People often ask, “Is it really worth spending the money on an expensive wine?” And the answer is a complicated one. Sometimes it’s yes, and other times it’s no. There’s really no need to open a $50 bottle of wine on pizza night, but splurging on a high-end bottle for a special occasion is definitely worth the extra expense. But what makes a bottle of wine pricier than others? Many reasons: quantity produced, quality of the grapes and where the grapes were grown are just some of the factors playing into price-point. Bottom line: Does this all really affect the taste? To some, it’s not so easy to detect; to others, it’s more obvious.

A value-priced bottle, whether it be white or red, sometimes tastes a little sweeter because there is more residual sugar kept during the winemaking process. The vast majority of people gravitate toward sweetness; therefore their palate isn’t used to a more expensive bottle, which has more complexity and layers of flavors with minimal amounts of residual sugar. Less expensive bottles are ones you drink now, while expensive ones can be held so it ages further, benefiting the taste of the wine. Below are examples of similar wines but with different price points. Open up that $12 chardonnay with a late-afternoon cheese platter, but do spend the money on a fabulous pinot noir celebrating that much-deserved promotion!

REDS

Cabernet Sauvignon

Expensive: Arrington Vineyards KB915 Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, $60

A local stunner, this cabernet is brimming with aromas of vanilla and oak that perfectly blend with flavors of black cherry and plum in the mouth. It’s dense and rich and pairs wonderfully with barbecue. Drink now but is age-worthy and worth holding onto.

Inexpensive: Pennywise Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, $13  

A gorgeous garnet color, this wine brings together aromas of cherries and dried figs with a mouthful of flavors filled with currants, caramel and toasted nuts. Enjoy this full-bodied red with grilled burgers and steak.

Pinot Noir

Expensive: Big Table Farm Pelos Sandberg Pinot Noir 2016, $62 

Pinot noirs from Oregon are similar in style to those from Burgundy—fruity but with earthy notes like mushrooms. Here, soft tannins and juicy dark plums and blackberries mixed with herbs and forest floor make this pinot true Oregon in a glass. Seductive and elegant, drink now and hold some for future enjoyment.

Inexpensive: The Pinot Project 2016, $15

Finding a pinot noir at an attractive price point can be difficult, given the finicky nature of the grape, but The Pinot Project delivers vintage after vintage, blending grapes from various California vineyards. Black cherries, pomegranate and five-spice make this wine a bright, tasty winner. Pair with roasted vegetables and chicken.

WHITES

Chardonnay

Expensive: Pahlmeyer Jayson Chardonnay 2015, $55 

This Napa beauty is a brightly golden-colored chardonnay that’s rich and full-bodied, silky and complex. It’s bursting with layers of melon and citrus fruits along with smoky vanilla and has a long, mouthwatering finish. A perfect special occasion wine. 

Inexpensive: Novellum Chardonnay 2016, $14 

Languedoc is a region known for producing value wines, many of which taste much higher than its price-point suggests, and this is no exception. Novellum is not your buttery, oaky chardonnay, but rather you’ll taste refreshing peaches and pears, balanced with crisp minerality and acidity. It pairs wonderfully with chicken dishes.

Riesling

Expensive: Dr. Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Spatlese 2016, $55

Mosel, Germany, produces some of the finest rieslings, and this offering from Dr. Loosen is slightly sweeter than an off-dry expression but not overly sweet. It’s quite fruity, with ripe apricot and mango notes, but the acidic finish is zingy and tingly. It matches wonderfully with spicy foods, and while it’s ready to drink now, it’s worth holding for a few years.

Inexpensive: Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling 2016, $9

Many think of rieslings as a sweet wine, and they’re right, but there are also very dry ones. This particular one falls right in the middle, as its off-dry nature is not too dry and not too sweet. It’s refreshing with crisp apple notes, is easy to drink and pairs nicely with a wide variety of foods.