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Wine Ratings vs. Price Conundrum

Here's what I don't really get: I receive a brochure from a local wine discounter with ads for say, Chardonnay from the same winery. Both are rated a 93 by Wine Advocate, but one is priced at $24.95 and the other at $36.95. Obviously, the latter is from a smaller, perhaps more special vineyard, but if the rating is the same, how does it make sense to pay more.

I see this frequently in ads for the same types of wine with identical ratings by RP and WA, yet with significant variations in the prices.

I realize that there may be some small, yet special taste characteristic that differentiates them. But if the ratings are the same, and they're for the same grape at the same winery, how is this taxonomy supposed to make sense to the consumer?

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  1. It doesn't. In some years, or at some point, the more "limited" wine may have been stellar. It is just another example of "I have it and you don't" economics (also known as supply and demand). Buy the less expensive wine and enjoy your wine (and whatever you do with the money you saved).

    1. The taste is different. You got it right. If you are drinking wine to have a drink that tastes good, it makes no sense. But if the purpose is a very specific taste, then it makes complete sense, because even in CA, vineyard makes a significant impact on flavor (or, at least, it can).

      1. This is sort of an odd question. You're assuming that points are both precise and unassailable. But points aren't an objective (or exact) measure of wine quality -- they're just someone's opinion.

        Often wine scores are related to price, but they certainly don't define it. I've often enjoyed lower score wines more than some higher score wines, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

        Also, same grape and same winery doesn't necessarily mean that the wine is the same. The grapes could come from different vineyards. Or maybe one is older than another. Or maybe they were aged differently. Or maybe the grapes in one were left on the vine longer. etc.

        1. The differential is most probably reflective of the difference in cost of production, OR indicate what one winemaker thinks that the market will bare.

          As to why one might purchase one wine, rated the same as another, but at a different price-point, it boils down to what one likes in a wine. If the rating is done as objectively as is possible, the wines can be quite different, but equally good. It is all about personal tastes.

          If you follow the ratings figures a bit, you will often see similar wines from the same producer, where a lower-priced offering is rated higher, than a wine at a higher price-point. Again, personal taste.

          As for your last question - it's personal taste. I've had several wines that I loved, that cost a small percentage, of ones that I did not like. Happens all of the time.


          1. You are making multiple false assumptions, the biggest of which is that ratings/scores mean something.

            All they mean is that the person issuing the rating/score -- whether it's Robert Parker, James Suckling, or Joe Shmoe -- liked (or disliked) the wine.

            What is the difference between a "93" and a "94"? Or between a "93" and an "89"? It is all SUBJECTIVE.

            Q1. The 2013 vintage of Winery X's Chardonnay retails for $36. Winery X's 2013 Chardonnay Reserve sells for $50. What is the difference between the two wines?

            Q2. Joe Shmoe reviews both wines in his newsletter and the "regular" Chardonnay gets the same score as (or a higher score than) the Reserve. What is the difference between the two wines?

            A1. The word "reserve" is legally meaningless, so the difference is negligible. If one is a vineyard designate and the other isn't, it means one came from a specific vineyard and the other didn't. And what does that mean? That the two wines are different from one another . . . and the customer is generally willing to pay more if the word " Reserve" or the name of a specific vineyard is on the label.

            A2. It means that Joe Shmoe liked one more than the other. Does it mean you will? No. And what if -- as often happens -- he liked the less expensive wine more? Same thing: it means *he* liked this more than that; doesn't mean you will!

            1. hello, I recently opened two '95 zins form a primo Calistoga producer, one the regular estate, the other a single vineyard reserve which was originally more expensive (both purchased directly from the winery). I preferred the regular estate stuff, though the reserve had more assertive fruit and might be preferred by someone else. If I purchase something based on ratings rather than sampling/tasting, I try to track down more than one source of ratings/reviews,and the texts are always more useful than the numerical scores, esp. the high 80s and up.
              Another factor to consider is what you prefer in how much new oak is used with a particular variety; many winery websites will give you specific info on the barrels used for the different bottlings, and use of fancy new barrels is another factor in the price differences along with the cost of the fruit. I liked the earlier efforts of one local winemaker more that his recent ones, because he had less money to spend on barrels when his label started out, resulting in less oak influence.If you have access to winery tasting rooms they're a good place to compare different bottlings/vineyard origins of the same vintage and grape, side by side. cheers

              1. Perhaps rather than trying to address this question on philosophical level, it might help to discuss the specific wines. What are they?

                1. This is exactly what is wrong with the idea of giving wines point pased ratings.

                  If you are only going to think about it as how many points you can get for the buck, yes, by all means buy the cheaper one.

                  Why do I buy wine? Many reasons. Any two different bottles of wine will taste different, and peoples tastes are not easily quantified by point ratings or price tags. Personally, I have had many a $8 bottle that I have loved as much as certain bottles going for 4-5 times as much. I have had high rated bottles and simply not liked them, and had low rated ones I loved.

                  The reason to buy the $36 bottle? Well, one would be if you read a description of it that sounded like something you wanted to drink. Points don't really tell you anything about the wine at all.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: andytee

                    I recently received a newsletter/catalog from Bounty Hunter. They specialize in high end wines. I'm not sure I would order from them but they do mak a good point: thye do not publish point ratings but use descriptions of wnies and ask a simple question, "When is the last time you had a 94 point steak " ? Great point.

                  2. This entire post is pretty much the long and short of what goes on in wine shops every day. The advice given here is pretty much spot on. Ratings are only as good as the rater, how well you understand what how the rater rates wines, AND what YOU like compared with what the rater likes. True... part of the rating should be about how the wine stacks up to the 'standard' for that varietal or blend, but there are so many fruit sources, climates and styles of winemaking that a 'standard' is elusive at best. A good rater can steer you away from wines that have technical imperfections, are stylistically off-base, and can describe what you may experience when drinking the wine. It's pretty difficult to say that you will LIKE the wine just based on someone else's rating.