Price Versus Quality


I think most people assume price is a reliable guide to wine quality. But, is it?

This is an oft-debated subject; it causes much tearing of hair in the wine industry. Of course, subjectivity is a real factor in wine preference. Also, when trained, experienced tasters evaluate wine they’re more likely to react negatively to technical faults than untrained tasters.

Indeed, flaws sometimes cause untrained tasters to prefer Wine A to Wine B. I recently attended a Domaine Comte Georges De Vogue Bonnes Mares vertical tasting where three wine scribes (self included) rated two vintages which exhibited some brettanomyces much lower than the non-professional tasters, some of whom rated those wines their favourites.

But I digress. I recently drew up a scatter-chart (above) based on a tasting of mid to lower-priced red Bordeaux, and the result was much as I expected: a dog’s breakfast! I hasten to point out that the preferences and quirks of individual tasters should be minimal here, as the ratings were not only mine, but the averaged scores of a panel of seven very experienced tasters (self included).

A statistically-minded friend tells me the R-squared value (which shows the strength of the relationship between the data) is 0.14, which is too low to be considered meaningful: 0.3 would be considered a mild link, and 0.5 or higher would show a significant relationship. In other words, price is not a reliable indicator of quality. Indeed, if you buy a more expensive bottle thinking you will be getting a better wine, the probability of your hope coming true is a meagre 14%!

That’s what keeps we wine scribes in business!

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