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So how do you take the next step in your wine drinking? Let’s say you have an interest or desire to drink better wine. Perhaps you feel stuck drinking the same $15 Tuesday night red or white.

grape-sense-logoThe easy answer is to spend more money. You can go out and buy a $30 bottle instead of the $15 and odds are good you’ll drink better wine. But perhaps the approach should be more discerning.

If you want to improve your wine picks then get into a wine shop or a liquor store, big box store, that has a big selection. And yes, you’re going to pay more for better wine.

Perhaps one of the most frequently asked questions is what’s the difference between a $15 and $50 bottle of wine. The answer isn’t neat and simple but several factors will help you appreciate the higher price beyond the taste.

Higher-end wines are usually made in small batches. Would you rather drink wine made in a silo or one made in a small oaken barrel? Would you rather drink wine where grapes are indiscriminately yanked from the vines by machines or hand-picked before heading to the winery? Would you like to drink wines where the vineyards produce seven tons per acre with no pruning or wines grown in a vineyard where leaves are trimmed for ideal ripening and fruit is dropped during the growing season to increase the intensity of the fruit? Those things greatly increase labor costs.


There are reasons – good and bad – that bottle costs more than $100.

The biggest material expense is oak. Cheaper wines are aged in used oak barrels or oak barrels from less prestigious regions. In recent years, the much-derided use of oak chips has proven a popular and cheap alternative for low cost wines. Top-end wines are aged in new French oak barrels which can cost $1,500-$2000, while most are $1000-$1,200. American oak barrels often cost half or a third of that amount.

Is there a difference in the golf club you buy at the local big chain discount store and the club you’d buy at a top-flight pro shop?

There has always been something pseudo glamorous about a $100 bottle of Napa Cab. Now it’s hard to find a Napa Winey with a top bottling that costs less than $100. Napa’s top vineyard To Kalon is in such high demand that the vineyard owner will only sell to producers who price their wines at certain levels above $100 a bottle.

But, as noted earlier, lets move beyond price. One approach to drinking better wine is taking a wine you like and go online to see if the winery produces a more refined, and higher-priced, similar bottle. If the winery has a $15 Cab there is a good chance it also produces a $30-$50 Cabernet.

Going to a wine shop should expose you to someone with expertise who can ask you questions about what you’re drinking and suggest the next logical step. Logic doesn’t dictate going from $15 to $100. If you’re sold that bill of goods leave and don’t return to that wine retailer.

If’ you’re drinking mostly $15 wine, your next step up the wine ladder should be in the $25-$50 range. Look for wines from a specific region. If you’re buying Napa Cab – and that’s all it says on the label – the grapes could come from 16 different sites in Napa. That’s good wine but there are probably no defining characteristics. Instead, buy a Napa Cab from Rutherford, Mt. Veeder or Howell Mountain for nuance in the flavors.

You need to get to about the $50-$75 price point to start drinking the really fine wines. In lesser regions, $30-$50 will get you a really good bottle.

If you’re drinking wine costing less than $20 simply ask for some advice and try something that costs 50 percent more or double the price. You’ll consume much better wine.