a New York merchant who sells wines aged in his company's cellar, something you see on the East Coast but not so much in California.
Asimov said the cafe and wine bar "offers many great values" and then listed six wines. Two were $60, but the rest were $190 to $295.
Naturally the comments on the story are negative. Of course they are. But they're not as reflexively negative as you might expect, as many show knowledge of wine.
Anne wrote, "Most helpful ... where to buy wines for the 1 percent." (Sarcastic, but statistically I'll bet it's true: I'll bet less than 1% of Americans buy $200 wines.) Ed wrote, "$250 for a Chianti?! Please tell me it's a misprint. No Italian would ever believe it."
I wondered about that wine also. I like Chianti Classico a lot but Ed is right, I can't imagine spending that much for one, in Italy or in San Francisco, even for a 21-year-old wine. The Chianti Classico in question is a 1995 riserva from a winery I don't know, so I went to Wine Searcher to look it up and discovered I can buy that same bottle for prices ranging from $153 to $200 from retail stores (not including shipping).
So is that wine good value?
You pay for the privilege of drinking something at a restaurant: they provide glassware and service. At a wine bar, though, that kind of markup seems excessive to me. But if the wine has been perfectly stored and vouched for by the owner ... well, I don't know how I feel.
Value in wine is complicated. And people are sensitive to it, much more so than other purchases. I like to travel and I think Americans pay ridiculous prices for hotels, but you never see articles about that. However, people obsess over the cost of airfare, and even more so about baggage fees. Why is value in airfare important, but not in hotels? What is it about airfare? And about wine?
A couple years ago I spent $225 for a bottle of wine to have with a Cuban sandwich when I discovered the restaurant had Vega Sicilia from the '80s. My friend who had lunch with me was delighted to help me drink the most expensive bottle she had ever had. She thought I was crazy, and had recently won the lottery, but nonetheless was still crazy. But I saw that wine as a value, or I wouldn't have ordered it. Turns out it was good but not mindblowing, so was it a value in the end? It doesn't feel that way today.
Whereas the $36 bottle of Banyan Gewurztraminer we had at a restaurant on Saturday night, that felt like terrific value: we loved it and drank the whole bottle. However, we can buy that for $10 at Wine-Searcher (and you should: very balanced, pretty aroma, just 11.8% alcohol, not sweet. Excellent with Korean fusion.) So the markup was 3.6 times retail. Was that value?
Asimov told me on Twitter that "there are metrics for determining (value), not just whether random people are willing to pay." I didn't mean to pick on him -- and I don't mean to do so with this post either -- but I completely disagree with that. What metrics? Retail price? Review score?
What about Napa Cabernets that are released at $200, and then wind up on Wines Til Sold Out for $69.99? That happens all the time. Is that wine a value? It's still $70 when there are so many great wines available cheaper.
I'd like to answer the question in my headline: What does "value" in wine mean to me? But I'm not sure what my own answer is. What about you, dear reader? What does "value" in wine mean to you? And is there an upper limit to how expensive a wine can be and still be a "value?"