With wine, the truth is that price does not always equal quality, as many studies have shown. You can enjoy an inexpensive wine (and you may not enjoy expensive wines), but if you think it’s cheap, you’ll likely get less enjoyment out of it, so don’t be cheap!
The idea is to make a good impression while spending an appropriate amount for your age range, stage of life, and income, which are all often intertwined. There are definitely some exceptions here, and down below I offer an alternative for calculating how much you should spend on a bottle of wine based on income alone.
College – Go As Cheap As Possible
Nothing is out of bounds when you’re in college. Even boxed wine is fair game because your friends are likely just as cheap as you are. You’re just trying to have a good time and have fun (and get drunk), not trick people into thinking you know what a good wine tastes like. Sticking with a sweet wine is probably safe, as it’s something that everyone will enjoy.
Post College to Age 27 – Explore Your Options
It’s time to find out what you like to drink, but don’t go overboard, you still probably can’t tell the difference anyway. You want to be respectable and show the people you’re gifting the wine to that you made the effort. Still, you can probably do very well and make a good impression while keeping the price under $14. Trader Joe’s is the place for you. Try a little of everything to find out what you like. When you find a few types you enjoy, keep going back to those and let the recipient know you put a little thought into getting a wine you though they’d appreciate.
Ages 27-33 – Step It Up A Notch
You’re likely more established now and you are spending time with people who know a little more about wine. You’ve likely learned pairings at this point and have certain favorites. You’ve graduated into a higher bracket of wines and are willing to spend a bit more on the wines that you think everyone will enjoy. Spending $17-$22 a bottle is about right, depending on your relationship with the guest. Go bigger to make a really good impression.
33 and Over – Go Big Or Go Home
Once you’re 35, you’re established with your life and while you may have a young, growing family, you need to be making a good impression on the people you spend time with. Keep 10-15 $30 bottles of wine in the house, and splurge for special guests or when you’re invited to people who are your senior, both personally and professionally. At this point, there are no real excuses to be cheap.
While these guidelines work for most people, not everyone fits into a cookie cutter situation, and incomes can vary widely. These tend to work because you’re not buying based on what you necessarily want to spend, but based on what you want others to think of you. If people expect you to bring a nice $40 bottle of wine and you show up with a cheap $9 bottle, you’re probably not going to be invited back.
Income Based Wine Prices
For the rest of you, I’ve got another option that keeps everything consistent, regardless of age:
Spend the gross amount you earn for 30 minutes of work. Here’s how it breaks down at various income levels (assuming 40 hour work weeks, 52 weeks per year):
This makes things very even, and as you mature and earn more, you start getting more experience with more expensive wines.
The last bottle of wine we bought was $18. This was a bit of a splurge for us and we’ll break it out for a time when guests don’t bring us a bottle from their own collection or we’ll have it for friends who invite us out. It’s an Alicante Bouschet (I had never heard of this before) we recently tasted with friends and really enjoyed. Hopefully others will enjoy it, too!