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Is a Lafite worth the money?


#1

So I guess this thread isn’t really asking that question as such, but I’ve been thinking about this off and on for a while and this seems as good a place as any to talk about it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a very, very good chance that I will never taste the very finest Bordeaux or Burgundy. Bottles that sell for £500+, and possibly even £200+ are something that, even for a special occasion, I will likely never be able to justify buying. So I’m curious as to whether I’m really missing out.

I’m conscious that the price of the very finest wines is heavily influenced by brand and reputation, as well as scarcity. Then there’s the investment angle to factor in as well. Up to a point it’s clear that the quality of the wine is broadly speaking proportional to the price, but I can’t believe that holds true once we start talking about wines that are sold en primeur for £1,000+ per case.

So for those of us who’ve tried very fine wine, would you say it was so much better than a counterpart at half/a quarter/a tenth of the price?


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#2

Sorry to say I can’t answer this for the 1st growths really, I’ve tried Mouton once but it was brought out hastily at the end of an evening and as such couldn’t be afforded the time it deserves. I will say though that when drinking it blind before the name was revealed it wasn’t an obvious step up or truly better/meteoric compared to other expensive claret, but it did seem to have something special about it, an innate quality that made it different and notable.

On the truly premium scale the main thing I have experience of is Penfolds Grange, this is a truly epic wine and while I couldn’t say it is worth the £300-£400 the current vintage go for there are sometimes chances to get bottles for around the £150 mark which I think they are well worth pushing the boat out for. Grange ages beautifully and is the wine that really transferred me from wine like to wine love.


#3

In my limited experience of wine over £100 a bottle, I have generally been mildly underwhelmed.


#4

I haven’t tried any very expensive bottles but I like Hugo haven’t really found them as an obvious step up from a cheaper wine, the very expensive bottles are more about drinking the label rather than the wine I feel, from the wines I have tried so far I would say there are exponentially diminishing returns after around £25 a bottle (of still wine) - for me anyway. I think the only one that has made me think ‘yes this is what fine wine should be’ was a bottle was a 1990 Hermitage rouge ‘La Chapelle’ produced by Paul Jaboulet - alas I can’t really afford a bottle!

As Sebastian Payne MW once mentioned in a tasting: “Wine’s job is to be delicious” - could agree more :slight_smile:


#5

In nearly 50 years of drinking wine I’ve only tried two expensive bottles.

The first was a 1991 Chambertin from Rousseau, the second a 2001 Penfolds Grange. Both were stupendous.


#6

I’ve thought a lot about this over the years, and like wine, my thinking has matured - rightly or wrongly - into the position I will outline below.

For the record, I have tasted or had small quantities of a few Bordeaux first growths, a few famous but not ultra-premium wines from Bordeaux, a few famous Burgundies (but not the ultra-famous DRCs or anything comparable), a few top Spanish wines (things like Pingus) - in short, wines costing £300-£1,000 a bottle, but not more expensive than that, that I know of. And in some cases I’ve had fabled old vintages of not-so-famous wines.

Coming from a position of relative scepticism about the likelihood of transcendental greatness in these wines, but fascination with the language used to describe them by great tasters and writers, I always looked very closely for signs of something truly different and unique when presented with the opportunity to taste them.

Even with my most critical, open-minded thinking and tasting hat on, I could never find the qualities in these wines that justified their prices.

I have indeed tasted wines which made my head and senses explode with joy and bewilderment, but they were not in the fabled category, and although always expensive (£50-200/bottle), they were never prohibitive.

I came to the following conclusion, which I maintain to this day:

  • The price of a wine reflects, like any consumer product, a number of characteristics and qualities
  • These include, but are not solely limited to: the qualities of the product itself; the cost to produce, market and distribute it; the reputation and prestige of the brand; the scarcity of the product; the demand for the product; the perceived likely future value of and demand for the product; etc.
  • There is therefore a relatively easy curve to be drawn showing a long tail on the left, for bulk, industrial, large-quantity, cheap to produce wine, climbing steeply up on the right for the rare, premium, expensive wine; this curve is cut through with another line, which does not rise as steeply [important!] measuring the wine’s intrinsic quality as a drink
  • The point at which latter two lines intersect is the point at which you cease to pay for the juice - you’re paying for the label, the brand, the status, the prestige, the true rarity and the perceived rarity

The gap between the two, after the intersection, is the diminishing return. (It would therefore look better presented upside-down, but I’ll leave that to the data visualisation gurus).

