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Dan Berger on The Five Levels of Wine

Here's an interesting article from Napa resident and well-known wine writer Dan Berger about the different levels of wine -- five to be exact -- that describe the range of vinous experiences from plonk to Petrus. ( Coincidentally, I've also developed my own 5 tier system, though not for types of wine, but for stages of knowledge about wine -- stay tuned later this week for more on that).

Berger's levels are (as paraphrased by me):

1. Wine-like beverages sold in 3-liter jugs or bags-in-boxes generally below $1-per-750ml-bottle in cost.
2. Bulk wines sold in regular and 1 liter bottles that ring up at around $3 to $5 per bottle in price.
3. Drinking with dinner wines, that range from $5 to $15 in price that range from lousy to great
4. Pricey wines between $15 and $40 in price that may or may not be worth the money
5. Collector wines from $40 to infinity, some of which are worth the the money, many of which are not

Dan has some interesting commentary about the types of wines in each category and the folks that buy them, so I suggest reading his article about them. One of the facts that he shares about this breakdown is that the first two categories of wine represent about 80% of the wine made in the world, with the remaining 20% being split amongst the latter three categories. This definitely jives with the recent reports about the most popular brands of wine ordered in restaurants in the US, and is a good reminder how most of us who drink $15 to $30 bottles weekly are quite fortunate.

Comments (5)

10.03.05 at 2:37 PM

And I have found out that as i ascend each of these tier I have a very hard time drikning wines in the lower tier. When I was a college kid living in france I drank my wine out of plastic litre bottles to get drunk, and here i am now, pulling out $15/bottles out of my wine fridge for dinner. Just goes to show the more money you make the more money you spend.

Ethan wrote:
10.10.05 at 2:09 AM

Hey Alder,

I've been reading your blog from Jerusalem since the wedding. It is great (though a bit depressing since I'm living in a country that almost exclusively sells its own, largely mediocre, wine).

Just thought I'd chime in and point out that the study on what Americans order in restaurants may be a bit misleading. The low-end wines that appear on this list are produced by enormous producers. So the same low-end wines appear on all wine lists in restaurants that stock such wine. Higher end wines, alternatively, tend to be produced by smaller producers. As a result, there is much more brand diversity among high wines. So, even if more people were drinking higher end wines than lower end wines, it might be that no individual higher end brand would appear on the list.

This means that, to really know whether Americans are overwhelmingly drinking low-end wine in restaurants, what we'd really want is to compare aggregate consumption (in restaurants) of wines that would sell for, say, $5 in our supermarkets against aggregate consumnption (in restaurants) of wines that would cost, say $15-$25 in wine stores (or good supermarkets). This would allow us to seperate out whether the most-consumed list contains all those cheap wines because most Americans drink low-end wines in restaurants or whether it is because low-end wine producers are consolidated (so one brand gets all the "hits") while higher end producers are small (so that consumption is divided among lots of brands).



Alder wrote:
10.10.05 at 7:05 AM

Hey Ethan,

Thanks for pointing that out -- what you say makes perfect sense statistically speaking. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

If you're looking to drink better Israeli wine, make sure you know what Daniel Rogov is drinking, he's your National wine guru, and just recently published his list of the top Israeli wines. http://www.israelwines.co.il/ArticlesEng/Article.asp?ArticleID=747&CategoryID=84

Good to hear from you.

Matt wrote:
10.11.05 at 8:50 AM

Okay, I've read this blog entry, and I've read the original article, but I honestly don't get what wines are included in the first category. *Under* $1/750 mL? That's insanely cheap. That's less than half the price of 2-Buck Chuck. That's cheaper than a 5L box of Franzia. That's cheaper than Coke.(and frankly, it seems cheaper than the packaging would allow!) I can't think of more than two or three wines that would sell at that price in my local grocery store. The only reason I can see differentiating this small group of wines from the $2-4/750 mL is because they verge on undrinkable. What makes me convinced that I don't understand the category is that Dan claims that he knows "lots of people" that drink these wines. While we clearly don't know the same people, I really don't think that any of the wine drinkers I know shop below the $2/750mL level. I would almost have assumed he was talking about prices in another country if I didn't know where he lived.

Am I missing something?

Alder wrote:
10.11.05 at 5:49 PM


You can get a 5 liter box of wine from Franzia for less than $10 which puts you pretty close to Berger's $1 per bottle price. Don't know exactly how much wine Franzia sells but it is a @#$&^-load.

Since you're reading this blog you've already disqualified yourself as someone whose friends might buy wine in this category. Try your friends grandparents who live in Iowa.

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