Why spend 35 dollars for a bottle of Syrah when the one right next to it sells for ten? Well, because it is better. Good wine need not cost a fortune, but when you want to mark an occasion, make an impression, or learn a thing or two, prepare to spend a few extra dollars. You'll be glad you did.
A high end wine offers complexity on the nose and palate, purity of varietal expression, terrior, the potential to age, and the ability to elevate any situation. It makes you stop and think. Great wine may need some time to breathe, but often food is optional. It's best to let the wine be the star of the show. A bit of smoked salmon, a roasted chicken, or simple steak bruchette, recipe below, is all you really need.
Lest you think you are only paying for marketing, here are some reasons why wine can cost so much.
Garbage in, garbage out. You need great grapes to make great wine, and one particular species, Vitis Vinifera, is better suited than any other. And within that species, certain varieties are just more noble. It is all subjective, but it is not for nothing that Pinot Noir got it's own movie. And yes, it is one of the hardest (read most expensive) grapes to grow.
Location, location, location. Anyone within a few miles of New York City understands the dynamics of this principle. With wine, however, a great location has little to do with school districts and subway access. For grapes to be special, they need to work. Hard terrain can be a good thing. The great fertile soil of Southern Californians bread basket produces many wonderful fruits, but wine grapes are not among them. Elevation, proximity to bodies of water, vantage of sun, and distinctive soils are some of the key qualities wine growers seek. Toney neighborhoods like Burgundy, Napa Valley, the Mosel Saar Ruwer have them in spades.
The Yield. Not only must the farmers use the very best, and usually most expensive methods to minimize pests and disease, they can't maximize their output by growing too many grapes. Typically referred to as the yield, the amount of fruit any given vine produces has enormous influence over final quality. So much so that it is tightly regulated by basically every wine growing region of merit. Lower yields offer grapes with greater intensity of flavor and complexity.
Man is better than machine, and more costly. Though harvesting can be done by machine to very satisfactory results, nothing is as good as an skilled picker who can, with great care, select which bunches are prime, in the shortest amount of time possible.
Not all oak barrels are created equal. Most wines spend some time in oak; French barrels cost more than twice the amount of American barrels. Guess which ones are better? There are hundreds of choices just like this during the winemaking process. An experienced vitner, using the best methods and making decisions based on quality versus cost, can create a stunning wine and spend a pretty penny in doing so.
This is not to say a big price tag ensures a great wine. As with everything else, the laws of supply and demand influence pricing. Those who buy for status alone can drive up prices regardless of quality, but not to worry. Really fine wine is like an exquisite garment that you only wear once. The memory, like the finish, will linger on and on, so treat your favorite bride, graduate or Dad to a great bottle this June.