Does a Wine Need to be Expensive to be Great?

What: Does a Wine Need to be Expensive to be Great?
Who: Jack Bulkin, Wine Ambassador

When I first became attracted to Wine in the mid to late 70’s Wine was as it is today, more expensive than beer. A Bottle of Beer cost $.25 to $ .40 cents in a bar or restaurant.  I purchased a car, a Ford for $3,500.00 in 1975.  My first house, a two bedroom in Queen Village in Philadelphia cost $45,000.00 in 1977.  A glass of Wine with a meal was about $2.00 to $3.00 a pint. Most American Wines available were sold by the pint not by the glass because they came in large bottles or mugs.  Wines made by Gallo,  Lancers, Black Tower, Blue Nun and Piat d’Or were popular then. None were good, but such was the wine availability in most States other than California. That was also an explanation for low interest in Wine.  Forty Years of Inflation has altered prices of things that we need and buy.

In 1976 The Judgment of Paris occurred when two Wines from Napa, CA the 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1973 Chateau Montelena Estate Chardonnay were included in a blind judged tasting in Paris.  A Panel of well known French Wine experts compared Wines from some of France’s most esteemed and fabled First Growths and top Domain Estates from Bordeaux and Burgundy in a blind tasting.  The Experts called out what they considered the most inferior Wines tasted, assuming that they were from California and the most superior Wines, assuming that they were great French Estates.  Oops, The Napa wines won both tastings, beating the greatest known French wines in a blind taste test. Little did they know that the wine Industry would be transformed nearly over night causing a new Golden Age for viticulture around the World. The Montelena Chardonnay cost about Eight dollars and the Stags Leap at the time an expensive Napa Wine was less than $20.00. First Growth Bordeaux and Great Domains of Burgundy were available for Twenty to Forty Dollars a bottle then. Today those French wines can be thirty to fifty times more expensive than that.

That Paris tasting got my attention and I was fortunate to acquire several cases of 1973 Napa Wines and a case of 1973 Italian Barolo from the Northern Italian Mountainous Region of Piedmont.  They were all spectacular and although very expensive for the time, set me off on my journey and my love for fine wines.

My cellar still contains many excellent and reasonably expensive wines that I am happy to pour when I entertain, but I mostly find treasures that are far more reasonable in cost to enjoy with a meal for myself.  Living in Arizona can be challenging since finding good and reasonably priced wines is never easy.  There are many reasonably priced wines that I cannot drink or enjoy. Bad aromatics, poor structure, over use of sulfites (that give some headaches and dry sinuses) and lousy acidic tastes are some of the reasons to beware of Supermarket wines.

One of the most important services that I have offered to friends is to help them to weed out the wines to avoid and to offer some to seek.  There are many Wines in stores and on Wine lists. I understand that everyone does not have the same palate or demands from a bottle of wine as do Wine Snobs like me. The best wines from France can cost over a thousand dollars a bottle when first offered for sale and increase in price if it receives high scores from the Wine Critics. The good to Great bottles of Cabernet from Napa/Sonoma and now Washington State can average over $150.00 a bottle.  Yet, the average price for a bottle of wine sold in America is under $10.00 a bottle, a far cry from those astronomical prices for the collectible Wines. It’s easy to see that most people either don’t seek good wines or ever get the chance to learn to enjoy them because of Price.  I see people buying cases of low quality wines in Supermarkets and even at Costco stores. Costco does get some better moderately priced wines and is a great place to find some.  So are some of the Local Wine Stores. People also rely on shelf talkers that reveal how some Critic supposedly rated the wine.  The problem with Shelf Talkers is that many Wines’ quality changes from year to year depending on Weather and the success of the vintage and Talkers frequently show the scores of previous years’ wines not always the current releases.

I don’t know all Wines available in Arizona, but do know most of the good ones.  Feel free to write to me with your varietal preferences, budget per bottle and wines that you do enjoy, and I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have to help your Wine Journey take the forked Road towards joy and not headaches or heartburn.


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