Pleasure and Worth Can Be Derived From A Wine’s High Price

Venturing somewhat outside his well-trodden cocktail lane at The Wine Enthusiast, Dylan Garrett makes a good point about the formula for enjoying wine. He makes the case that the worth or value of a wine ought to be properly defined by the enjoyment it brings the drinker and that this enjoyment is almost certainly related to the experience where the wine was consumed:

“It’s time to step back and reevaluate how we define value. While there’s a thrill to sipping something rare or tasting the unique history found in often expensive, older vintage wines, it’s the experience that matters, not the bragging rights over how much you paid for it.”

I took note of Garrett’s short but passionate call for considering the moment and not the price when evaluating wine pleasures because lately, I’ve been thinking about the value and price of wine.

I was a little shocked yesterday when a number of smart folks pushed back against the ideas that 1) a wine is not overpriced if there are folks willing to pay that price and the wine sells out at that price and 2) that it is neither a conspiracy nor a crime that some folks can afford the most expensive and most coveted wines while others cannot.

Garrett’s defense of simple wine pleasures linked to experience and moment is a good one and should be kept in mind as we indulge in discussions of wine and what it means to us. But it should also be pointed out that it is equally legitimate to derive pleasure from a wine due to what it cost and what that cost represents. Finding pleasure or joy in a wine in part or in whole due to its high cost might mean a number of things. On the one hand, it goes without saying that a wine costing $500 is highly likely to be highly coveted as well as produced in small numbers.  Membership in the exclusive club that has the means to possess and consume the wine is a legitimate source of pleasure and shouldn’t be disregarded as a simple resort to “showing off” or preening for friends. 

It is also true that when we indulge in the practice of asking ourselves which wines are of better quality, we get into iffy, subjective territory. However, price is in fact a decent proxy for some sort of collective decision about a wine’s quality. Why are a good number of folks willing to pay $500 for a wine upon its release? Yes, it could be bragging rights alone—which I admit is a bit crass. But it could also be a matter of being among that group that 1) enjoys drinking the wine, 2) enjoys the experience of drinking a rare commodity, and 3) enjoys consuming and experiencing a wine that has a unique and interesting story behind it…or at least one that appeals to the drinker.

To return to Dylan’s thoughtful essay, he reminds us that “There’s a well-worn saying that you should spend money on experiences, and not things. It’s one we’d do well to remember in wine.” I think he’s right about this. But I don’t think we should discredit all experiences that take into account the various means of expensive wine and the accumulation, drinking, and possession of those wines.

In the end, the value or worth of a wine means many things to many people. Dismissing some experiences we don’t have access to or don’t like ourselves is just a form of populism and virtue signaling.



4 Responses

  1. acv - November 7, 2021

    Dylan’s first sentence is inaccurate. Wine has fulgurated in and out of the luxury realm since its very existence came into being. I don’t want to sound like a nit-picky Ogre…. but c’mon, man! If you are going to write about wine, it’s nearly a must that you read “The Origins and Ancient History of Wine,” by Patrick E. McGovern.

    I believe Frank Prial covered this angle in his classic column, “The Best Bottle, in which he suggested that the best bottle of wine he ever had might have been a jug of Almaden Mountain Chablis — because he shared it with his mates after a particularly grueling patrol with the Coast Guard”

    Not that it can’t be repeated. Though I would say that the millennials have no self-awareness. Maybe, something like “It’s been said in the past that wine is to be found in the experience of drinking it with friends not in how much you paid for it….” as opposed to I have this total revolutionary idea that no one has ever pushed forward. Millennials are so narcissistic it’s painful to watch.

    If Dylan wants to push the narrative that the best wine isn’t always the most expensive on the shelf. Yes. I agree. I can think of countless (that’s a lot) that rise to being pretty darn near great and rivaling the most expensive Liv-Ex top 100 examples.

    Having said that. I had a glass of DRC once. I still say that this is the best wine I’ve ever tasted…. but I fully admit I’m probably lying to myself. Me and self-delusion are best friends.

    Umm, “everything from vineyard cost per acre,” might say something about the acre and the value to be found in the wine…just saying. Now if I could just buy an acre of Burgundy to ride out this inflation, I’ll be protected against the Feds blindness to neon-sized data to raise rates.

  2. Paul Albert Wagner - November 8, 2021

    Tom: You write that: “But it could also be a matter of being among that group that 1) enjoys drinking the wine, 2) enjoys the experience of drinking a rare commodity, and 3) enjoys consuming and experiencing a wine that has a unique and interesting story behind it…or at least one that appeals to the drinker.”

    Would you say the same thing about the people who buy the most expensive cars? Do they buy them because of your reasons?

  3. Tom wark - November 8, 2021

    Paul, surely some do.

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