Behind the Tag
The Scoop on Wine Prices

That’s a simple question, but it’s surprisingly difficult to answer.

Wine is one of the world’s most regulated products, encountering several touch points from grape to glass, each having the potential to increase its costs. For starters, farming grapes involves land, labor, and transportation costs. That cost is increased by sorting through fruit to remove unwanted items (such as unripe grapes, or things you’d rather not have liquefied, like lizards), and fermenting, aging, bottling, and storing the juice once pressed. Generally speaking, the more expensive the raw materials are, the more expensive the resulting wine will be.

But that’s just the beginning. Wine needs to be bottled, packaged, exported/imported, distributed, marketed, and then sold through various channels, with further costs (such as taxes and license fees) levied along the way. As more than one winemaker has surely remarked, it can sometimes seem like a miracle that a bottle of wine ever finds its way to a store shelf at a reasonable price!

There’s also a key factor that trumps nearly all others when it comes to the price that finally gets slapped onto a bottle of your favorite vino: good old-fashioned supply and demand. Adam Smith and John Locke knew of what they spoke hundreds of years ago: if a product is in demand, and supply is low, you need to be prepared to pay through the nose for it. Wine is, of course, no exception, and the most sought-after wines from the most storied wine regions (Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Burgundy, for example) are able to charge whatever they think the market – that’s you – will pay.

Despite the complexity, wine prices can generally be divided up into a few manageable categories. Within each price range, there are some guiding principles regarding what you can expect, and where some of the relative bargains can be found. Let’s take a look at how to navigate a few of those price ranges.

$9 and Under

This is about as inexpensive as fine wine gets. Just as some fast food joints can provide tasty experiences at bargain prices, there are equally tasty wine experiences to be had in this lower price range. What you shouldn’t expect here is wine made from the best hand-harvested grapes aged in the finest French oak barrels. What you should be able to get, however, are wines that genuinely taste like the grapes from which they are made, are fault-free (or “clean” as we wine geeks call them), fruity, simple, and meant for early consumption – usually within one year. Grapes in this price range are often sourced from a large geographic area (such as all of California), and can include lesser-known varieties. All of that helps contain costs and allows for a consistent “house style.” California has this down pat, as do some Old World wine regions like Spain and France. Chile, in South America, might be the current king of bargains in this range.

$9 and Under Wine


When you step up in price to this range, you step up in grape quality and production techniques. You also often see wines sourced from a smaller range of vineyard areas and harvested in specific vintages. The results are similar to the $9-and-under category, but with a bit more aromatic complexity. This category is also where you begin to see more well-known grape varieties (such as Chardonnay, or Cabernet Sauvignon). Economies of scale, and/or low production costs are the key factors in keeping a wine’s price within this range. Look for offerings from Argentina, California, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, and South Africa.

$10-$15 Wine


These are the shores of wine luxury land. At the top end of this range, wine producers have many more techniques available to them for producing higher-quality wine, including better fruit sorting, increased labor, and more elegant aging tools such as oak barrels. This is also the range in which smaller producers, who lack economies of scale for keeping prices lower, can show off what they can do. For those reasons, it’s the price point in which New York, Virginia, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece, and Washington State seem to thrive, offering complex, interesting, and tasty wines with some aging potential.

$15-$30 Wine


Now we’re talking big bucks for most wine drinkers. This is special-occasion wine territory, and you should expect excellence: clean, expressive, complex, age-worthy wines. There is a wide range of styles in this category, but it favors the opulent, the luxuriant, or the age-able (and often a combination of all three). At these price points, the highest-end production techniques and vineyard sourcing are available to wine producers, significantly increasing the quality of the wines (and the expense to make them, which is passed on to you). This is also the price range in which supply and demand starts to limit the bargain-hunting possibilities. Look for specific appellations from well-regarded wine regions, such as those in Oregon, California, Italy, Spain, Germany, and France, and you likely won’t be disappointed.

$30-$50 Wine

$50 and Up

Once you get here, there is no upper limit. Most often, wines in this range are made from grapes sourced from specific vineyards or individual parcels within vineyards. They result from the best, most labor-intensive production techniques, such as hand-harvesting and hand-sorting fruit. Those expensive techniques only set the floor of this price band. There are plenty of wines fetching more than $100 per bottle, and even some that command prices above $1,000 in extreme cases. And that’s for current releases, not perfectly aged bottles from storied vintages! The single biggest price determinants here? Supply and demand plus brand-name recognition. Usually you will get what you pay for here, but you will certainly pay for the privilege of what you get.

$50 and Up Wine

The best thing about wine is that regardless of your budget, there is something for you as long as you know what to look for. Whether you’re shopping for a wedding anniversary, that perfect bottle to impress your wine-loving friends, or simply because it’s Thursday, you can expect to find a bottle that will please across a range of price points.

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