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Is a $2 Bottle of Wine Really a Bargain?

Arguably, the great recession hangs on.  Budgets are tight.  We should spend carefully.  Which begs the question… should we give ourselves a gold star for buying the lowest cost bottle of wine we possibly can?  The answer is… it depends who you ask.

Charles Shaw, of Two-Buck-Chuck fame (or notoriety), would argue that his bottles of said wine have “proven that wine doesn't need to be expensive to be good, drinkable wine. These are not expensive; they are good, and they're very drinkable.”

So what’s the downside? Well… recently a scandal emerged, reported by CNN and others, citing a lawsuit filed by some California residents, made brazenly angry for having been put at risk by the negligence of several lower-cost wineries whom allegedly failed to warn consumers of “dangerously” high levels of inorganic levels of arsenic in their mass-produced wines. Those accused include – but are not limited to – Cupcake, Franzia, and Korbel. Is arsenic a big deal? Debatably. But it sure made headlines!

Arsenic aside, what really drives the price of wine?

  • Stored. Oak is gold. It’s not tweetable and it doesn’t rhyme. But it holds true. Wines aged in oak barrels does two wonderful things: it adds oaky flavors (mmm vanilla and spice!) and it aerates the wine, which ultimately reduces the tannins, making it smoother when you drink it. Oak is expensive because frankly it takes a lot of oak to make a barrel.
  • Aged. Wine, like women, get better with age. Over time, the fruits sweeten and the acidity is reduced, both of which enhance the flavors. And storing wine costs money, which producers pass on to the consumer.
  • Grown. Grapes are finicky. They won’t grow and ripen just because you’ve planted them. The spots where grapes grow best are few and far between. This drives up the cost of vineyard real estate.
  • Celebrity. There are some famous makers out there. Like a Chanel bag will always cost more because it says “Chanel,” so too does that principal apply to wine making.
So where does this leave you, the average wine consumer? Chances are you’ll be able to distinguish the $2 from the $200 bottle of wine. But what about the $20 from the $40? Well, dear reader, you now know why the prices may differ. But ultimately, you’ll need to let your own buds decide. Why not host a wine tasting and learn for yourself where your dollars will go furthest?