If you’re like us, you probably don’t spend all your money on the fanciest wines money can buy. Let’s face it: there’s plenty of great wines out there in the $10 to $50 range. Why spend $100 on one bottle of wine when you could easily get 5 to 10 bottles of perfectly delicious merlot, Cabernet or chardonnay for the same price?

Well, not all wines are created equally. Sometimes, you need to save something really special for your next big milestone. After all, what better way is there to crush all your goals in the coming year than to have your eye on the wine prize?

What’s In a Price?

What makes a wine worth $100 or more? After all, there are plenty of wines that taste really good at lower price points. What really sets a certain wine over the top? The four main variants are the vineyard, year, grape and bottle size.

Vineyard

A vineyard’s prestige can definitely creep the price upward. A 1992 Screaming Eagle cabernet sauvignon sells for over $500,000. A 1947 Cheval Blanc sells for over $300,000.

Year

When it comes to grapes, some harvest years are just better than others. The planting, growing and harvest conditions can affect the grapes significantly — and the ultimate quality of the wine. While winemakers have control over what happens to the grapes after they are harvested, they sadly cannot control the weather.

Grape

The grape itself goes into determining the price of a wine. You’re more likely to see a Rioja at a lower price point than you would a Tempranillo — though the wines have many similarities.

Size

Size does matter when it comes to wine bottles. In fact, the bigger the bottle, the better the conditions for storing wine. That’s why you might see a magnum more than double of the price of a standard 750 ml bottle.


But what wines are worth the splurge? We’d happily pay full price for any of the below California wines.

Bubbly: 2010 Iron Horse Brut LD – $110

You can’t talk fancy wines without mentioning bubbly. Bubbles are the perfect wines on which to splurge because they just scream celebration.

Iron Horse is known for their bubbly wines. The 2010 Brut LD is made from chardonnay and pinot noir. The LD stands for ‘late disgorged,’ meaning that the yeast sediment wasn’t removed until much later in the process.

It’s light, fruity and dry.

Chardonnay: 2014 Aubert Lauren Vineyard Sonoma Coast - $172

California Wine Country is known for its chardonnay. If you’re a fan of chardonnay and want to set a bottle aside for a celebratory dinner, you won’t be disappointed by the 2014 Aubert Lauren Vineyard Sonoma Coast chardonnay.

You’ll sniff apricots and nectarines in addition to lemongrass and spices. This chardonnay is worth the $100-plus price point.

Cabernet: 2012 Caymus Napa California – $75

Dipping back down below the $100 price point, we have a 2012 Napa California Cabernet from Caymus Vineyards. This family vineyard is known for its full-bodied wines — especially its cabs. Caymus leaves its grapes hang for a longer time, which gives the wine soft tannins. Yet this technique can be tricky; should winter come early, the grapes could be destroyed.

Cabernet fans will taste notes of blackberry and (of course) those soft tannins in the 2012 bottles.

Syrah: 2011 Alban Estate Reva Edna Valley - $112

While this full-bodied Syrah tastes great today, wine experts agree that aging it can only help enhance it. This Syrah is known for its notes of pepper and dark fruit. There’s just enough vanilla in the background to balance out the spicy pepper and the bold fruits. It’s been compared to the Syrahs that come from the Rhone Valley in the south of France.


If you’re thinking about upping your wine game a little (but find yourself too timid to run out and buy a $100 bottle tomorrow), try inching your way up the price point ladder instead. If you’re used to buying bottles at the $10 to $20 price points, splurge on a $30 to $40 bottle this week.

Visit your local wine store (or winery if you’re here in Wine Country) and ask for help. Talk about the wines you like and what makes those particular wines so special to you. Wines are so unique that it’s not enough sometimes to just pick a Cabernet because you’ve liked cabs in the past. The exciting part about leaving your wine comfort zone is that you can start to discover why you like the wines you do — as well as discover new ones.