Vin Connections Price and Quality (October 2003)


Twenty A- or Better Rated Wines for $20 and Under

In this issue, we feature 20 great wines that prove the relationship between the price of a wine and how good it tastes is not clearly defined. Judge for yourself . . . try a bottle or two from our list below as you hand out Halloween candy this week . . . and give yourself a treat!

In Napa, the most obvious signs for visitors are the roadside placards luring patrons into the tasting rooms dotting the countryside, as they invite you to enjoy special harvest-related tasting events and tours. Tractors on the road and trucks laden with fresh-picked grapes on the Silverado Trail vie with rental cars, limos and tour buses down the narrow lanes that cross the valley floor.

While great fun for tourists, these events mask the utter seriousness of the harvest. For pickers, the wages they take home are set by the quantity of grapes brought in. For winemakers, the quality of the grapes, influenced in large part by when they are picked and how quickly they are crushed, can make or break the vintage. And for winery owners, the quality of the harvest often spells profits – or losses – for the year to come.

It’s easy to forget that wine making, at its heart, is farming. And farming is hard work, fraught with the uncertainties of Mother Nature. So as we’re enjoying our favorite wine, or trying a new one, raise a glass to those who work so hard each year – and succeed – at blending agriculture, art and science.


  • This Month’s Reader Question:
    Is there an easy way to understand the relationship between the price of a wine and its quality?
  • This Month’s Wine Pick:
    20 for $20 and Under
    Sauvignon Blanc
  • This Month’s Quote:
    Two from “The Essential Wine Buff,” edited by Jennifer Taylor


“Is there an easy way to understand the relationship between the price of a wine and its’ quality? In other words, what’s the rule for wine price/value?”
— Adora Umaguing, Burbank California

There is no doubt that quality and price connect to a certain degree. Below a certain price point it’s exceedingly rare that you find very good (B+) or better wines. As a wine maker told us on a recent visit to Napa, “people make mediocre wine from good grapes all the time… but you just can’t make good wine from bad grapes.” And, good grapes cost more.

But as prices rise from $10 to $15 or $20 a bottle, they begin to reflect that oldest of all economic maxims: the law of supply and demand. The most important ingredients in the decision to change the retail price of a wine are scarcity and prestige. To quote a wine industry insider, “The thing you’re paying for as you move up would be prestige, scarcity and, to some extent, intensity of flavor.” (We’ll just take the flavor, thank you!)

Here’s a great example of the disconnect between cost and quality. Of the several hundred recently reviewed A+ rated wines in the Wine PocketList, they are pretty evenly distributed between the $30 2000 Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah “Mere Road Vineyard” from Australia (which I found recently for $26 and change) to the $10, 2001 “Alvarinho” Albarino by Quinta da Pedra from Portugal.

So, by combing through all the wine periodicals and noting those wines that have high ratings and low prices (or, more simply, by using the Wine PocketList to see ALL wines reviewed that are highly-rated and under $30) you will end up with many opportunities to try $15, $20 or $25 wines that are rated every bit as high as the hundreds of wines in the $75 to $150 range . . . and up.

That’s what we call a bargain.

[Do you have a wine-related question you’d like to ask? If so, contact us and you may see it answered in an upcoming issue!]


Twenty A- or Better Rated Wines for $20 and Under

Here are our picks for 20 wines that prove a wine’s high quality isn’t always accompanied by a high price. Judge for yourself . . . and give yourself a treat!


2000 Zaca Mesa
Santa Ynez Valley, CA
IE: A, A-$20, Grade A
2000 Lake Breez, “Barnoota”
Langhorne Creek, Australia
IE: A$19, Grade A
2000 La Crema
Sonoma County, CA
IE: A-$18, Grade A-
2001 Morandй, “Vitisterra Grand Reserve”
Maipo Valley, Chile
IE: A-, A-$15, Grade A-
1999 Vinterra
Argentina Mendoza
IE: A-$10, Grade A-

Sauvignon/Fumй Blanc

2000 Simi, “Sendal Reserve”
Sonoma County, CA
IE: A$20, Grade A+
2002 Groom
Adelaide Hills, South Australia
IE: A$16, Grade A
2001 Dry Creek, “Fumй Blanc, DCV3”
Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County
IE: B+, B, A-, A$18, Grade A-
2001 Liparita, “Oakville”
Napa Valley, CA
IE: B+, A-$18, Grade A-
2001 Honig
Napa Valley, CA
IE: A-, B+$14 Grade A-


2001 Cambria “Katherine’s Vineyard”
Santa Maria Valley, Santa Barbara County, CA
IE: A+$20, Grade A+
2001 Navarro “Premiere Reserve”
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, CA
IE: A+$18, Grade A+
2001 Hanna “Estate”
Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, CA
IE: A$18, Grade A
2002 Santa Rita “Reserva”
Casablanca Valley, Chile
IE: A-$12, Grade A-
2001 Esser Cellars “California”
IE: A-$8, Grade A-


2000 Sausal “Private Reserve”
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, CA
IE: A$20, Grade A
2001 Rosenblum “Planchon Vineyard, San Francisco Bay”
IE: A$19, Grade A
2000 Valley of the Moon
Sonoma County, CA
IE: A-$15, Grade A-
2000 Stonehedge
Napa Valley, CA
IE: A-$15, Grade A-
2000 Castoro Cellars
Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, CA
IE: A-$14, Grade A-

Wine Quote

“The Essential Wine Buff,” edited by Jennifer Taylor, 1996

“As far as I am concerned, there are only two types of wine, those I like and those I don’t.”

“In wine tasting and wine talk, there is an enormous amount of humbug.”


Understanding our System

Grade: [A-]
Our grades represent a composite score developed using our proprietary system to blend wine quality and scoring information.

Vintage: 1999
This describes both the year of the actual grape harvest as well as the year the wine was made.

Price: $12
The prices quoted in the WPL are the “suggested retail prices” quoted by the wineries and the distributors. Though these are close to what you’d pay at the winery, you’ll often find discounts of 20% and more off these prices at retail.

Individual Evaluations: IE: A, A-, B+
This represents the number of individual reviews and ratings on which the composite grade is based, primarily representing individual reviews in top wine periodicals converted to our scale, and ratings by our tasting panel.

Wine PocketList Exclusive Categories: WPL: BBC, W, S, B
These are four exclusive WPL categories, and many wines rated by the PocketList will fall into one of these special designations.

[W] Widely Available:
These wines typically have bottling of 20,000 cases or more, making them widely available in most regions of the U.S.

[BBC] Top Buy-by-the-Case:
Based on multiple, outstanding reviews and a solid history, these are wines you can purchase by the case to grow your cellar with confidence today, and into the future!

[B] Bargain Wines:
Top-rated wines for $10 or less. Most of these can go head to head with a typical $30 bottle sporting a fancy label . . . and beat it hands down.

[S] Splurge Wines:
For most of us, spending more than $20 on a bottle of wine isn’t something we do lightly. These are wines that, while more expensive, are well worth the price.

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