Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test ($7 vs $75)

What are the real differences between a $7 wine and a $75 wine? This cheap vs expensive wine taste test delivers some sweet berry knowledge that’s going to change how you shop.

How is it possible to have two Merlot wines with such different price points?

Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test

For this video we busted out the good ol’ credit card and dropped $100 on two bottles of wine. But, not just any two bottles.

Both wines had to be same grape variety.

Did you know that marketplace economics apply to wine grapes too? For example, more people know about (and buy) Cabernet Sauvignon than Petite Sirah. Thus, the popularity of a wine grape can increase the cost of wine.

For this tasting we picked an old standby: Merlot.

Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test - Wine Folly - Merlot 2019

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Both wines had to be from independent producers.

Call us sappy if you want, but we were dead set on proving that it’s possible to buy good cheap wine from independent estate wineries. So, for this tasting we managed to find two wines on K&L Wine Merchants that were farmed and made into wine by independent producers. Cool beans!

Here’s a rundown on of the wines tested:

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The “Cheap” Wine

Villa Poggio Salvi “Lavischio” 2016 – Toscana IGT (~$7)

This is a 100% Merlot wine from a lesser-known producer called Villa Poggio Salvi who is perhaps better known for Brunello di Montalcino. The grapes for this wine were grown in a vineyard owned by the winery that’s north of the famous Montalcino zone in Siena.

This was was produced at the winery and aged for a brief period of time (about 3 months) in large, used Slavonian oak botti. Barrels like these are used year after year and do not impart much oak flavors.

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Tasting Notes and Conclusion

The wine was both fruity and earthy on the nose with aromas of fresh red currants, red cherries, clay bricks, thyme, and raspberry sauce. I didn’t smell any toasty oak.

On the palate it was tart! It tasted well-balanced overall with easy tannins, but was definitely more of a food wine (like something you’d pair with pizza). The tartness in the wine made me think this wine might actually age well for the next 7 or so years. Might be fun (and affordable) wine to cellar and enjoy when it smooths out.


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The “Expensive” Wine

Pahlmeyer Merlot 2014 – Napa Valley AVA (~$75)

This wine is a 93% Merlot from the small Atlas Peak AVA within Napa Valley by the famous producer, Pahlmeyer. The vineyard was obsessively created by 4 renowned vineyard consultants including Helen Turley, John Wetlaufer, Erin Green, and David Abreu! The vineyard is well-situated – you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.

Making this wine included the purchase of small, new French oak barriques (225 liter barrels) that impart lots of oak flavors in the wine.

Tasting Notes and Conclusion

Whoa! This wine hit my nose with massive wafting aromas of macerated cherries, blackberries, blackberry jam, vanilla, tobacco, hibiscus and subtle notes of sage and thyme. It was a complex wine. I kept coming up with tasting notes with ease.

On the palate this wine was big. It had a complex taste profile that started out with more fresh fruit notes (on the dark fruit side) that lead into rich vanilla and sweet berry flavors and ended on a toasty, tobacco-and-blackberry note. It was definitely one of those wines you could just sit and sip without anything (but maybe a good view!).


A photo of Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly March 2019 - holding 2 bottles of wine

Is it worth the extra cost?

If you love oaky wines you should expect to spend more on a bottle of wine. But how much more? Find out the true cost of oak barrels and regional grape prices and how they affect the cost of wine in the next article!

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About Madeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly