How much should you spend on a bottle of wine? It depends on your budget. There are some very good bottles of wine for around $20 (retail). If you spend much less than that, then drinkable wine is a bit hard to find.
Wine is no different than anything else – you usually get what you pay for. I’ve found the following to be true: to notice an appreciable difference in wines, the cost must be doubled. For example, if you’ve been drinking wine costing $20 a bottle, then a $40 bottle will taste better. An $80 bottle will taste better than a $40, and so on.
According to my taste, there seems to be a break at about the $80 level. Up to that point wines seem to be linear and only about the taste of the fruit. Above the $80 level they seem to become more complex and more interesting. A wine’s taste can change as it travels over your palate and sometimes magic happens. You might notice such things as multiple layers evolving as well as other nuances. After the wine is swallowed, the great ones will linger and just keep on giving pleasant sensations.
Everyone tastes wine a bit differently. You might not like the $80 bottle and much prefer the $20 bottle, and that’s great. Good wine doesn’t always correlate with cost.
There is a Latin term, adaequatio rei et intellectus, which basically means the intellect of the knower must be adequate to the thing known. In other words, we must learn about and sample many wines so we can be adequate to the challenge of discriminating between the great, the good, and the not so good.
One way to refine your tasting is to use the Wine Tasting Evaluation Sheet in this blog. It will ask you to rate a bottle according to visual, aroma, texture, taste, and finish (all with descriptors). Always keep your scoresheets for future reference, but I think the best way to compare wine is side-by-side tastings. For example, if you have five different bottles from different vintners of Pinot Noir, and you taste each one, then you will probably notice some distinct differences among the selections.
Some bullet points:
As a result of your wine tasting education, you will also taste foods differently. Tasting is a skill, and it becomes more refined as you practice it.
Almost any wine will benefit from decanting ahead of time.
In case you don’t know this, when you order wine in an eating establishment, the mark up can be huge (up 100% or more), so their $80 bottle is the same bottle you can buy for $40 at a retail wine store.
We try to follow our dinner party equation: great food + great wine + great friends + great conversation = a great and memorable evening. Throw in an average bottle of wine, and it throws the equation way out of whack.