Since I am not collecting anymore and only buy whatever fits into my 50 bottle fridge, I have not even looked into ordering online. Hawaii also has a surprising selection and, compared to everything else, wines are very reasonably priced. In one or two well-sorted stores prices are even below Costco's offerings. That said, ask me what I think about the restrictions for shipping wine in the land of the free, home of the brave...
You'd be suprised how many follow that law, or how many don't. We are some rebelious folk...
Ah wine. What i used to spend my money on before i found this place.
The try everything advice is good, but there are some troubles with relying on it. For one thing, wine is best when it reaches an appropriate age. For some wines that doesn't take very long, for others it takes a decade or more. So if you're looking for table wines, try everything and pick what you like. But if you want bottles to lay down and cellar, trying a lot of stuff is still good advice, but it will be hard to really know what to go for without a little more information.
One thing to keep in mind is the region you're looking at, and what that means. In Bordeaux, the year, region and composition of the wine are very important, in many cases more so than the maker in my opinion. Outside of Europe, the maker means everything.
Another thing is know what you're using the wine for, and buy accordingly. I have a 220 bottle wine fridge (my Christmas present to myself this year) but if I want a bottle to go with pasta tonight, I'll buy one on my way home. When I'm pairing with food, unless it's a special occasion or something, I go with cheap table wines. A recent trip to Italy opened my eyes to Nero D'Avolas. A waiter and I got to chatting and he explained that tourists come and drink Chiantis with their food, but Italians will have a D'Avola. I tried it and I think he was right. As a nice bonus, it's very affordable as a general rule.
If, on the other hand, I'm buying wine to drink alone, I go for "nicer" things. This is a little trickier. Age is important here. For really good wine, odds are you're going to want to lay it down for quite a while. Buying aged wine is very expensive and hanging on to a bunch of things for a decade just to try them is a bit crazy too. What you can do though is try a few things that are well-aged and figure out the styles that appeal to you. I tried a bunch of stuff and found that I'm partial to Cotes-du-Rhone wines (with the Chateauneufs not being worth the price difference) and big Bordeauxs wines.
Like many people have said, the numbers aren't a bible for wine, but they are an excellent guide on where to start looking. They're also a good guide on which years were better than others. For example, 2005 produced very good French reds but 06 and 07 not so much. So 05 is a good spot to start. The guides will also give you a good idea on how long wines should be aged before drinking, which can vary quite a bit from year to year. Once you have an idea of what styles/regions you like and what years are good bets, you can buy bottles and lay them down for a while with relative confidence that the results will be pretty pleasing.
Like others have said, there's nothing wrong with going with later growths or classes of wines. Most of those labels are fairly meaningless and just drive up hype and prices. Heck, some of the systems date back to 1855 and just don't take new labels on regardless of how good their wine is. Other regions just don't have classification schemes.
2009 and 2010 were both supposed to be excellent years for my favoured regions, especially Bordeaux. I've been stocking up on sub-30$ bottles from makers I don't really know that I plan to age in the fridge for quite a while. I expect that by the time I drink them, they would be worth more than 100$.
I agree with Craig. I have tried a lot of wines over the years and I also have a client that dabbles in wine speculation that has shared wines between $50 and $5,000 (no kidding he is a very generous person). I think there is diminishing return once you go over $50 / bottle. I have in the ballpark of 200 wines in my collection and there are only about 15 bottles over $50 that I pull out on special occasions but my go to wines are usually $9-20 for day to day and every couple of months I will pull out one between $20-30. My wife really likes a Malbec that is only $4 so it all comes down to your own personal taste.
I completely agree with Cotes du Rhone's being a fantastic choice for the money although if you can find 2009, go with that over the 2010 (Bellaruche and Andezon come immediately to mind) and I have also become fond of Malbec's recently with some great choices in the $10-25 range Chakana is probably my best choice here. Ghost Pines Cab's have not let me down in a decent price range.
I agree with others though, you need to experiment and figure out what you like. You also need to figure out how long certain wines need to breathe before serving or you are really going to miss out. I did that recently with a Roberts and Rogers Cab that I was too impatient to drink and only enjoyed the last half glass. We have a great weekly email special at a local shop that I will jump on once a month or so and they rarely steer me wrong. I think the best advice is pick up 5-6 bottles of something of a certain style and try them all over a period of time and then next time try a different type.
