Wine’s ‘Absurd’ Prices

BY Dan Berger TIMEJune 10, 2022 PRINT

When I began writing about wine in 1979, almost every fine-quality California chardonnay sold for $4.50 a bottle. Occasionally I’d find a bottle at $3.75 and considered it a bargain.

Times change, obviously. As wine reputations grew exalted, and as the number of potential buyers worldwide for the best exploded, the demand for the top wines escalated and all of today’s top wines now are in high demand — which has increased prices to levels that seem absurd.

Until you realize that people actually pay exalted prices to get these limited items. There are almost no limits to the price increases. Most of the wines listed below aren’t intended for average people, just as a Ferrari holds no appeal for someone needing basic transportation.

Would average 9-to-5 workers even appreciate such an automobile? Some might, sure, but the Italian automaker might be a bit irked if a potential buyer demanded a large trunk.

Basic transportation isn’t what a Ferrari is all about. A friend once said a Ferrari was a successful flashlight, “but that’s not its intended purpose.”

Nor is Le Montrachet a beverage, although it is a wine. Le Montrachet (mohn-trah-shay) is the designation for a French chardonnay from the Burgundy district.

Among wines carrying that designation, the most famous is from the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC). So, you may ask, if it’s not a beverage, what is it? In a word, it’s an experience. One that’s not for everyone. Especially since the average price for it is $12,451.

Per bottle. Or $490 per ounce.

That particular fact was published a few days ago by internet wine site in an article on Burgundy’s most wanted white wines. (

The article has an intro that includes, “Burgundy is, of course, the pinnacle for Chardonnay in many people’s minds. The wisdom handed down to us across generations of wine writers and critics is that the Cote d’Or is where Chardonnay reaches its apotheosis; the wines represent the ne plus ultra of the variety.”

But $12,000 per bottle? In fact, Wine Searcher says it’s the third most in-demand French white Burgundy by search results. Two other wines are in greater demand — Coche-Dury Meursault (average price per bottle: $1,311) and Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet Grand Cru ($1,751).

For most average wine buyers, these aren’t beverages. They’re experiences, most appreciated by those with extensive experience with such wines, since they represent just about the best experience you can have with a chardonnay. (Arguments welcome!)

The same goes for many other exalted wines worldwide. Recently I saw a newly released Barolo for sale at nearly $1,000 per bottle. I gave a fleeting thought to buying a bottle and sharing it with friends. I adore Barolo.

Sanity finally ruled, of course, $1,000 being out of the question, especially because this wine calls for 20 or more years of aging to reach a pinnacle of good taste.

And I’m uncertain Mother Nature has that many more years left for me to enjoy. I’m certain the wine will survive; I’m not sure I will. Even if I do, will my palate still be functioning?

Considerations such as this make buying some wines out of the question, even if you were to win the lottery and had a palate that appreciated such exalted aromatics and flavors.

Best bet for daily wine consumption: Drink what you can afford and try not to develop a taste for DRC. I have tasted DRC several times and consider it the finest chardonnay in the world.

I do not own a bottle. And most of those I know who had one were smart enough not to leave it for the next generation.

Wine of the Week: 2019 Rodney Strong Chardonnay, Petaluma Gap, Blue Wing Vineyard ($25) — Racy apple/pear and faint tropical aromas glimmer through the creamy complexity of lees contact, mineral notes from this cool area of Sonoma County and a hint of toast from French oak barrel aging. Average national price: $20.


Dan Berger
To find out more about Dan Berger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at
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