What is a good wine? How do you tell a good wine from a bad? Preferences differ from person to person, and price isn’t always the best guide to follow.
The difference between good and bad wine is extremely subjective. There are a certain few things that tell them apart, but it remains, in essence, a purely abstract concept. You can never judge a wine by its price tag.
You’re not guaranteed to love that $1500 bottle that your grandfather entrusted to your father so many years ago, before it came down to you. And it’s equally possible to genuinely love that $5 bottle that’s available at every store from here to Timbuctoo.
In many cases, the price isn’t as much about the wine inside the bottle (though that remains an important factor), as much as the treatment it received before it became wine in the first place. How roughly were the grapes handled? How harsh were the crushing and pressing methods? How long was it fermented? What treatment did it go through to improve it’s flavour and texture? In short, how much extra care was taken by the winemaker to deliver a quality product?
The exact process differs from winemaker to winemaker. One may decide that the grapes are to be picked entirely by hand, instead of by machine. Another may decide to forego filtration, to preserve flavour, while another may add an extra step to the process in order to give the wine certain desirable qualities.
Even the decision to use a screwcap instead of a cork to seal the bottle – although the former gives the impression of “cheap”, and we’re all impressed by the latter – isn’t always a reliable indicator of a good bottle of wine.
It all comes down to personal preference in the end.
So what is a “good” wine, then, and how can you tell a good and bad wine apart? The major differences lie in the subtleties, and they aren’t always immediately apparent. It also doesn’t help that they’re not all universal, meaning that personal opinion plays a great role. These are things that need to be tasted to be believed, and no amount of reading can explain it to you until you understand it through experience.
One can say that a good wine should be “smooth”, or “complex” or “aromatic”. And they are not wrong. These are things that people look for in quality wines. However, it does not mean that if a wine that does not display these characteristics, it automatically becomes a bad wine.
The simplest answer is, the only bad wine is a spoilt one. And a wine isn’t “bad” if it doesn’t match your tastes.
That being said, each wine is a book waiting to be opened and read. The quality of the pages doesn’t change the words written on them. What ultimately matters is the story that it tells. So let it justify itself, and don’t allow the modest price on a bottle to give you a prematurely negative impression.
It might surprise you yet.