Price Points

What makes a bottle worth the extra money?

A few weeks ago, the Napa Valley Vintners' biannual road show flooded my wine world. Seventy winemakers and principals preened and crooned about their $30-plus wines, while the adoring public (and the wine trade) lapped them up. I often think about Napa in the same way I think about talented but ego-driven celebrities — they might be brilliant at what they do, but as my mother would say, "They are getting too big for their britches."

And it goes without saying that offensive prices often follow heady fame. But do the expensive ones taste better to the average person? When I taste a $30 wine — Napan or not — my finely tuned money filter invariably asks, "Would I or anyone I know pay $30 for this? And why?" >>>

Influencing the cost of a bottle is not just ego or glowing wine reviews — ingredients consume gobs of money. And to create a fantastic bottle of wine, like a fine sports car, you must start with quality materials. The winery might have its own lovingly tended estate grapes or buy fruit from the best vineyards. And these grapes — and the soil they're grown in — cost serious shekels. In Napa, the price per acre of land went up from $125,000-$180,000 in 2002 to $200,000-$300,000 today. Add rising labor costs, winery overhead, and the escalating price of treasured French oak barrels, and you've got some serious expenses.

Thankfully, the investment sometimes delivers delicious results. And you'll know when the winemaker gets it right. You'll know, since it's like driving 100 miles-per-hour in a cushy SLR Mercedes convertible with the wind in your hair. You might be risking your life (and your money), but what a way to go. M

Recommended Wines

J. Davies 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain (California) Soft yet firm and loving like a good parent. Refined fruit of black cherry, vanilla, and a subtle oakiness. Needs to breathe to let its flavors fully seduce you. $75. e e e e e

Sbragia Family Vineyards 2004 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon (California) From this famed vineyard comes a seductive and elegant Cab ready to massage your weary mind. Has smooth black cherry covered in sweet chocolate, followed by lush vanilla and earthy coffee. What a Napa cabernet should be. $50. e e e e e

Flora Springs 2005 Merlot Napa Valley (California) Flora Springs produces the most consistent Merlot in all of California. Reliably fruity with black cherry, Momma's sweet blackberry pie, with a kiss of earthy leather. Espresso and soft vanilla tannins even it all out. $27. e e e e 1/2

Bonny Doon Vineyard Vol des Anges 2006 Quite possibly the best Bonny Doon wine I've ever tasted. This deliciously balanced dessert wine melts on the tongue. Ripe peaches and apricots dripping in honey burble from this late-harvest Roussanne's soul. $30. e e e e 1/2

Rosenblum 2005 Zinfandel Rockpile Road (California) Bold, inky, gushing fruit like black cherry and wild blackberries, with edgy bittersweet chocolate and a spicy finish. Voluptuous comes to mind. $30. e e e e

Robert Mondavi 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Reserve Ripe cherry, piquant black pepper, green pepper, cocoa, smoke, and a bit of licorice. It's dense, concentrated, and young, but good once it lets itself breathe in the glass. $125. e e e e

Simi 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Alexander Valley Silky with blackberry, ripe red cherry, vanilla, and a dash of black pepper. Subtle tannins and well-integrated acids. $60. e e e e e

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