The letdown of fine wines

I recently saw Sarah’s thread about being “done” with buying wine, which I think heavily inspired this post / caused me to think about this topic; but wanted to keep this a separate topic to avoid hijacking that thread.

Over the last several years I’ve been blessed to be able to acquire a number of fine wines, including some aged first growth Bordeaux, culty Napa cabs, red Burgundies, and other fine bottles from around the world. Lately, I’ve been troubled by a nagging feeling when it comes to drinking these fine wines, which makes me question if I’m buying the wrong wines, or if I just need to find a new hobby. I’ll caveat this by saying that I don’t have many (any) friends / family who are “into” wine, and while my wife appreciates a glass here and there, wine is not her preferred drink either. While my friends and family all appreciate wine generally, none of them are reading wine berserkers or buying expensive bottles, for example.

Lately each time I open one a bottle of fine wine (by which I mean wines that cost $300 - $500+), I keeping finding myself disappointed. I can’t shake the feeling that while the wine is great, it’s definitely not 10x+ as good as a $20 - $40 bottle would be, and I can’t help but feel like my friends / family would be just as happy drinking a $10 dollar bottle. Am I crazy for expecting “more” from these unicorn bottles? It feels like going to a fine dining restaurant and spending a fortune on a meal that turned out to be just a bit better than the restaurant in town that costs 1/8th the price.

Anyone else experience this sort of thing?

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I see diminishing returns around $100. Beyond that and it’s hard to justify cost for me. (though I do buy over that price point).

I could drink $20-$40 bottles the rest of my life and drink gold-standard wines. Lower and $20 and pickings become very slim.

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Yes, because that exists in everything. Theres a point after which your enjoyment/$ decreases, and for most people thats probably right in the $20-50 range. After that point, if buying a $1,000 bottle doesnt make a dent in your wallet, youre probably still going to buy it and enjoy it more than someone who buys $40 bottles and was expecting an orgasm of the senses.

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Yep, not unusual at all. When this happens, I tend to take it as a suggestion that I switch things up somehow; if I’ve been drinking a lot of wines of a particular variety, or from a particular price band, or from a particular region, I might alter consumption plans so that I start doing something completely different. Often, this change operates as a “breath of fresh air,” and things get increasingly interesting and less disappointing, at least for a while …

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Mike… What wines are you specifically talking about?

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Most recently, a 2012 Sassicaia, a 2014 Ponsot Clos Vougeot Vielles Vignes, and a 2015 Harlan Estate. Opening a 2019 Scarecrow and an 1982 Haut Brion on Friday, and already expecting similar results.

I fully agree that such wines rarely if ever feel 10x as good.

Going back 3-4 decades, the differential between mass market, estate bottled wine and the most prestigious wines, was much narrower. Indeed the bottom end has not moved much in price in the UK, as duty makes a big dent in the price, and there remains strong resistance to paying more for supermarket wine. Conversely at the very top end, it seems like limited supply and greater interest from those with extreme wealth, have made the most prestigious wines expensive beyond any vinous logic.

Would I now buy those (few) bottles that I have, that are ‘worth’ hundreds of pounds? Hell no, not a single one of them. I’ll probably still drink them, but I’d probably make sure they were drunk in company, to share the experience.

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What didn’t you like about the wines?

The quality vs. price curve has long been known. It is not a straight line going up at a 45 degree angle. At some point it bends over and flatten out and spending more $$'s on a wine yields a diminishing return.
At what point does the curve bend over?? Depends upon the kind of wine you’re talking about. It’s much further out on the $$ scale for Red Bordeaux or Red Burgundy than it is for Bojo or Calif Syrah.
Tom

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The wines themselves are fine - great, even. It’s assessing how great they are that I’ve found disappointing. For example, this summer we were able to eat at the French Laundry. It was obscenely expensive, but easily the best meal I’ve ever had and I found it well worth the money. When I compare that restaurant experience to the French place here in town, it’s clear why it costs what it does, and the service and food was SO much better that the price seemed justified to me. I compare that to opening a bottle of wine that costs10x what I usually drink, and it doesn’t even come close to that same level of “outperformance” versus the average.

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So then why open these this week?

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Each of those wines are very different. What specifically did not you not like about them?

FWIW, IMO, well-stored bottles of 82 Haut Brion are sublime and worth the high-tariff. 2015 Harlan is also a killer wine but in a very different style.

Not all pricey wines are worth the money. That is true. But knowing what you like, and don’t, and why, will make you a better consumer.

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I see. I do think that price correlates to quality up to a certain point, but once getting past a certain threshold (for me, $30 generally speaking), it’s not so much quality as it is personal preference.

I also wonder if you don’t prefer wines in that age range, as they can be a little awkward – at least in my experience. If I were to open that wines, it would be more about assessing where they are in their evolution than out of enjoyment. These wines will probably show plenty of tannin and structure, which can get in the way of a pleasurable experience.

I think you may have better luck with the Scarecrow and Haut Brion, as they fall into where many like their Cabernet (either very young or 25+ years of age).

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I would say that most likely you are opening the wrong wines for your palate. A really expensive wine showing perfectly can still be disappointing if it’s not your jam. I’ve had several '82 BDX this year for my birth year and none of them have been top top for me personally and could be viewed as a disappointment.

And that doesn’t even account for drinking wines outside their optimal drinking window, which I might say you have done with your recent choices. A good wine that’s not ready isn’t going to wow anyone.

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No matter how good the wines are, I think the epiphany wines are still relatively few and far between.

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Expensive wine doesn’t equal “fine wine.” It just means it’s expensive. If a $500 wine disappoints, I’d spent my $500 elsewhere next time.

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I had that 1982 Haut Brion with @Charlie_Carnes about two years ago, it was spectacular. We had the 1982 La Mish last year, also spectacular. Obviously, at this age, it is all about bottle condition. These wines are sublime. I doubt I would ever buy a bottle of Harlan or scarecrow, and have never been impressed with either; and 2015 and 2019 seems very young for wines like that to shine anyway. Let us know what you think of that Haut Brion.

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Yes, this is of course true. I put a price for context, as I’m not well known on the board and I know many people who would consider $40 for a bottle to be egregiously expensive.

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All families are different but I would never expect mine (parents, sister - spouse is different given how much and widely she has been forced to taste and hone her palate) to enjoy a very expensive wine any more than an affordable one. In fact I might even expect the opposite given how their palates are not very accustomed to tannin, high acid, strong autolysis or tertiary notes at all.

I wonder if, like me Covid-19 has changed relationships with wine. It just doesn’t seem all that important and I don’t feel the need to be up on all the cool stuff. Except for Ultramarine, i have reset my spending limit back down to $40 and plan for any purchases to be considered daily drinkers. After 20+years, I know how to buy a good wine at that level and am fine with that.

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