Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why do people have such low expectations?

You might think I'm going to go off ranting on people buying plonk instead of decent wine by asking why people have low expectations. But I'm not. I'm actually thinking in terms of value, not absolute quality. Folks who buy a $5 wine because it's a pleasant, easy drink actually have quite high expectations, in fact much higher expectations than those who spend $50 or $100 on a bottle that is no more than good and interesting. A $5 wine that's decent is actually a stunning value. A $100 wine that does anything less than make your month or year is an utter failure.

The heart of the issue is diminishing marginal returns. Very rarely is a $20 wine twice as good as a $10 wine. Usually in terms of quality a $10 wine isn't good enough or interesting enough to justify its purchase over beer, at least for me. But the $20 wine isn't really that much better. It's just better enough to satisfy what I'm looking for in wine over some other beverage. When it comes to $20 versus $40 wines, the marginal return gets even worse. I've had a few $20 wines that are complete, with a beginning, middle and end, structure, complexity and an intoxicating bouquet. These are rare, but the reality is there simply aren't any wines that are going to be twice as good as these thoroughly satisfying $20 wines.

But here's the rub: it's not hard to find notes on Cellar Tracker about expensive $50 or $60 wines that essentially say they're little more than a good wine yet offer a good value. To that I say, raise your expectations! If a $20 wine can satisfy on both hedonic and intellectual levels, then a $50 wine really needs to have a WOW factor. If hypothetically I was scoring wines by points, I'd break wines that provide better than expected value into the following price bands:
$2 -$5 : 70-75 (drinkable)

$5 -$10 : 75-80 (decent)

$10-$15: 80-85 (good)

$15-$25: 85-90 (very good)

$25-$40: 90-95 (excellent)

$40-$60: 95-100 (words do not describe)

$60+ : 100* (out of body experience)
I don't mean Parker or WS scores, but one's own experience yields that level of enjoyment. Of course people will have different price bands. The bottom line, though, is I'm willing to accept some decrease in marginal returns, but only so much. If I can find wines that nearly blolw my mind for $20 to $30, the $40 to $60 wines must fully blow my mind.

And yet people often take the opposite approach. They fawn over wines, worship the producers and beg for a chance just to taste them. I say they have it backwards. You are paying for a good that should offer enjoyment commensurate the price paid. Any producer should be happy that 750 mL of fluid fetches more than $40.

Still, we are stuck with exorbitant wine prices because of absurdly low expectations. Consumers need to get their act together to bring these prices down. Stop overpaying for wine that doesn't have that WOW factor. If it were any other good, people would feel ripped off, but somehow the idea of spending large sums of money deadens this feeling of disgust. It is time for consumers to take back their self respect and demand the value they deserve.


Jeff said...

Another great post. Unfortunately, I don't think that this is applicable just to wine. People in general are pretty inclined to accept mediocrity...I know that's true at work, at the grocery store, from the government, etc...the list goes on. Completely agree with the wine though...if the wine is North of a certain point, I'm expecting it to blow me away...but too often, that isn't the case. I've had as many disappointments north of 30$ as I've had below 5$.

Tim said...

I like the idea of an "expected value" range for wines at different price point. I'd say that for wines that exceed expectations, for me, I would probably raise the bar a little on the low end and narrow the ranges at the high end. I've had enough fantastic wines for sub $15 that just getting a good one doesn't exceed my expectations anymore. My ranges would probably look a little more logarithmic on the point side of things.

CabFrancoPhile said...

Tim, totally agree with you. I've actually fit point scores with a logarithmic price scale. Or rather interpolated a scatter plot so the logarithmic trend is apparent: At any rate the specific numbers are up to the individual, especially since tastes vary so widely. My great $12 wine might just be good to you.

Matt Mauldin said...

Great post Greg. I do expect the wow or intellectual aspect to be there when I go north of $20. Interestingly, most of the $25 and up wine that I buy is when I'm traveling and tasting at the winery. That part of the experience can add value that can't be replicated from a wine shop.