So, the debate then, is not about how or whether this occurs, but at which price point.

I read once that Tim Atkin felt it was at about £50. My view, for what it’s worth against someone so erudite, is that it’s a little higher, at maybe £80. Regardless, somewhere between £50 and £100 there is a point at which the increased intrinsic quality/beauty/greatness/fabulousness of a wine (the word “intrinsic” is vitally important - it’s about the absolute quality, not the quality relative to the wine’s market or price bracket) ceases to be worth the additional pounds you’re spending.

You’ll find that beyond a certain price level (putting aside the occasional “bargain” or “discovery”) the increased greatness becomes more and more marginal - and eventually vanishing - for the extra you’re paying.

So, long answer, no, while there’s a lot of story-telling, dramatic value to saying “I once had a '82 Pétrus or a '61 Romanée-Conti” or whatever, I suspect they’re not mind-blowingly better than a wine in the same geographical and varietal category from a fabulous vintage that’s only in the £80-200 bracket.

Having said all of this, I would be more than thrilled to be invited to taste one of these. As a Burgundy lover, nothing would thrill me more than to taste a Romanée-Conti or La Tâche from any vintage!


#7

I was lucky enough a couple of years ago to try a glass of 1985 Petrus and an old Château d’yquem, forget the year but 1960 something. Both were amazing to the point of changing my idea of what a wine could be. Balance, concentration, complexity, length all perfect in my opinion.

I’ve bought or tried a fair few very nice bottles of fine wine since (nothing more than about £150) but have never tasted anything that i felt was as good as I remember those wines being.

What I’d really love to do is taste those wines again, now that I have more knowledge and experience of fine wines in general, and be able to compare objectively. As I feel that maybe my mind has started to play tricks about how good they were! (Although not curious enough to spend thousands of pounds!)


#8

Funny enough I had some 1970 d’Yquem and it was a minor disappointment. I think at the very top level and with considerable bottle age, the variation between different bottles of the same age mean that one bottle is transcendent in its beauty and another is merely very good.

Thinking about wines that were top end and were not disappointing in any way for me:

1)Vega Sicilia Unico 1996 2)Cos d’Estournel 1990. 3)Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenhur Riesling TBA 2006.

Only the 3rd wine tried in the last 5 years.


#9

That’s very true, I guess if you think about how many variables there are in storage/transport conditions etc over a 50 year period, there must be a wide range of qualities within single vintages.
Some would have been kept at the Château their whole lives whilst some could have gone through all sorts of merchants, storage facilities etc etc.


#10

A very interesting view, which, given your status as a member of the WS Committee, raises the question - have you ever suggested that, as a matter of strategy, the WS never sells wine over, say, £100 retail?


#11

Such an interesting discussion!
Some very insightful replies so far. My own contribution boils down to me (cheekily) asking a winemaker from a very respected Bordeaux estate (while visiting a few years ago) whether they ever bought first growths and whether they think they’re worth it. Their answer was a resounding no.

They advised me to drink widely among the classed growth properties and find the wines, properties and styles I liked, and that was the way to drink Bordeaux well. That said:

You were generous enough to share some Grange with me once, Hugo, and it was one of the best wine drinking experiences of my life. :blush: Definitely worth it, especially in the best vintages. Sometimes half of the ‘worth’ comes down to the experience it brings you, doesn’t it? In some cases I think the price tag is worth it for this reason alone.


#12

Is this something a group tasting could solve? A selection of classed growths with one first growth? Literally no idea of the economics of it but if you’re going to get this type of wine is probably only accessible by selling a body part :raised_back_of_hand:or group funding. Could be a good xmas tasting in 2018 for the society…?


#13

Hi @Richard - no I don’t recall anyone on the Committee ever suggesting anything quite like this. I also think it would probably be in conflict with some of the Society’s principles. The idea of there being a threshold of price above which there are diminishing returns in the quality of the wine is not really a controversial one, and therefore one which is commonly understood to be broadly true, but it’s not the Committee’s role to influence pricing policy! It is, however, our role to ask penetrating, challenging questions in the interests of Society members.

Here are some further comments in an attempt to address the thoughts that might have led you to ask the question.

