That’s a complicated question for many different reasons. First, reasonable minds can disagree on what makes a good quality wine. Second, since there’s no objective way to measure wine quality, many variables are left up to the subjective opinions of the taster. For these reasons and others, a much easier question to answer is probably, “what is bad wine?” However, when tasting, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you make your own determination.
Is The Wine Balanced?
When trying to determine whether you’re drinking a good wine, one thing to consider is whether the wine is balanced. A wine that is way off balance is fundamentally flawed and generally shouldn’t be considered a good wine. Whether a wine is balanced will depend on the harmony between the wine’s characteristics. When the tannin (if the wine has any), sweetness, acidity, and alcohol are all harmoniously in sync and no particular component dominates the other, the wine is balanced. If you drink a wine and it seems dominated by a single characteristic that is offensive to your palate, its probably unbalanced and is not a good wine. For example, a lot of lower quality wines compensate for flaws by adding residual sugar to the wine. These wines will taste much sweeter than other wines made from the same varietal.
Is The Wine Complex?
What do you taste when you drink the wine? Do you notice something new with every sip? Complex wines are an experience. When you drink a complex wine, you can taste multiple flavors and smell multiple aromas. Maybe on the first sip you get dark fruit notes, then the flavor transitions to oak, black pepper and then vanilla (sound familiar?). This complexity is an indication that you’re drinking a good wine.
Does It Taste How It’s Supposed To Taste? – Typicity
Single varietal wines and traditional blends have certain characteristics that people expect to taste or experience when they drink those wines. For example, a Napa merlot is normally a fruit forward, dry, midpalate, wine with black cherry and plum notes. It normally has medium body, medium alcohol and softer to medium tannins. If a person were to drink a merlot that was light bodied and tasted more like bright red cherries and strawberries, one would have to question whether they were actually drinking a merlot. A lack of typicity is normally an indication that a wine is flawed.
Of course, these are not all of the characteristics that go into good wine. For example, how a wine finishes is also a major indicator of wine quality. A long and smooth finish is an indicator of very good quality wine. However, if you’re getting into a wine, and you’re curious about how to determine wine quality, this should get you started!