A sommelier explains why it's nearly impossible to find good, cheap wine from Italy or France

Wine vineyard burgundyFlickr / Anna & MichalA vineyard in Burgundy, France, which produces some of the most reputable and most expensive wines in the world.

Quality and price have a complicated relationship — and never more so than when it comes to wine.

Jörn Kleinhans, owner of The Sommelier Company, told Business Insider that it’s very possible to find a high quality wine at a low price point. However, you have to know where to look — and it’s not France of Italy.

“While blind tastings of hobby drinkers have been inconclusive, trained sommeliers and wine experts can differentiate expensive wines from value wines with very high reliability,” Kleinhans said in an email. “To break the general pattern, we have to look at market inefficiencies.”

He explained that once a region draws acclaim for its wines, the region gains a reputation, and a price based on that reputation. Producers capitalise on that high price and strong regard, consumption increases, and the price increases. It’s the case for other luxury products, like cars, as much as it is for wine.

“Traditionally, Italy and France have been the gold standard,” Kleinhans said. “Those are the most expensive countries to make wine, and prices have gone through the roof. What used to be a good Bordeaux at $50 is now $200 — it’s the same quality at five times the price.”

Because winemakers are so aware of their status in these areas, Kleinhans’ team doesn’t recommend their clients buy Bordeaux under $40. “It’s one of those beginner mistakes, hoping to find something cheap in a gold standard country like France, especially Burgundy and Bordeaux,” he said. “In those regions, any producer that prices so low makes a big concession that they’re not desirable.”

Because of this pattern, it’s nearly impossible to find a “steal” from those prime wine countries. Instead, you have to look outside the usual areas. Kleinhans said less well-known countries — mostly in the southern hemisphere — like Chile, South Africa, and Australia haven’t been recognised as desirable, and produce superior quality wines. “In those countries, you can find the $20 wine that drinks like the $100 wine.”

He pointed to Spain’s Rioja region as an example. “Their ‘Gran Reserva’ bottlings are easily available below $25 a bottle,” he said. “Rioja Gran Reserva is one of the great wine classics that is often mentioned in the top five most important red wine styles.”

Additionally, consider:

• Cabernet Sauvignons from Chile, Italy, and South Africa

• Merlots from Washington

• Pinots from Oregon and New Zealand

• Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand

“The southern hemisphere is definitely up and coming,” said Kleinhans. “Since those countries have not been on the forefront of wine history, consumers can take advantage of market disallocations like this.”

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