There are a lot of wines out there. Some are okay, while others are just plain terrible. Some are absolutely incredible. So what is fine wine — and what makes it so good?
It’s not just about picking the most expensive wines. Price alone doesn’t determine the quality of your wine collection. Wine is a complex beverage. Several factors play a role in the quality of the final product: science, where the grapes are grown, seasonal weather conditions, and the expertise of winemakers.
Everything that happens to the grapes, from their growth to their bottling, matters. Any missteps along the way can impact the outcome. Below, we’ll get into the processes involved in creating a great wine, which will help you determine the quality of any wine you encounter.
Terroir is nature’s influence on how the wine grapes grow, such as the climate and soil of the region.
Climate includes the general weather of a larger region as well as what’s happening on an individual level. Believe it or not, there are minute differences between different vineyards in the same region that impact grape growth. For instance, one vineyard might be near a river while another one is on a slope. Winemakers might even find differences between grapes that grow on a shadier area of a vineyard and those that grow in full sunlight.
The soil also plays a pivotal role in what makes a good wine. Generally speaking, more complex soil produces more complex wines. While some soils are more challenging to manage than others, experienced winemakers know how to coax the best flavors and features of their grapes to produce quality wines.
A wine’s vintage is the year in which the grapes are picked. The weather during the growing season of the year plays a significant role in the taste and quality of the wine. It affects what happens to the grapes, all the way up to the moment winemakers harvest them.
The main defining feature of a good or bad vintage is the number of sunny days in the wine’s home region. More sunny days during the growing season means the grapes had a greater chance of reaching full maturity. On the other hand, too many cloudy or rainy days could mean the grapes were immature when harvested — and the wine might not taste as good.
An overly hot growing season can also harm the quality of a wine. In these instances, the grapes might dry out before they’ve ripened, leading to unpleasant tannins and flavors.
The timing of the harvest is critical. Picking grapes too early means they won’t have reached optimum ripeness. Harvesting too late, on the other hand, leads to an overripe wine. Expert winemakers know when their grapes are ready to go. They rely on a few visual clues as well as the flavor of the grapes, all of which let them know it’s time.
Following harvest, winemakers get to work making wines. Everything the winemaker does will have a significant impact on the wine’s flavor and quality.
The first decision to make is whether to use commercially produced or natural yeast to begin the process of fermentation. Natural yeasts come from the same winery as the grapes, and they often lead to a better, more complex wine.
Winemakers have many other crucial choices to make during the process. Factors that have a significant impact on what makes a good wine include:
- The fermentation temperatures
- The vessel used for aging
- Choosing between pumping over or punching down to extract phenolic compounds
- Choosing whether or not to fine and filter the wine
The last step of the winemaking process is bottling. There’s a misconception that wines with screwcaps aren’t as high-quality as those sealed with a cork, but many of the best wines use screwcaps these days.
Aspects of the Wine
Tasting a wine can tell you a lot about its quality. Here, we’ll take a look at a few of the terms used to describe wines. Keep in mind that taste is subjective. What one person perceives isn’t necessarily what you perceive, but they can help you to figure out what makes a good wine to you.
There are four components to a wine: acidity, tannins, sweetness, and alcohol. In a balanced wine, none of these components sticks out. Based on your tastes, a wine that’s balanced to one person might taste unbalanced to you. If you’re sensitive to acidity, for example, the acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc may stand out above all other aspects of the wine.
Great wine quality signals depth. What this means is that a fine wine doesn’t taste one-note or flat. It has more dimension, multiple notes, and layers of flavors or textures. A flat wine, on the other hand, lacks all of these things and may not be enjoyable to drink.
Length refers to how far the wine goes in your mouth. Can you taste it to the back of your tongue, or does it stop near the tip of your tongue? If the answer is the latter, it’s a “short” wine. Quality wines travel the whole length of your tongue, providing you with a complete experience.
Generally speaking, complexity is a mark of quality. A complex wine is one that reveals different aromas, flavors, and impressions. For instance, a quality Merlot might reveal red fruit, plum, and cocoa flavors. If aged in oak, you’ll get notes of vanilla or cedar.
Last up is the finish of the wine or its aftertaste. A quality wine leaves you with notes of its flavors. The longer those positive flavors linger at the back of your mouth, the longer the finish. A wine that doesn’t leave much after you swallow your sip, on the other hand, may not be as high in quality.
Find The Best Wines for Every Occasion
Whether you’re celebrating with friends or simply relaxing at home, you deserve a high-quality wine every time.
At JJ Buckley Fine Wines, we have the best wines for all occasions. You can browse our extensive collection online or — if you’re having trouble finding what you’re looking for — you can contact our consultancy service. We’ll be more than happy to point you in the direction of a great wine for your specific need.