First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 20th May, 2017
Do expensive wines taste any better? It is a question I am often asked. My answer is: yes and no. Obviously, a pricier wine should offer more; more complexity, more elegance, more fruit and more intensity than a cheaper model. But quite often it doesn’t. A wine producer is no different to any other business and will try to maximise profits. Simply by being based in a well-known region, some can charge a premium over their neighbours. Others dress their wines up in heavy bottles and fancy labels in an effort to persuade us to part with a little more money. Then there is the importer and retailer margin; some take more than others.
So price is certainly not a guarantee of quality. Against this, if a producer receives a better price, they can afford to make a much better wine. I find that generally, if you pay more, you get more – to a certain price ceiling, when the law of diminishing returns set in. Given our very high excise duties, most of the cost of any wine under €10 goes straight to the government, so cheap wine is never really good value.
For me, the sweet spot in wine is between €12-25, where you should notice a big step up in quality. If you don’t then you should stick to the cheap stuff. For a treat, I am happy to pay up to €50 and sometimes more for a really great wine, having convinced myself that the same price would get me an average bottle in most restaurants.
Not everybody likes expensive wine however; studies have shown that many consumers prefer cheaper wines that tend to have more residual sugar, adding richness and texture, as well as lighter tannins or acidity (in white wines).
I sometimes find myself preferring the less expensive wines because they have not been given lavish oak treatment, and I don’t generally like the taste of oak. It is all a matter of personal taste, and as with anything else in life, you should never let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.
This week, you can conduct your own experiment. I have chosen four Malbecs from Argentina, all widely available. The complete set will cost you about €55, but you could share the burden with a few friends and do a tasting together – blind if you feel like really testing yourself.
For me, the Barrel Select was the winner, clearly superior to the two less expensive wines and great value for money at €12.95. For a posh dinner with beef or lamb, I would certainly be happy to pay an extra €10 for the Clos de la Siete, made (and part owned) by renowned French wine consultant Michel Rolland.
Wines to try
Aldi Exquisite Collection Malbec, Uco Valley Argentina 2015, 13.5%, €8.49.
Decent, well-made wine with slightly astringent dark fruits. Stockists: Aldi.
Norton Colección Malbec 2016, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €11.95.
Easy ripe red fruits, with a rounded finish. Stockists: O’Briens.
Norton Barrel Select Malbec 2015, Mendoza, Argentina, 13%, €14.95 (€12.95 for May).
A perennial favourite with medium-bodied warm savoury dark fruits and a soft harmonious finish. Stockists: O’Briens.
Clos de los Siete 2013, Uco Valley, Argentina, 14.5%, €21.95.
Full-bodied and smooth with elegant sultry dark fruits, plenty of spice and a dry finish. Stockists: O’Briens.