Super Premium, Ultra Premium, Extra Stupid

There are many strange terms that get bandied about in the wine world. Here are several that it is time to send the way of things.

I frequently read about such-and-such a winery being a producer of ‘super premium’ or ‘ultra premium’ wine. The description is usually on a winery website or a back label. Super premium. Are we talking about wine or are we talking about gasoline grades?

When I first became interested in wine I used to wonder what in the world these terms meant. Were they supposed to convey some meaning that I was expected to understand? ‘We are a boutique producer of super premium wine.’ Super sounds good. Ultra sounds better I guess. Was there a higher category? I always wanted to read, ‘We are a producer of über ultra super premium wine.’ I wanted a winery to take it to the limit!

Let’s be clear. To consumers, these terms mean absolutely nothing. However, for wineries and marketing type folks, these terms are used both to describe wine quality - nebulously defined - and a particular market segment – usually rigidly defined.

From a quality perspective what a winery is trying to say is, “We make really high quality wine.” But here’s the thing. You never see a winery that says, “We make okay wine at high volumes at good prices.” Even if this is the case, few want to say so.

From a market segmentation perspective, these terms have definitions that typically describe wines that are, interestingly, at the low end of the price spectrum. Why? Because this is where most of the action is in terms of volume sales. You might not think about the difference between, say, an $8 bottle of wine and a $10 bottle of wine, but other people do and these are, in fact, different segments.

Here’s the way Nielsen looks at the definitions of the ‘super premium,’ ‘ultra premium,’ and other categories for wine:


Price Range




Super Premium

Ultra Premium








Let me get this straight. Washington wineries that are boasting about producing ‘ultra premium’ wines are talking about wines in the $10 to $15 range? I don’t think so. I assume they are talking about the wine from a quality perspective?

While I have seen a few wineries say, ‘We are a producer of premium wine,’ I have not seen any that say, ‘We are a producer of popular wine.’ I have also yet to see a winery say, ‘We are a producer of luxury wine,’ even if they are making wines in the $15+ price range. Why? Because the term luxury has a certain connotation that might make some consumers uncomfortable. Expensive wine is a luxury but to say it is a dangerous thing. So ‘ultra premium’ is about as high as it goes, which is of course where most Washington wineries sit making it useless from a differentiation perspective.

For people interested in market segments, I understand that these categories have meaning. Somehow though these terms have crept out into the consumer world where they seem bizarre, adding to the opaqueness of talking about wine. It's time to take super premium and ultra premium off winery websites and the backs of bottles and put them in the trash bin. Let's talk about wine in a way consumers can understand.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. I agree wholeheartedly. First off, let the wine speak for itself. Secondly, leave the cheap advertising tactics to the vodka and gin producers.

  2. Agree. Almost as bad as the (mis)use of the terms "Fancy" or "Gourmet" in the food world...

  3. Given these $ figures, there's a lot of ultra premium wine out therre of very dubious quality, nice exploration of the terms though Sean.

  4. Hmmm. Where (or should I say "when") did those Nielsen ranges come from? 1864? So my cellar contains 600+ bottles of "Luxury" wine (not that anyone has or would ever refer to them using this term)?

  5. The worst I have seen is a "private, limited bottling winery." What the @$#! is that?

  6. Having been in the wine retail business for over 7 years I can say honestly that the $15 price point and under is what is referred to as "Pedestrian wine", Not that it isn't good (OK some are and most are not) as say a McD Cheese burger isn't good, however they are wines intended for the masses, so, dumb down. I am not sure when these price points came into play, it does seem a little "1960's". So all of us that drink wine under that price point and can't tell the difference, well hmmm, to bad. There is a difference people, but really if $4 is going to make the difference on what you enjoy for tonight or not then i'm sorry. Disconnect that cell phone and buy better wine! (some times I rant)

    Something no one has mentioned yet is the labeling "Reserve" do you know that Yellow Tail makes a "Reserve" wine for about $2 more than their regular wine, and it is made in the hundreds of thousands of cases, yes cases. In the USA there is no regulation as to what constitutes a "Reserve" wine, hmmm contemplate that one over your next glass of Luxury wine! Cheers!

  7. 1ewg, by the powers invested in me I give you the term 'über ultra super premium wine.' Go forth and conquer!

    Anon 7:16pm, ha! That is hilarious. Here I thought it couldn't get any worse.

    Anon 8:11pm, I actually had a paragraph dedicated to reserve and other such terms but ended up saving that rant for another day!

  8. Sean, when speaking to my consumers I give the the Good, Best, Better choice with the price points you are talking about, , still confusing for wine consumers. Thanks, great topic Merlotman