The 4 Factors and 4 Indicators of Wine Quality

by JJ Buckley Fine Wines

Closeup of a glass of red wine

If you’re a collector of fine wines, you want to ensure what you’re purchasing is of consistently high quality. Regardless whether you’re just starting out or have already accrued an extensive collection, each new wine you add should meet a minimum level of quality, and ideally each should be exceptional. Quality is important not only in the wines you drink but also in the wines in your collection you wish to sell.

Understanding Wine Quality

Wine quality refers to the factors that go into producing a wine, as well as the indicators or characteristics that tell you if the wine is of high quality.

When you know what influences and signifies wine quality, you’ll be in a better position to make good purchases. You’ll also begin to recognize your preferences and how your favorite wines can change with each harvest. Your appreciation for wines will deepen once you’re familiar with wine quality levels and how wines vary in taste from region to region.

Some wines are higher-quality than others due to the factors described below. From climate to viticulture to winemaking, a myriad of factors make some wines exceptional and others run-of-the-mill.

Four Factors That Contribute to Wine Quality

1. Climate and Weather

The terroir of wine has a clear-cut influence on its quality. Climate and weather help determine how quickly wine grapes grow, how much flavor and juiciness they have, and how well those grapes can be turned into wine.

Climate is (relatively) stable, so it’s easier for producers to anticipate how climate influences grapes. Cooler climates produce wines higher in acidity but lower in sugar and alcohol. Hotter climates encourage ripening, leading to wines with higher sugars, higher alcohol and fuller body. Producers trying to grow varieties that don’t do well in that specific climate will produce a wine of lower quality.

Weather, on the other hand, can have a more direct, immediate effect on wine quality. It can even spell the difference between a good vintage and a bad vintage. Wines with higher quality will come from grapes that received exactly the inputs they needed.

2. Temperature and Sunlight

To carry out photosynthesis, grape vines must be exposed to temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

In regions with average temperatures closer to 60 degrees F, short-cycle varieties will be successful but long-cycle ones won’t. If temperatures are too hot, though, the grapes will ripen too quickly – cutting short the time needed for flavor, color, and other compounds to fully develop.

3. Growing Practices

In addition to what the land and sky provide, the ways in which a producer manipulates the vines will also influence the quality of the resultant wine. Canopy management often includes removing extra leaves and shoots to increase sunlight exposure, while pruning removes select branches to control yields and keep vines healthy.

Harvesting is another crucial factor, since a harvest that is too early or late can lead to grapes lacking their ideal balance. Whether producers harvest manually or mechanically also influences grape quality.

Mechanical harvesting can’t apply selective-picking methods, but it does allow for speedy harvests when bad weather threatens to ruin the grapes. Conversely, manual harvesting is slower, but it ensures that only high-quality grapes make it to the winery.

4. Winemaking Practices

The winemaking process is equally important in determining the final quality of the wine. Wineries follow four main steps when producing their wines, maceration, fermentation, extraction and aging, and they must ensure consistency to get the most from their grapes.

Inputs such as sulfur dioxide and processing enzymes, as well as decisions with oak barrel aging and oxygen management, all contribute to the quality of wine – from the exceptional to the insipid.

Now that we've gone over the factors that influence wine quality, do you know how to discern the quality of the wine in your bottles?

Four Indicators of Wine Quality

1. Complexity

Higher quality wines are more complex in their flavor profile. They often have numerous layers that release flavors over time. Lower quality wines lack this complexity, having just one or two main notes that may or may not linger.

With high-quality wines, these flavors may appear on the palate one after the other, giving you time to savor each one before the next appears.

2. Balance

Wines that have good balance will be of higher quality than ones where one component stands out above the rest.

The five components – acidity, tannins, sugar/sweetness, alcohol and fruit – need to be balanced. For wines that need several years of aging to reach maturity, this gives them the time they need to reach optimal balance.

Higher quality wines don’t necessarily need moderation in each component – indeed, some red wines have higher acidity while others have a higher alcohol content. What makes the difference is that the other components balance things out.

3. Typicity

Another indicator of wine quality comes from typicity, or how much the wine looks and tastes the way it should.

For example, red Burgundy should have a certain appearance and taste, and it’s this combination that wine connoisseurs look for with each new vintage. An Australian Shiraz will also have a certain typicity, as will a Barolo, a Rioja or a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, among others.

4. Intensity and Finish

The final indicators of both white and red wine quality are the intensity and finish. High-quality wines will express intense flavors and a lingering finish, with flavors lasting after you’ve swallowed the wine. Flavors that disappear immediately can indicate that your wine is of moderate quality at best. The better the wine, the longer the flavor finish will last on your palate.

At JJ Buckley Fine Wines, our extensive collection of wines for sale will help you start your own wine collection – or add another excellent vintage to your racks. We also offer a wine consultation service to help you understand the quality of your wine, as well as what matches your collection and your palate. Contact us today for personalized assistance.