Great Wine: Rip-off or Ripper?

This article first appeared in Style Magazine, December 2007

Tyson Stelzer

The Festive Season calls for some extra special wines. But before you go spending up big, Tyson Stelzer explains how to make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

“Is a $500 bottle of wine really worth so much more than a $5 bottle?”

I hear the question all the time. Surely it can’t be 100 times better! Does it really cost 100 times more to make? Of course not. So how can one bottle of wine be so ear-splittingly expensive?

Not surprisingly, it’s the same answer for everything. Is Prada really so much better than Best & Less? Ferrari than Hyundai? The Hilton than Hotel Formula 1?

Quality comes at a price, and at the top end there is a diminishing law of returns. In the wine world, price is dictated largely by demand. Wine companies can charge whatever consumers are prepared to pay.

I’ve just returned from a week tasting through Burgundy, arguably the most revered wine turf on the planet. The entire production of some of Burgundy’s best wines comprises a single barrel (25 cases), which must be shared across an entire world of thirsty Burgundy fanatics. Suddenly four-digit prices become vaguely understandable.

Scarcity is less relevant in Australia than it is in Burgundy, and, right or wrong, high prices at home are more often driven by reputation or perceived prestige.

But what about the quality of the wine itself? The more I taste expensive wines, the more I realise that correlation between price and quality is haphazard. It’s a harsh fact, but there are bottles with three-digit price tags in your local that aren’t worth half the price.

And there are equally expensive wines alongside them that are absolute bargains. It’s a fact that you will never buy truly great wines at bottom-shelf prices. To take your celebrations to the next level, it’s going to cost, but there are great rewards awaiting you in the drinking stakes.

The very best wines at every price will always out-perform cheaper wines, and this point is crucial. It’s these wines that you must set in your sights. Their sheer class will blow your mind, stun your friends and take any occasion to the next level.

As the festive season cranks up and you’re on the hunt for a worthy bottle, don’t hesitate to fork out, but do choose carefully. The 365 wines short-listed in my book Taste Food & Wine 2008 sell from $5 to $500. Every one of them is worth every cent.

Tyson’s Picks

Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz NV, $19.50
The perfect wine for Christmas and at this price you could buy a case to last all the way to New Year’s Eve! Its plummy, spicy and ultra-complex flavours will keep any turkey happy. (1st Choice, Era, McGuires, Vintage Cellars)

Champagne Jacquart Brut Traditional NV, $45
This is serious celebration bubbles with layers of rich peach and honey flavours that will pull into line when served ice cold. Don’t be caught drinking anything less than real Champagne this Christmas. (Dan Murphys)

PHI Lusatia Park Vineyard Chardonnay 2006, $55
So sublime and intellectual that it will transport you into The Matrix to meet The Architect, challenging your sense of reality and slowing everything down to bullet-time slow motion. (Era, Festival Cellars)

Penfolds Grange Bin 95 2002, $499
Is Grange worth all the hype? You bet your bloody life it is this year. It’s got everything you could imagine, but with control and refinement. It’s also got a longer life ahead of it than your own. (Widely available)