A lot of my friends have been asking me if I can tell the difference between expensive and cheap wines. The answer is no, I can cannot. Generally, when I'm drinking a wine I'm not concerned with price point. I'm more concerned with how it tastes. This is where things can get tricky. Who decides what’s good or not for your particular taste buds? When you go into a wine shop asking the staff for just a "good" wine odds are you won't get a straight answer because it really all depends on you. So the main issue at hand here is how to tell a quality wine. In wine we look for something that has value within all price-ranges.
The wine industry has set quality standards that wines are rated by. These ratings can determine how a wine sells, however wines that are determined high quality come in all colors, flavors, bodies, etc., so really it can't determine if you as an individual will actually enjoy it.
Wine experts use their nose, mouth, eyes, and brains to judge wine quality, and their collective opinion then determines a wine's rating. There are a few concepts that wine experts use when tasting. The main standards are balance, length, complexity, depth, and length.
When talking about balance in wine, we’re really talking about how all the tastes (sweetness, acidity, tannin, and alcohol) in wine play together in your mouth. A wine has balance if none of the components overpowers the others when you taste it (like when you taste a really bitter, or really sweet wine). If you don’t really eat too many sweets, some wines may taste unbalanced to you. When tasting, wine experts know their own little quirks and typically adjust for them so that they don’t skew a wine's ratings.
How long a wine's length doesn't refer to how long you taste it after you swallow. Length is what we refer to when we can taste the wine along our entire palate. If a wine stops short, or if we can taste it right away but as soon we move it to the back of our mouths, the taste is gone, that means that the wine's length is short.
A wine's depth is particularly hard to measure because it is extremely objective. A wine high quality wine has depth when you perceive it to be three-dimensional. Think of it this way, when you taste a wine that has been opened for a couple days, and it just tastes lifeless, like grape juice, that means its flat. A wine with depth is the opposite of a wine that's gone flat. Which brings to the next concept: complexity.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a wine that's straightforward and honest, a wine that continues to reveal new innuendos (flavors or impressions) in its taste typically gets better quality ratings across the board. If a wine is complex, it will reveal different aroma and tastes as you keep tasting. These are the wines that make you take a second swig and think.
So after we take that swig and while we're still thinking, we taste whatever the wine left on the palate. This is a wine's finish or aftertaste. In a quality wine you can taste the wine's characteristics (fruit or spice) after it's been swallowed. A wine that finishes bitter is tannic, or if hot, its because the wine is very alcoholic.
With modernization of wine production practices, its become increasingly easy to find quality wine at all price points. Just because you may not like a wine does not mean that it's of bad quality. It just means that you personally do not like it. If you do come across a bad wine, it's usually that the wine has been mishandled in some way. If a wine tastes like moldy fruit, vinegar, or flat it’s been what we call "corked", meaning it may have once been good wine, but somehow things went wrong in the bottle/handling process. In this game, you are that last judge when it comes to the wines you like to drink.
Callie Exas has just launched her wine career at New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!
- Reply by Mark Angelillo, Aug 4, 2008.
I'm giving more thought to the quality of the wine I'm drinking at the moment, holding it in my mouth longer, and looking for complexity. Thanks for the tips, Callie.