What makes a wine great vs. good?
Ever found a wine amazing but your friends found it average… or vice versa?
What are the elements that make a wine great vs. good? Subjectively, a great wine is one that you like. Since everyone’s palate preference differs, objective criteria are required.
Objectively, I would define a great wine as one that has varietal character, balance of components, intensity, complexity, a long finish, and arouses an emotional reaction.
Varietal character is important when it comes to judging quality. Having a bold, oaky nose does not imply quality on a Pinot Noir for example. It is a varietal whose characteristics are highly fragrant (fruit, flowers, and not meant to be overwhelmed by oak) with a sexy delicacy and a silky texture.
A great balance means all the elements (fruits, alcohol, tannin, acidity, sweetness, body, length) complement one another and no one element awkwardly stands out. For example, a wine that leaves a burning sensation on the throat is out of balance, as there is insufficient fruit, intensity, and body to integrate the alcohol. Another example is a commercial wine that is overly oaked without sufficient fruit leaving a hollow mid palate.
Intensity means depth of aromas and flavors. It implies good concentration of fruits in the bottle, which can only result from high quality grapes and rigorous production method to preserve the varietal character. Examples of wine with good intensity – You can smell its bouquet holding the glass at chest level. On the palate, it is rich and flavorful.
Complexity differs from intensity. For example, an intense wine can be simple (with only one dominant flavor). A complex wine makes you think. It has a dynamic nose, layers of aromas, and a diverse range of flavors on the palate. The aroma changes with time. It is not one-dimensional, flat, nor boring.
A long finish is a good indication of quality. There are many great wines that last 30 seconds, but 15 seconds is generally a good benchmark.Emotional reaction means it is captivating, it makes you happy and more importantly, eager to have another sniff, another sip.
When judging wine professionally, it is only fair to compare the wine against its variety, gauge the balance of its elements, and not be biased by our palate or brand preference.
I would encourage you to taste wines side-by-side, and blind (without seeing the label and without knowing the price). Often you would have a totally different experience. You may be surprised how some everyday priced wines could stand up to premium titans.