John JuergensWine Price and Quality

Let's talk about wine price and quality, two characteristics that can cause a lot of confusion when trying to find good quality wines at a reasonable cost. A fundamental misconception about wine is that there is a direct relationship between the price of a bottle of wine and its quality. This is a problem particularly with American wines. Certainly, this mistaken notion can apply to many other consumer products, but wine is somewhat unique because the evaluation of the quality of the product is so much more subjective than most other products. For example, two consumers easily can arrive at vastly different decisions about the same bottle of wine: One might love it and the other can hate it. We usually don't find this kind of extreme difference of opinion with other products.

About the only aspect of wine price that is closely related to quality is the amount of human handling that occurs during the wine making process. Most wineries have several levels of quality --at least by their definition-- and the prices will vary according to their perception of the quality. Without a doubt, the better and more expensive wines usually involve more handling, such as hand selecting individual grapes, and these wines sometimes are referred to as "hand-made". Wine makers can do all sorts of other things to try to improve quality-- like using oak barrels--but these efforts usually increase the cost of production.

What about American versus imported wine quality and price. This is a touchy subject because I know there are a lot of people out there who still think that only the French can make truly good wine. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but I feel sorry for them since they are missing out on a whole world of great wines. Trying to make quality comparisons among wines from different countries largely is a waste of time since many of the products of every wine producing country are good or even great, but they usually are very different due to differences in soil, climate, etc. It's the old apples and oranges thing. It's fun and interesting to taste wines of the same grape type from different countries to explore the similarities and differences, but it is non-productive to argue about which is absolutely "better".

Speaking of the Europeans, there is a much closer relationship between price and quality among wines from Western Europe, especially French and German wines. The wine industry is those countries is far more highly regulated in terms of quality. However, when you are evaluating wines from different countries, you have to make sure that you are tasting wines in roughly the same quality bracket, which can be a tricky proposition. The problem is, to get a French wine equivalent in quality to say a $12 Australian wine you generally have to spend $20 to $30. I know there are some notable exceptions to this rule, such as some of the Beaujolais wines, but most of the French wines available in our market under $15 represent the lower end of the spectrum of medium quality wines. They are roughly equivalent to some of the better California large volume wines or what used to be called "jug wines". Don't get me wrong, I really like French wines and used to be a French wine snob, but I believe wines from South and North American and Australia are a much better value. The bottom line is that the old saying, "You get what you pay for" doesn't necessarily apply to wine.

These are products that I believe are good value wines that have many of the classic characteristics of the major grape varieties. I'm sure I've left out someone's favorite wine, but this is just a starting point and I will add to the list regularly. They are broken down by grape type and I have indicated their relative degree of sweetness/dryness and "weight" (light/heavy). Since prices and availability will vary among retail outlets, I suggest you shop around. Your best bet is to look at PJ's Wine and Liquor in the Kroger Shopping Center on University Ave., C&M Package Store on South Lamar across from the hospital, and Star Package Store at 308 Jackson Ave.

White Wines

Robert Mondavi Chenin Blanc (slightly sweet, light)

Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc (dry, medium)

Chateau Souverain Chardonnay (dry, medium to heavy)

Chateau Ste. Michelle Johannisberg Riesling

Blush Wines

Beringer White Zinfandel (medium sweet, light)

Red Wines

Napa Ridge Pinot Noir (dry, medium)

Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon (dry, heavy)

Louis Jadot Beaujolais (dry, light)

Fetzer Eagle Peak Merlot (dry, medium to heavy)

Hacienda Merlot (dry but fruity, medium)

Back to John Juergens' Oxford Town Wines Index