How I Evaluate Price and Quality in Wines
This can be considered the third of my series (I didn't plan it that way) on wine evaluation standards. The first, September 7, described the 20 Point System I use. The second, November 16 dealt with wine rating vis a vis the Wall Street Journal article, "A Taste of Illusion." Here, I will comment on how price and quality enter into my reviews.
First, I evaluate wines in terms of overall impressions, how balanced and complex they are, and award them scores based on their level of quality: 17+ points is very good, 18+ exceptional, 19+ outstanding (again, see September 7).
Then I ask myself if a given wine is worth the price. A $20 or less wine getting 18 points is exceptional value. If an 18 point wine is $40, it's not such a great value. Going further up the price scale, my thinking is that a wine costing $40-50 should be worth at least 18.5 points. A wine over $50 should merit at least 19 points. A wine with a stratospheric price of $100 or more should be 19.5 points. If a wine falls outside these parameters, I usually leave it out (and I have left many out). Occasionally, I will include a wine of particular merit and interest and leave it up to the reader to decide if the wine is worth the price. On the other hand, an omission of a particular wine does not necessarily indicate poor value. Space limitations preclude listing all wines that demonstrate good value; I can include only ones of particular value and interest.
Most winemakers have reasonable perspectives on their products' values. They know their peers and have a good idea of how they stack up. And they have a good knowledge of the price point standards in the industry. But there are always some vagaries. Some have inflated notions of their worth. Some deliver terrific bang for the buck. I am always on the lookout for wines in the latter category.
In sum, in reviewing wines, I always endeavor to convey a sense of what constitutes real value. My job, as I see it, is not just to report wine descriptions and ratings (as some reviewers do) but to review the wines that consumers should be considering.