The effect of price on wine reviews

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around,
That clinking clanking sound
Can make the world go ’round.”

– Money, Money from Cabaret

We have a running debate here at AWB about whether I should know the price of a wine when I am tasting samples we’ve received for review. Amy believes that it influences my decisions, and I believe that it should. I’m not sure how that is really a debate, but somehow we manage to make it one. Ah, amore!

In the end, I almost always take price into consideration when writing a review. In fact, oftentimes price is a factor in whether I write the review at all. Does that mean that a $5 wine will not be reviewed, or that just because a bottle costs $300 it is too expensive to recommend it?  No, what it means is that they will be judged by the standard that their price sets for what is in the glass.

Recently we were sent 6 different bottles of wine by the same producer. On Friday night we opened one of the bottles and it was excellent. I took notes and it will be reviewed here soon. It was the sort of wine that makes me say above that I almost always take price into consideration. It was big, bold, intense and delicious. The only way that price would have come into play would be if it was priced cheaply. That would have made me recommend it even more, but only after I made sure that I had ordered a case of it first.

After sampling the first bottle, I was hopeful that I might be able to review all 6 bottles in one post. We’ve never been able to do something like that yet. Last night we opened another bottle from the same group of samples. This one was a Dry Creek Zinfandel. It was also quite tasty, although it did not impress me like the blend from the night before. Even so, I was thinking that we were still on track to write about all of the bottles based on the 2 tasted so far. Then I asked the price. $60.

The stuff in the glass was exactly what it had been before this revelation. It did not need to be poured down the sink, nor did I enjoy finishing the rest of the bottle any less. But I will not be reviewing it.

I think this is where Amy and I disagree on this to some degree, although I also think we understand the other’s reasoning quite well. If the wine is good enough to review before I know the price, then why isn’t it good enough after I know it? Truth is, it probably is more than good enough to review. However, we are not a review site. Sure, we do quite a few of them, but it is not our primary focus. There are plenty of great blogs that are primarily, and even singularly, focused on nothing but wine reviews, but this isn’t one of them.

Our general policy here at AWB is to only write positive reviews. If our raison d’etre was to do wine reviews that would be a fairly silly policy, but in the context of what we do I think it makes perfect sense. In fact, as opposed to writing reviews, I believe what we do is make recommendations. We taste something wonderful and we want to share it with our friends. Think about it, would you want a friend to call you up in the middle of an episode of “Semi-Homemade Cooking [sic] with Sandra Lee” just to tell you about how much they dislike some wine they’ve just tasted? Okay, bad example, but if the call were not quite such a merciful interruption it might not be so welcome. We don’t usually care so much what a friend doesn’t recommend, unless it is a cautionary tale.  On the other hand, if we respect a friend’s opinion, and they find something really good, then we definitely want to hear about.

So, while I could positively review that Zinfandel we sampled last night, at $60 per bottle I can’t recommend it to my friends. Sure, my friends might like it quite a bit, in fact a friend was over when we tasted it and he did like it. As a friend, I would gladly pour you a glass of that wine, it was quite tasty. But as a friend, if you asked for a recommendation, I would say to take that $60 and buy 2 or 3 bottles of Seghesio Zinfandel instead. It is also quite tasty, and you get quite a bit more wine for the same price.

I am of the opinion that even a pure reviewer has to take value into account in some way to arrive at their conclusion, but in the context of what we do at this site it is an even bigger factor. We take it very seriously that someone out there might part with some of their hard-earned cash because “Amy and Joe said this is good.”  That is a big responsibility, and unless we take into consideration that our readers do not view our reviews in the same way that they might view ones in Wine Spectator or even *ahem* another wine blog that focuses solely on wine reviews, we would be taking that responsibility too lightly.

This was initially going to be part of the recent Why I don’t like anything post, but I felt it deserved to be discussed separately. In that post I mention that I disliked a certain restaurant which caused a friend to joke that I don’t like anything, but I did not say what led to my disdain for that particular dining establishment. Frankly, listing all of the reasons for that would be a whole ‘nuther post, so I will just stick to the food.

This joint, as evidenced by their prices, is inordinately proud of their cuisine. They justify charging a lot for their food by being upscale, in fact they are so sure that they are upscale that they put it in their name. I sometimes like to eat in upscale restaurants, and know that they will not be bashful when it comes to presenting me with a fairly large bill for the privilege. That’s the deal, and I am okay with that. Another part of the deal is that I should expect to walk away happy because my expectations were met or exceeded, no matter what was ordered by anyone in my party. This place is not like that. The food is all over the place in both quality and execution. The dishes range from fantastically prepared to stunningly ill-conceived misfires, with plenty of mediocrity in between to fill out the menu.

Why would I pay a lot for what might be a hit-or-miss proposition, when I know if I take my money down the road I will be guaranteed to walk out at the end of the evening knowing it was well spent? Like when we choose whether to review a wine or not, price can play a part. Selling me a Chevy at a Cadillac price causes me to judge the Chevy by standards it cannot possibly live up to. But if that Chevy (or Zinfandel) performs better than other cars (or wines) in the same class for the same price point, then in the immortal words of Marcellus Wallace, “We cool.” And if we get Cadillac quality for Chevy prices, even cooler.

Like Einstein and certain rural areas of this country are wont to say, it’s all relative.

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