"Quality-Price Ratio," or QPR

(Originally published September 2000)

Hanes vacillates. Hanes oscillates. Hanes fluctuates. This is what Hanes does. Those who follow Hanes know this. In addition to this, Hanes spends too much money on wine. Put these two facts together and a recurring theme appears in the World Famous Hanes Wine Review. That is, the concurrent pull towards buying the high priced luxury wines that potentially present the most memorable swilling experiences and, oppositely, towards the lower priced everyday wines, those of The Common Man, that fit into the humble rhythms of a more quotidian existence. Each month Hanes promises to abjure the purchasing of the latest hot California Cabernet or Australian Shiraz in favor of a nice, simple $10 quaffing wine. And each month Hanes reveals himself for the hypocrite we all know him to be, lustfully driving hundreds of miles for a pricey Châteauneuf-du-Pape or maxing out his Visa to acquire some expensive Super Tuscan while passing by many wines of simple, but respectable, origin.

OK, now, so what? This month Hanes decided to gloss over his hypocrisy by discussing what wine geeks and wine business professionals call "QPR" wines, that is, "Quality-Price Ratio" wines. These are wines that are deemed to present remarkable value for the tidy sum they command on today's free market. To begin with, note that these are not necessarily "cheap" or "inexpensive" wines but rather represent unique "value" at almost any price point, be it $10, $20, $50, $100 or more.

Now, this very concept may leave some readers dumbfounded or dismayed. The point is to find a cheapo wine that tastes good and won't make you worship the porcelain goddess during the night. This is the essence of "QPR"! In a sense, QPR embodies the sentiment of getting over on someone, of rummaging through the clothing bins at Syms or Filenes and finding that most excellent tie or blouse that is worth double or triple what you pay. "I only paid $6 for this Merlot and it's worth at least $15!"

So, initially, one must accept within the concept of QPR that there is no minimal nor maximal cost threshold for what counts as a QPR wine. QPR means to reflect nothing more than that a given wine is of high enough quality that it could easily have cost more, that it qualitatively equals wines that in fact do cost more, sometimes much more. A big part of understanding QPR thus comes from having sampled wines at various price points and gaining the knowledge of what truly is a good $20 or bad $20 wine, or a good $50 or bad $50 wine, from any particular region or varietal. This builds the framework for judging good or poor QPR in a certain wine.

Of course, Hanes cannot in good conscience recommend that everyone goes out to buy all these expensive wines so as to understand the concept of QPR better. At least, not unless Hanes is invited to drink these wines. So, the beginner should keep things on the lower end of the price spectrum for starters. If you've had an $8 Shiraz that you enjoyed, that's your initial building block. One may assume you have also had a crappy $8 Shiraz for which you wouldn't have paid $4. Thus, the $8 Shiraz you enjoyed becomes a candidate for good QPR. Now, try an half dozen $12 Shirazes and an half dozen $15 Shirazes. If your initially beloved $8 Shiraz beats most of the $12 Shirazes then it truly is a candidate for great QPR. If one or two of the $15 Shirazes aren't better than the $8 one, they have lousy QPR. Unless you smoked too much loco weed in college, you have already caught onto the basic principles of QPR and can be hep to the jive when talking with wine geeks.

The real breakthrough remains in internalizing the concept of QPR for wines which cost $20 or more. If you have achieved this, you are now officially too far gone to save. In the store where Hanes works there was an excellent $20 California Cabernet Sauvignon that Hanes deemed the equal of many $40 Cabernets being sold. When asked for recommendations, he would say that this one was a great value and worth almost double what the price was. Indeed, Hanes offered, once the word gets out on this new producer, the price will undoubtedly rise. The reaction of most customers was a contorted face, flushed with confusion, and smoke coming out of their ears as they tried to imagine a $20 wine being a steal at that price. For them, any wine over $15 better rock their world and change their lives. Alas, the world, she no work that way. There are lots and lots of $40 and $75 wines not worth half the price. These customers (call them "young grasshoppers") had not yet made the gestalt switch and seen wine pricing as an unified whole. For them, expensive wine (that is, over $15) could only be overpriced and never underpriced.

The bonus for the young grasshopper to learn to judge QPR is gaining the ability to buy wisely. If all you know is Californian wines, you may be able to say which varietals or producers offer relatively good QPR, say Zinfandel over Merlot, or Cartlidge & Browne over Indigo Hills. Now, how you may save money and drink well over the longer term is in being able to judge across geographies and be able to tell after trying a few wines whether or not Chile or South Africa or Tuscany is offering better QPR at a certain price point than say Spain, Oregon or Burgundy. No doubt, you may have to spend more money upfront to gain this knowledge but you will have had the added bonus of having gotten drunk too. All for the sake of knowledge! Once you achieve all this, you may confidently walk into a wine store or restaurant and when the store clerk or waiter recommends a wine, you may query her or him on its "QPR" vis-à-vis other immediate peers or other competing wine regions. This person will then smile, compliment you on your savvy wine knowledge and then curse you behind your back.