A tale of two price brackets

It is human nature to categorise.

Ever since the caveman first simplified his world into two distinct lists:

1. I can eat this

2. This will eat me

we haven’t looked back.

We automatically place everything we see or do into a category or bracket. It is the only possible way to cope with the sheer amount of information we are exposed to on a daily basis and then, in turn, make rational decisions based on that information.

When buying wine we are subjected to countless categorisation – from colour, to grape, to country, to region… and, of course, price.

Price brackets are unique categories as they are not fixed, they vary from person to person. The difference between a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white is equal to everyone, however the difference between a “cheap” bottle and an “expensive” one can only be measured in the eye of the beholder.

Using myself as an example – when looking for a wine for everyday drinking – I would say anything under €20 is reasonable (but I’d rather keep it closer to €10!), anything above €20 enters into the realm of expensive (of course it is a completely different matter when it comes to wine for collecting and cellaring).

This is not to cast aspersions over anyone’s means to purchase wine. It serves only to highlight that all of us have a subconscious predefined price bracket at which point a wine will leave the category of good value and enter the category of expensive.

It is at this moment, after you have been seduced into spending that bit extra on something a little more special, that you need to be extra vigilant and honest with your taste buds. It is all too easy to allow your opinion to be clouded by a predetermination stemming from that price tag.

Just as it is human nature to categorise, it is also just as natural to subconsciously relate the category of higher price to that of higher quality. A habit that is vital to break in order to enjoy wine on its own true merits.

Recently I was tasked with picking up two bottles of red for a total of €20 from a local high street wine shop. No problem.

The first wine that caught my attention was a Bodega Catena Zapata “Catena” Cabernet Sauvignon from Mendoza, Argentina – Price €13.50.

I have enjoyed many a good bottle of Zapata’s various Malbecs over the years but have never really got involved with the Cabernet Sauvignons. However I had just recently been reading how fantastic the 2009 vintage had turned out. This was a 2008 – a troublesome year in Argentina – but I figured it would still give me a relatively reasonable idea of the shape of things to come.

This left me with a mere €6.50 for the second bottle. Scouring the shelves I came across a bottle of Leonardo Chianti from Cantine Leonardo Da Vinci – Price €6.99 (close enough!).

I didn’t have the highest of hopes for the Chianti – sure, it came from a reputable source, but I have rarely found a truly drinkable Tuscan under €10, and the label quoted blend – 85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and 5% “other red grapes” – raised an eyebrow.

As the lighter of the two wines, I served the Chianti first.

Immediately I was greeted by a waft of dark cherries, spice and pepper. On the palate, a smooth and open freshness of light fruit, a little lean perhaps, but made up for by a long late finish of fine tannins. Very drinkable.

As pleasant a surprise as the Leonardo had presented, I was eager to move on to the main event and swiftly popped open the Zapata.

Appealingly deep plum red in the glass, the rich Cabernet gave a nose of sweet blackcurrant, dried fruit, spice and a touch of leather. However to taste I could not help but be disappointed. An initial burst of forest fruits and cassis was short lived and was soon replaced by a clinging astringency and overly hot alcohol. A long, almost lingering, finish was not enough to salvage any of my initial enthusiasm.

I sat pondering my notes on the two wines and found myself continuously drawn to my disappointment of the Zapata. Why? Why, after I had been so pleasantly surprised to find such an easy drinking bargain priced wine was I focusing on the disappointment? Was that just it? The price?

I had fallen into my own subconscious trap.

The Zapata was twice the price of the Leonardo and in my flawed, human, category obsessed subconscious it should have been the better wine. But in reality it simply wasn’t.

The moral of this tale of two price brackets – always listen to yourself, your conscious self, your eyes, nose and mouth. Trust your ability to ascertain what a wine is worth to you, and not the worth assigned to it by it’s price tag, whatever category it may fall under.

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