50 dollar Are expensive wines always the best? Any experienced wine lover knows that price is loosely correlated with quality. That is precisely what we found at the San Diego Wine Society: “Comparing High-End with Low-End” held last Saturday and hosted by the Red Marlin restaurant.

The 1997 Brunello Di Montalcino was gorgeous; Trader Joe’s entry-level Chianti found  its’ way to the dump bucket. But most thought the medium-priced, red-fruit -driven St. Joseph syrah was tastier than the very pricey, more prestigious Cote Rotie 2006 Les Roses, which seemed to lack expression, although perhaps a lengthier decanting may have helped it along.

The two Barolo’s were both quite drinkable with their characteristic dried flowers and sour cherry notes, but the silky tannins of the Paolo Scavino (around $70) had most of us fooled—mouth-ripping astringency is no longer the calling card of modern Barolos, which are increasingly approachable when relatively young. The soft texture had me thinking Brunello. Note to self: Don’t base judgments on one characteristic. Aaargh! The bargain priced 2007 La Loggio Barolo held its own for the price ($14) but lacked the complexity of the more expensive Scavino.

The other pairings held form. The better wine was more expensive. The 2009 Chateau Haut Sorillo Bordeaux Superieur was a stunningly good value at $8 reflecting the excellent character of that vintage, but lacked the luscious mouthfeel and oak character of the 2005 Chateau Lynsolence St Emilion Grand Cru at 10X the price.

And the Kabinett ($12) vs. Spatlese ($30) was no contest.

So do you usually get what you pay for when purchasing wine? Yes, in a sense. But what is clear is that the relationship between price and quality is not linear. With all the very solid, inexpensive wine in the market paying $100 instead of $10 for a bottle will not get you a wine that is better by a factor of 10 (whatever that would mean). Prices increase by multiplication; quality by accretion (baby-steps).

Here are the wines that were poured:

German Riesling

  1. 2010 Dr Loosen Riesling Mosel
  2. 2003 Kuenstler Riesling Spaetlese Rheingau/Mosel

Northern Rhone Syrah

  1. 2009 “Les Roses” Cote Rotie
  2. 2009 Domaine Faury St Joseph

Piemonte Nebbiolo

  1. 2004 Paolo Scavino Bricco Ambrogio Barolo
  2. 2007 La Loggio Barolo

Tuscan Sangiovese

  1. 1997 CastelGiocondo Frescobaldi, Brunello Di Montalcino
  2. 2006 Gaetano d’Aquino Chianti Riserva

Right-Bank Bordeaux

  1. 2005 Chateau Lynsolence St Emilion Grand Cru
  2. 2009 Chateau Haut Sorillo Bordeaux Superieur