When I approached the fascinating world of wine for the first time, I felt a bit lost. While studying to become a sommelier, I seemed to only meet admirers of French champagne, lovers of natural wines, organic extremists, those who drink only Spanish fortified wines, those who only drink sweet wines, people who value wine ‘only if it costs more than 50 € ‘, those who drink only wines from South Africa, vintage, pure, Bordeaux blend, etc ….. I thought that I would never know such a wide range well. But, then, I realized that nobody knows everything and I reached the simple conclusion that choosing a wine is mainly a matter of personal taste!
The next step was to discover my passion for affordable Italian still wines. I decided to look for quality in wines suitable for the average consumer – bottles that can be opened without ceremony, wines for every day and not just for special occasions. I believed there are so many affordable excellent wines that have not yet found their deserved place in the market of high quality wines and I wanted to taste and to judge them by myself!
The topic of expensive and quality wines is complex and full of conflicting opinions, since no one can have tried all wines. I firmly believe that a high price doesn’t always mean good quality, except for aged red wines: for these wines, a high price usually means good quality in terms of uniqueness, aromas, tannins and acidity, but this can still be complicated because we don’t all have palates trained to appreciate them. These bottles must be managed and stored with care and precision. They are wines for connoisseurs willing to spend. But never fear – we can all drink well without spending a fortune!
So what factors affect the price?
1. MARKETING: an example of the strength of marketing is PROSECCO, which qualitatively is at the same level as many similar, less successful, wines. For Prosecco, the world-famous brand affects the price.
2. VINEYARD’S LOCATION: arable land in Tuscany in much more expensive than similar land in Molise, a Region which does not have a wine-making tradition. Also the production costs in some areas can be higher.
3. REPUTATION OF THE GEOGRAPHICAL AREA: for example the areas of Bordeaux in France or Chianti in Tuscany are recognized for their excellence in the world of wines. Wines with a good reputation can cost more!
4. SOIL YIELD: the more the plant breathes, the better the quality of the fruit . On the other hand, the production decreases and the price increases. Grapes need air and sun!
5. AGE OF THE PLANT: A plant, after 20/25 years, can no longer bear quality fruit, but grafting new plants slows down production and can increase the price of the wine.
6. OENOLOGICAL CONSULTANCIES: necessary to have healthy plants, fertile soils, the best type of grapes suitable for the territory and climate; these are very expensive, and increase the cost of production.
7. HARVEST: some wines are produced only with carefully selected grapes, like the very valuable Petrus, increasing production costs
8. GRAPE COLLECTION: Some wineries harvest the grapes at different stages, to use only grapes in the perfect state of ripeness; this creates more work and therefore the cost increases.
9. DRYING PROCESS: some grapes, such as those used in the production of AMARONE, are dried, reducing the amount of wine that can be produced, which increases the price.
10. SPARKLING WINE CLASSIC METHOD: about 10% of the original wine is lost as a result of fermentation in the bottle, which increases the cost.
11. AGEING: wooden barrels are expensive and require storage in suitable environments, all of which greatly affects the final price.
12. YEAR OF PRODUCTION: the weather greatly influences the production creating high quality/low quality vintages which clearly affects the price.
13. TAXES: in some countries these depend on the alcohol content, but in others they depend on the retail price, which favours cheap wines.
14. CERTIFICATIONS: these guarantee quality, but are expensive.
These are all the factors that can affect the quality and the price of wine, so how can you choose a decent and affordable bottle without getting lost?
Once you have chosen what type of wine you want to buy (sweet, dry, sparkling, white, rosé, etc.), pay attention to the label, which must show some key information. If the label doesn’t give you certain details that’s not a good sign and I’d recommend making a different choice!
What should you look for on the label?
1. NAME OF THE WINE
2. CATEGORY AND DENOMINATION (eg. IGT-DOC-DOCG for italian wines, AOC- Vin de Pays for the French, DOA-DO for the Spanish, DOC-IPR FOR PORTUGUESE etc)
3. NAME OF THE PRODUCER: often lacking in wines sold in supermarkets, it is very important to know that a bona fide producer produced your wine
4. PRODUCTION AREA: this will tell you a lot about the terroir where the grapes have been grown
5. YEAR of PRODUCTION: this too is often neglected (not valid for Champagne !!!)
7. (for European wines) THE COMMUNITY TRADEMARK ‘E’
8. PLACE OF BOTTLING: the transported wine usually has chemical additions to stop fermentation
9. PRODUCTION BATCH
10. PRESENCE OF SULPHITES
Analyzing the label carefully seems trivial but it is essential, especially for the less experienced. If a label shows all or most of the ten points, the wine has probably followed the correct production process, regardless of the price.
Another huge help can be to know the production areas of quality wines …. but I will talk about that in another post!
The world of wine is full of rules and many producers do not respect them! However, it is not difficult at all to understand what you are buying: so, check the label, choose well and enjoy!
“E dove non è vino non è amore;
né alcun altro diletto hanno i mortali”. ( And where there is no wine there is no love; nor any other delight do mortals have).
Euripide (480 a.C.- 406 ca. a.C.)