Many factors go into wine cost. The odious three-tier system (wine producer–wholesaler–retailer) does its price-inflating thing, but so do multiple decisions that influence your wine experience.
Grapes. Quality cabernet sauvignon grapes from Napa Valley can account for more than $12 in your bottle. Quality merlot grapes, around $2.60. When grapes come from Central Valley mass growers, the grape cost in your bottle can be less than 50 cents.
Oak barrels. High quality barrels go for as much as $2,500. Average cost of an American oak barrel is $600, French oak barrel around $1,200. Barrels can be used more than once, but first use is the one that most influences the wine.
Bottle. A light bottle with little or no punt and simple closure and capsule can cost less than 50 cents. When you get heavier glass, big punt, high quality closure and capsule, the total package cost soars to $6. Yes, that massive bottle feels like quality in your hand, but wine inside would taste the same in any package. Punt—the dimple in bottle base—is predictor of the cost of the bottle. The deeper the punt, the more expensive the bottle. The punt has no impact on actual quality of the wine.
Low shoulder. Burgundy bottles are “in” bottles today, but the bigger ones do not fit well in many wine racks or wine refrigerators, making them a major pain to wine collectors. Not a cost issue, certainly an irritant issue.
When you add it all up, using least expensive alternatives, production cost of your bottle can be $5 or less. When you go with the top grapes and all the bells and whistles, production cost can be $16, most likely more.
Then the three-tier system kicks in. And you have to pull a Benjamin out of your wallet to impress your date, spouse, relatives, co-workers, or treat yourself.
• Cave de Lugny Mâcon-Lugny Les Charmes Chardonnay, Burgundy 2016: Excellent, affordable example of Burgundian chardonnay. $14-16 Link to my review
• Terlato Vineyards Pinot Grigio, Friuli Colli Orientali DOC 2017: Complex, expressive, refreshing, balanced with full body for a pinot grigio. $19-22 Link to my review
• Ravenswood Single Vineyard Dickerson Zinfandel, Napa Valley 2015: Sophisticated, lush, rich, another Ravenswood quality single-vineyard zin. $38-44 Link to my review
Last round: Wine toast: “Here’s to nights we will not remember with friends we will never forget.”