Can You Tell an $18 Bottle of Wine from a $34 Bottle?

Lately, I’ve been doing some food segments on Great Day, KCWI. Recently I invited a wine pro to come in and taste wines to see if we could tell an $18 bottle from a $34 bottle.

See for yourself:

Let’s just say that the results were not definitive. We found this to be much more difficult than we thought it would be. And that’s probably because the wines were so good. They were both Louis M. Martini wines; one was from Napa Valley; the other was from Sonoma County. The former was $34 and the latter was $18.

Trouble is, we liked them both. But, as it turns out, I actually liked the $18 bottle better than the $34 bottle. As a wine writer, should I be embarrassed? Heavens no! Because here’s the deal:

This was my favorite of the two (though I’d never say no to either of them!).

1. Just because you spend more for a wine doesn’t mean you’ll like the wine better.

I loved the fruit of both bottles, but while the Napa bottle had a little more tannic structure and serious cedar/cigar box notes to it, the Sonoma bottle has this fascinating layer of spice going on—and it just added a bright zest to the finish. Being someone who loves good Chiantis, Argentine Malbecs, wines like Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, and other bright reds, it’s no wonder that I liked the spicy side of Cab in the Sonoma wine.

2. You should always be happy when you prefer a less expensive bottle over a pricey one.

Really. How hard is it to find a nice bottle of wine for $34 or more? The trick—and the fun—is finding an $18 bottle that tastes like a splurge. I think we found that with the Louis M. Martini 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon.

Of course, if you prefer wines that have more of what wine-lovers call structure, and more of those layers of cedar and cigar box (amidst the deep cassis-berry fruit), then, you may have to pony up for a higher-end bottle

3. The better the wines, the harder it is to figure out which one is expensive. 

Anyone who likes wine can probably tell an $8 from a $34 bottle, but that $18 to $35 category can be really tricky. The point is, you can find MANY great wines in that $15 to $20 range, so the good news is, you don’t have to spend $34 for a bottle if you don’t feel like it.

So… you think YOU could tell an $18 from a $34 bottle? An $8 from a $35 bottle? I’m curious! Why not give it a try some night?

And if you wish to point the way to a good $15 to $20 bottle, I’m all ears! Thanks!


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2 comments to Can You Tell an $18 Bottle of Wine from a $34 Bottle?

  • Rarely can I tell an expensive bottle from a less expensive one…there are great wines at all price points! I am into trying wines of all price points from the same region to get to know the region and the producers better.


    • Wini

      So true, Sara. Seriously–especially in that $15 to $20 range, you can find bottles that are so fascinating….and for a few dollars more (I’m thinking $22), you can often find bottles that I’d put up against $50 bottles any day.

      Not that I don’t/won’t splurge now and then, but it’s sometimes more about ritual/occasion than whether or not I like the wine better or not.

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