No matter where you fall on the “expensive wine is better” spectrum, we all have something in common: At every price point, we want a good bottle of wine.
What does “good” mean, though? It’s a completely subjective measure … unless you ask a professional.
“People talk about quality like a matter of preference and flavor, but while we’ve found that there are a number of personal preferences that influence what people like and think are best, there are also a number of objective factors,” says sommelier Jorn Kleinhans, owner of the Wine Elite Sommelier Company.
Kleinhans and his team of sommeliers, who regularly conduct blind taste tests, have boiled down those determinants of quality into three factors that anyone can recognize:
“The more different notes and distinct flavor compositions you pick up, the more complex the wine,” explains Kleinhans. That’s where you get descriptors of flavor profile like plum, cherry, vanilla, or tobacco. The more of those flavors you can taste, the more complex the wine, and the more complex, the higher quality. “Complexity is perhaps the most important quality indicator that people can agree on,” Kleinhans adds. “The controversy comes in when they discuss whether they like it or not.”
The more intense a wine, the more clearly the drinker can identify and distinguish between the flavors present. “More intensely showing flavors make it easier to spot, appreciate, and recognize,” Kleinhans says. “When you have a very complex wine but all the flavors are fairly clear, the intensity is to the advantage of the wine quality.”
In terms of wine, “balance” is “the idea that an optimal wine contains a number of flavor profiles: fruits, vegetables, oak notes, the structure (which includes alcohol), and earthiness,” according to Kleinhans. “The well-balanced wine shows the vast majority of all of these five components, integrated to a degree that they’re visible, the proportion of taste in harmony and in good relationship to the other tastes shown.”
Bonus measure: Typicity
Typicity defines how typical a wine is of its kind. Does it taste like it’s supposed to? “There is this marriage between the grape varietal and the place where it grows,” explains Kleinhans. “For instance, a Napa Cabernet has a certain flavor profile.”
Admittedly, recognizing typicity takes experience, meaning wine experts and connoisseurs are better equipped to judge (but you can go ahead and cite “learning to judge typicity” the next time you crack open a third bottle).
Even though you now know how to determine quality, there’s no need to go out and buy half your local store’s inventory on the hunt for quality bottles — Kleinhans used these measures of quality, including typicity, to put together his choices of great wines for $16 and under.
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