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OPINION | BOTTLE SHOTS: Good bottle of wine in the mouth of the beholder

by Seth Eli Barlow | June 22, 2022 at 1:56 a.m.

Far and away, the most common question I get during wine tastings is some variation of "How much do I need to spend to get a good bottle of wine?"

And, of course, like all things in the wine world, what seems like a simple enough question has a very complicated answer. It's a reasonable question — who wants to feel ripped off over a bottle of grape juice? But determining value — let alone what constitutes a "good" bottle of wine — is an incredibly personal process.

I've said before that wine is like art and, just like art, is so intrinsically linked to price that separating the two seems impossible. As I've said before, wine is like art in so many ways, but perhaps none is more clear than the "eye/mouth of the beholder" way we appraise them both.

Take Napa Valley as an example. It's home to some of my favorite — and irrefutably some of the world's best — wineries. According to, one ton of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon grapes cost $8,000 on average in 2019. For ease of math's sake, let's then say that we can make 750 bottles from that ton of grapes. That gives us a base price of more than $10.60 for just the juice, not to mention the labor to actually make the wine, the cost of the bottle and label, the cost of marketing the wine or shipping it to retailers and restaurants, and all the permits and fees you'll face along the way. As you can imagine, things get very expensive very quickly. (Sorry, I know you weren't expecting a math lesson today.)

Does that mean that Napa Valley's wines aren't of value? Not to me — though I could easily name a few high-end wines from the region that aren't always worth the sticker price. But it does mean that as a consumer we're faced with finding our own arithmetic of the quality-to-price ratio.

Walk into any wine shop in the state and you'll find Napa Valley cabernets for $20, but personally, I'm more likely to reach for something like the Maquis cabernet sauvignon for the exact same price. In Chile's picturesque Colchagua Valley, the price of land and grapes is just a fraction of what it is in America, allowing for wines that often taste of a higher quality than their California counterpoints in the same price range.

Have you made it this far but still just want to know how much you have to spend for a "good" bottle of wine? You'll rarely go wrong at $23.99 and above.

As always, you can see what I'm drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to


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