Wine is complicated and simple at the same time. It can be complicated because of the vast selections available and rich history but simple because it relies on your basic senses. i.e. visual, smell, taste... What helped me the most, other than a class, was blind tastings with friends. Even if they weren't into wine just explaining the process helped my understanding of it. Not all wines are meant to be drank on their own. Many are meant to be accompanied by food. I wouldn't let price dictate all my choices either. Some big name vintners have been known to relabel wines so they can be offered at the lower ranges for mass consumption just like some newer labels may look like they've been around for years when they're just a group of lawyers in NYC that started up their own vineyard in Italy. Other than blind tastings (friends bring a bottle in a bag, pop it and do your sensory analysis) tasting with food is great. I like to do it in apple season. You get a couple wines and a dozen different apples and taste with sipping wines. Cheese works and so on.
I'd start with Zraly's Windows on the World book. It's cheap and really informative.
And then there's John Cleese.... entertaining and funny. http://stagevu.com/video/qtajfkjicfci
And if in the springs, Coaltrain is a great place. Usually someone there knowledgeable whom you can say 'I have 20 bucks and I wanna try a South American Malbec' and they'll point you in a direction. And if you wanna be daring :) you can taste at Wines of Colorado up the pass for cheap but I haven't had much success with CO wines....
I would break what I drink into 4 price categories:
0 - 25
25 - 40
40 - 65
65 is, to me, the point of diminishing returns (generally speaking). I have found it is also an oddly safe price point; this may seem weird but it has proven true for me. I have been burned a few times with bottles priced at 50 (tasting like 15), but at 65 most everything seems to be approaching excellent. I think that because 50 is a number people have in their heads it is used to set prices for marketing purposes, where 65 is used when a maker (domestic) believes that's what his wine is worth.
I generally drink in the 18-25 range.
I'm pretty much on the same page as Karring, actually.
That's for big reds, btw. In general, you can cut it by 1/3 and apply to whites.
Specific suggestions are really tough without knowing your distribution area.
FWIW, I disagree with a few of the broad generalizations stated here. In my experience, there really are very few generalizations when it comes to wine that apply universally. You can also find great bargains or values if you think a little outside the box.
"In Bordeaux, the year, region and composition of the wine are very important, in many cases more so than the maker in my opinion. Outside of Europe, the maker means everything."
I know many people that do this, but I believe and do exactly the opposite more often than buying smaller producers in good years. In good years, you can find all kinds of good wine - you'll also likely pay more money for them. But, in less than stellar years, you can find good deals.
For example, I bought a number of 2002 (probably close to two cases worth) of well-known Bordeauxs in what was considered a good, but not exceptional, year. Why? Because they were MUCH cheaper than in "exceptional years" and good makers make consistently good wines that age well. They also got sandwiched between 2000 and 2003 - two of the most heralded vintages at that time.
Most makers have a consistent flavor profile/terroir/garrigue they're looking for. So, I bought 2002 Pichon-Baron and Cos D'Estournel for about $35-40 a bottle, two wines that I had prior to 2002 and really, really enjoy year after year. Now, they're in the +$100 range. Why? I tried them when they were released and they were solid wines with sufficient backbone to age. And because they're well known makers, and Cos has gotten outstanding ratings recently, many of their prior bottlings have had a corresponding price increase. On top of that, they're drinking really well. (I buy to drink - I haven't sold a single bottle to make money in over 20 years of buying wine.) I haven't bought Bordeaux in years, but I still make a point to look at prices every not so heralded year.
2002 sucked for Rhone wines. I bought some August Clape 2002 wines for half of what they usually go for because 2002 were generally so bad, no one bought them. (I like Clape wines stylistically.) They were very good considering how bad the year was for other wines and I wish I had bought more.
Conversely, one of the first wines I really enjoyed was the Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1990. I don't buy their wines (even before the winery was sold) in bad years because they tended to be unbalanced or differ from their house style. But, in good years, their wine still has that classic Mondavi balance that I really enjoyed when I first got into wine and continue to enjoy. I had a 2002 (generally considered a very good vintage) Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon (regular bottling) in magnum three years ago. It was fantastic. It was $40 for the magnum at Costco. I also felt that in the past, in mediocre years, lower to mid priced Chilean, Oregon and Washington wines tended to suffer from more obvious flaws. (I can't say this necessarily applies to new vintages because I don't really venture out too often now from the core wines I enjoy and I don't drink many Chilean, Oregon, Washington wines, or South African, Australian, wines for that matter.)
"2009 and 2010 were both supposed to be excellent years for my favoured regions, especially Bordeaux. I've been stocking up on sub-30$ bottles from makers I don't really know that I plan to age in the fridge for quite a while. I expect that by the time I drink them, they would be worth more than 100$."
In my experience, buying good somewhat inexpensive wines now from not-well-known makers with the hope that they increase in price is a risky proposition. It takes years for makers to establish themselves as worth paying for more than $100. Names mean a LOT and the value of a wine is subject to worldwide trends now, with China dominating the market for high-end Bordeauxs and Burgundies, e.g. $3000+ for bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild.
