As wine consumers, we are often being urged by the trade to increase the amount of money we spend on a bottle of wine. The argument, goes something like this. Better wines require superior grapes, more careful vinification and perhaps longer ageing. Since each of these factors incurs additional expenditure, better wines will inevitably be more expensive. So if you want a better bottle of wine this holiday, well, simply open your wallet a little wider.
Of course, such an analysis is way too simplistic as there are many factors which determine the price of a bottle of wine. Larger producers may experience economies of scale and have larger marketing budgets. Smaller producers may argue that they have a boutique offering with rareity value. As consumers’ tastes change, retailers may have to scramble their prices so as to keep demand in balance with supply.
Similarly, it is very difficult – some would say impossible – to objectively assess wine quality. Not that this has stopped the majority of wine critics. Although many of them will claim that it is important for consumers to read their tasting notes, most of them post-Parker feel obliged to attach a numerical rating. Retailers love scores as they move markets. Consumers have been warned about the unreliability of wine scores, but nevertheless continue to make use of them in their buying decisions.
Given the complexity of factors which determine wine price and the difficulties of objectively scoring wines, we might expect there to be little relation between wine prices and scores. So is this the case?
Decanter magazine, in their print edition, publish regular reviews of particular wines with quality assessments by respected wine experts. Each expert includes their numerical assessment of quality for each individual wine, which the magazine averages and then assigns to a quality band.
Plots of average score against price for three wine types (Soave, Albarino and Brunello di Montalcino 2007) show that there is a very low correlation between average Decanter wine scores and price. Indeed in the case of Soave the correlation is slightly negative. Wine purchasing will remain a complex decision process.