Having a small number of wines above that price - or any other price - means that those members who are interested and can afford it, can buy them. I just did a search on the website and found just 56 wines (in stock, 75cl bottles only) at over £100, out of (exactly!) 1,000 in total. So that’s just 5.6% of all available wines. Wines will always be priced at the best possible value for members. Buyers will always seek to buy what they love, what they think members will love, but will also look for good value, and will think of how popular a wine will be at the likely retail price, and whether the Society can buy the right amount at the right price. The average bottle sold at the Society is just under £9 this year and last year, off the top of my head. I don’t think having a few bottles at over a certain price puts any of the Society’s core values at risk in any way, or fails to treat members fairly.

I think three other points are important to bear in mind:

  • As long as members are able to buy wines across all budget levels, and the weighting of our range reflects members’ preferred buying levels, so that there is both choice and stock distributed in a statistically sound way, we are serving our membership well, and we are serving it fairly
  • As long as members understand - and most discerning wine consumers do - that the “sweet spot” for price is somewhere between a £7-9 point and a £49-69 point, then they know the risks outside of this sweet spot, which bear repeating: at under £7-9, you’re paying more on tax and distribution and marketing and so on than on the wine itself, and above £49-69, you’re starting to pay for brand, and rarity, and status and whatnot, and less on the wine itself. Members who buy outside of this sweet spot still think they’re getting value and it’s their right to think that because they’re making an informed choice
  • The margins on the higher wines are worth more to the Society in absolute terms per bottle - they contribute to our coffers and allow us to sell the more popular wines at better prices! I’m not saying one wine directly subsidises another of course, but it’s good practice to have wines across all price points, in order to have a robust business

I hope I’ve helped clarify some of your concerns.

As @laura says, it’s a good discussion!


#14

Just noticed a member has reviewed a Cote Rotie wine - its £50 off at £425 a bottle but it looks like the member enjoyed the wine and it was more of a memorable experience rather than just a bottle of wine.


#15

Good for him! It takes guts to spend that much and still show enough composure to make (and share!) tasting notes…“not for everyday”…uhum…


#16

I also like that:

“Members that bought this also bought
Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, Guigal 2013”

At £9.95 a bottle…


#17

Indeed, although for me its also showing a £350 st Emilion, a £390 Penfold Grange and a tad cheaper '09 Musar - I would probably pick the Musar! We are about to start refining the product recommendations to ensure that they are as relevant as possible - the recommendations given for this wine could be better I think!


#18

I have to say I have really enjoyed reading all the viewpoints and experiences shared in this thread. Having started it, I haven’t contributed since, mainly because I don’t have the tangible experience to have an informed view, but it’s quite reassuring to see that the general feeling is that one could drink wines that are about as good as it gets without having to ever exceed £200ish pounds per bottle.

I can absolutely visualise @ricard’s graph of cost versus intrinsic value, and I think that’s a good thing to have in the back of the mind. I think that’s what I was trying to articulate but without the terminology to do it!

One of the other lovely things that’s come out of this thread is seeing the passions that people have for specific wines or regions or styles. Penfolds Grange is now on my list, thanks to @hugofount @Richard and @laura
I am still scarred by the thought of a Mouton emerging late in an evening! I guess it’s about the company and the moment, but if I knew a Mouton was coming it’s the kind of thing I’d want to build my week/month/decade around, rather than just sample as an afterthought! Not that I’d complain of course… As for Burgundy and @ricard having that eagerness to taste the finest DRCs etc… yeah I am completely with you on that. I went to a wine tasting with BBR a while ago where we had white and red Burgundies in the £30-£70 range and it was mind blowing. The chap leading the tasting had chosen bottles that were extreme examples, and I remember one Chardonnay smelling like petrol but tasting like heaven. There’s something slightly magical about all the different flavours and perfumes you can extract from the same two grapes, grown within a relatively small area, and although I’m more likely to spend £30 on a Bordeaux than a Burgundy it’s more because I feel like I’d have a better chance of picking a good one. Somehow, creating beautiful transcendental Pinot Noir feels, like spin bowling, to be witchcraft…

Anyway, thank you all for your input on this. It’s been a great read!


#19

If you want mind blowing flavours and complexity from the same grape check out Sherry :smiley:


#20

I posted this on twitter about a year ago - was at the bottom of a mailshot of another merchant (blasphemy, I know). Although wine scores aren’t everything, the difference in points and pounds is astounding!