I can think of a number of well known wines that got, for example, top 10 in Wine Spectator's annual Top 100 wines list. However, most never become worth over $100 (I'm talking retail, not restaurants). Paloma, Chateau St. Jean, Chateau de St. Cosme, Casa Lapostolle, etc. All of these wineries have had very successful wines at times. Are they consistenly worth over $1000/have they consistently been able to charge over $100 a bottle? Not yet from what I've seen.
One of the great wines I had was a 1989 Chateau Fonroque in 1996 or so (I think I bought the bottle for $20). My friend, who is now a very well regarded winemaker, even remembered this bottle years later. Haven't heard of it, right? It still sells for about $40 a bottle even in great years. Off the top of my head, the only wine that I can think of that was previously considered a good Bordeaux, but not excellent, that now commands an over $100 price is Pontet Canet (I know there are others, but this is just off the top of my head). I recall buying it for less than $30 years ago. But Pontet Canet has received several years of higher scores and has established itself as a consistently good performer.
Two things mhlee.
Your approach to Bordeaux makes sense, but it requires knowledge to work. You can't buy from preferred wineries in off years if you haven't been into wine long enough to know what your preferred wineries are yet. If someone wants to know where to start getting to know wines, I'm standing by my advice of starting in a decent year and trying a few smaller makers to find something you like. I agree that the various makers have certain profiles they aim for, but that's the point, isn't it? You have to try things to find the profiles you like. All that starting in a good year does is increase your odds of finding those things and decrease your odds of catching a dud.
The price thing is probably a factor of local markets. What I was getting at was an older bottle of wine will cost more than a young one, so it's worth buying them young and holding on to them if you can. Where I live there's a government monopoly on wine sales and finding anything more than 5 years old is rare. They only carry 6 Bordeaux wines from 2000 right now, for example, and they average more than 100 a bottle.
I actually have 3 Chateau Fonroque 2000's in my fridge right now.
I don't see how my approach is any different than yours or requires that much more knowledge than what you proposed. Finding what you like comes from trying lots of wines. You started by stating, "The try everything advice is good, but there are some troubles with relying on it." My point was to try certain good makers in off years, when it comes to Bordeaux. You can start in a decent year and try by buying wines from small makers, whereas I started by trying better wineries/more famous makers in not so decent years for about the same price.
The OP's first questions were "at what price point do you find the rate of diminishing returns with wine? I understand a $500 wine will likely be much better than a $25 one. But is a $75 one much better than a $25 one? Putting country origin, styles, grapes, and such out of play, what are some fairly readily available wines do you suggest?" With price being the key point, how does my strategy require any more knowledge to work? In fact, one's $$$ will go farther in a not-so-lauded year, which is what I understood the OP's point to go to - what wines can we recommend that weren't so expensive? So, you can try small wines in good years, or more famous wines in off years. Everything starts with trying lots of wines to figure out what you like at a certain price.
But, more importantly, going forward, if you buy a small maker in a good year, what happens in a worse year? It's probably going to be worse. If you buy a good maker in a not-so-lauded year, it's likely going to be MUCH better in a better year. Will it be more? Sure. But at least you'll learn. And, I'd rather know how good a wine could be, rather than knowing how good it is at its best, and hoping that the next time I try it, it doesn't suck. It's not more knowledge; it's approach.
Again, my biggest concern with your post is that you included broad generalizations that just simply aren't true. "For one thing, wine is best when it reaches an appropriate age." There is absolutely no SINGLE "APPROPRIATE AGE" to start drinking any single wine. That depends on one's taste. For you, it may be several years. For others, it may be right now so it doesn't need to reach an appropriate age. If the OP likes really fruit forward wines, then he probably shouldn't really age MOST wines beyond a few years. (And as you probably know well, how well a wine ages is absolutely dependent on storage conditions.)
But, despite published recommended ranges of time to drink a wine, some ranges are completely wrong. And who's to say that Wine A must be drunk 15 years from now versus Wine B that must be drunk 3 years from now? Wine Spectator? Robert Parker? No. It's the drinker. I absolutely LOVE aged non-vintage champagnes. I've had non-vintage champagnes 10 to 12 years after their release which, according to most publications, was near the end or even well beyond the end of their "best" drinking period. I can also tell you that I've had wines within the "recommended drinking" range, only to find out that they're better beyond that time, or worse, that wines were already diminishing during the "recommended drinking" range.
On top of that, when a wine is an "appropriate age" depends on what one appreciates about wine. I've been opening early 2000 wines (2002 to 2004) lately and, while they're different from when I initially had them, and some are not better with age, I appreciate the difference. The most important part of enjoying wine is understanding what one likes, which starts from trying as many wines as possible at whatever price you can afford; broad generalizations don't necessarily apply because enjoying wine is a purely individual thing.