It was as an undergraduate at music conservatory when someone’s derogatory comment about brick layers in the family pointed out the discrepancy between my working class background and the rather pompous company I found myself in at the time.
Considering what the comment was intended to achieve, it was, ironically enough, one of the proudest, identity-aware moments of my life, and I later enjoyed separating myself from that community of condescending assholes.
I mention it here only inasmuch as the experience arose in me a developing set of personal politics that does today influence my relationship with wine.
I have, on many occasions, wondered at what point it is that the price of wine begins to alienate, discriminate, to perhaps even cheat.
When does the monetary cost of wine begin to be profane in the context of one’s own worldview?
As my relationship with wine deepens, the topic of price raises for me some of the most important questions about what’s in the glass, its origins, and indeed, about myself.
The price of wine is … Important.
What I am willing to pay for a bottle of wine is coming more and more under my own scrutiny, requiring some purposeful, personal reflection. And I am not talking about whether or not I can afford the bottle price.
At its particular price point, is a wine a valued communicator of tradition? Of terroir?
Is it an overpriced imposter?
There does, too, seem to be a certain price point beyond which I will not purchase a wine, no matter how highly regarded it may be. Not because I can’t afford it (which, likely, I can’t). But because I am uncomfortable about pricing so exclusive that it feels to be something inherently contrary to the spirit of wine.
In an economically unequal society, am I comfortable that a wine’s price represents fairness rather than greed?
In practice, this also means having an opinion regarding price points within specific appellations. I mean, look, appellation-governing organizations can create as many new cru, premier cru, and grand selection designations as they wish. I must ask myself, though, whether such inventions bring real improvements in the wines and consumer understanding. Or do they function as well-disguised marketing tools aimed at establishing higher price points?
Producers and appellation-governing organizations might both benefit from consideration of price as a requirement to staying competitively relevant to an international customer base often joined at dinner by images and narrative from media broadcasts of the world’s less fortunate populations.
I mean, clearly the amount one is willing to spend for a bottle of wine will vary individual to individual, likely to evolve with changing economic times and world events. For well-educated, socially aware wine drinkers, price and conscience may be intertwined in a way that influences the pleasure and enjoyment one derives from wine.
To be clear, quality is still the benchmark, not price alone … but good and even excellent quality wines are available at reasonable prices so why not enjoy them and patronize their producers?
Getting comfortable with wine and what we pay for it will likely be every wine lover’s personal reconciliation. For me, it’s a work in progress and I’m closer to getting it sorted. In any case, I will be happy to know that we are thinking about it.