store called Transaction John’s. A friend says it tastes ok for $4, and you’ve got to take something to the party. Fine, your friends are only worth $4, whatever, I’m not hanging out with you, but whatever. But is it really a good deal? I will argue no, and here’s why.¬†Retailers want private label wines, wines that no other retailer can carry, because they’re able to make additional margin on those wines. If a wine is widely available, they know they have to be competitive with pricing. So, when Transaction John’s is picking the juice that’s going to go into Four Dollar Larry, literally their only concern is getting the juice in the bottle for the lowest price possible, in order to maximize their profit margins.

Now, there are other circumstances when a retailer may have an exclusive on what I’ll call a real wine. Real wine means it comes from an actual place, rather than being blended together from the cheapest juice available. You can’t take a vineyard tour or meet the winemaker of Four Dollar Larry.

When a retailer buys an exclusive of a real wine, however, that can be a good deal. That is because by buying the exclusive, they can often make a deal with a winery or importer that allows them to increase their own profits while still decreasing the price to the consumer. This is where knowing and trusting your local wine professional is suuuper important. Then again, I advocate doing business exclusively with people you trust, at least wherever possible.

I’ve gone well past what I meant to say on this subject, so this is gonna have to be a two-parter, so I’ll just say one more thing on cheap wine, then I’ll talk about when expensive wine is worth it in the next post.

If you enjoy cheap wine, good on you. Save the extra money. If you feel bad about the cheap wine you like, do me a favor. Start a savings account. Decide how much you think you ‘should’ be spending on wine, and then subtract what you’re actually paying for the cheap wine you like, and every time you buy your cheap wine, deposit that difference in your special savings account. And then, I don’t know, do whatever, buy something that will make you happy with it, because nobody should make you feel like you need to spend more money on wine if there’s something cheap that makes you perfectly happy.

Except chocolate wine. Stop fucking drinking chocolate wine. You make me sick.


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