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How to Assess the Quality of a Wine

This lesson is a part of an audio course Wine Course with an International Expert by Matteo Girardi

In our previous lesson, we learned how to detect alcohol, flavours, and finish in a wine.

In this lesson you will learn how to assess the quality of a wine in a critical way, without interfering with your personal taste.

In this lesson, we will talk about balance, length, intensity, and complexity.

These four factors are what determine if a wine is exceptionally good or just drinkable.

When you assess the quality of a wine in a professional way, you must be objective.

You must not think about your personal taste, if you love or not that wine, but you must be critical.

Of course, when you go to the wine shop, you will buy the wine you like the best!

Let us start and learn how to judge the quality of a wine.

In the first lesson you already learned about the concept of balance in a wine, when you tasted the two black grapes.

First, you tasted just the skin of the black grape to understand what the tannins are.

Then you tasted just the flesh of the grape, to understand what the acidity is.

In the end, you tasted the whole grape, and you checked how all the components of the grape were in balance!

This concept, the balance, is also the first thing you must look at when you judge the quality of a wine.

You must compare what is sweet in a wine and what is bitter in a wine.

And what do we have in a wine giving sweetness? The fruitiness and the sugar!

When you taste a wine, the fruitiness can give a sensation of sweetness.

And of course, if the wine is sweet, also the sugar present in the wine will give a sensation of sweetness.

So, what do we need to balance the fruitiness and/or the sweetness in a wine?

If we are tasting a white wine, we need acidity!

If we are tasting a red wine, in addition to the acidity, we will also have the tannins that can balance the sweetness of a wine.

When we talk about balance, we should also consider the alcohol.

Sometimes, if the alcohol is not well integrated with the rest of the wine, it can give you a burning sensation and ruin the finish of your wine, hiding in this way the flavours present in the wine.

When we are checking the balance, we should also consider if there is some aroma or flavours overwhelming all the other aromas or flavours.

This could happen, for example, in some wines aged in new oak, giving too strong aromas and flavours of vanilla, covering all the other aromas and flavours present.

The second factor you should consider assessing to determine if the wine is exceptional or just drinkable, is the length, or finish.

Of course, if the wine has a long finish, with very pleasant flavours, this is something making your wine surely not just drinkable. But probably of good quality!

If you have a short finish, this means the flavours disappear very quickly, and the wine probably has weak, dilute flavours who are not easy to identify.

The third factor you should consider assessing the quality in a wine is the intensity.

So, if you are struggling to find aromas and flavours in a wine, probably this wine is not so good.

But if you are sniffing your wine and you are easily detecting the aromas, this could be a sign of a good quality wine.

In lesson number four we had the example with a Pinot Noir with pronounced intensity.

In this case you will easily detect strawberry, raspberry, red cherry, violet.

In a simple Pinot Noir, instead, you will be lucky if you will just understand if there are generic red fruits as aromas, struggling to find the specific aromas.

The last factor to consider assessing the quality of a wine is the complexity.

The more aromas and flavours you will detect, the better quality you will have in your glass!

So, if you are smelling your white wine and you detect only lemon, lime and green apple, this is surely a simple, inexpensive wine.

A premium white wine will have various aromas from different clusters. For example citrus fruit aromas, like lemon, lime and lemon peel, stone fruit aromas like peach and apricot, tropical fruit aromas like banana and pineapple and also oaky aromas of toast and vanilla. This could be an example of a wine with enough complexity to be considered of good quality wine!

Your task for this lesson is to buy two wines. The first one could be a simple, inexpensive wine made by Pinot Grigio. You can buy it from the supermarket, for just a few dollars.

The second one, could be a Sauternes. This is a sweet wine, generally it is sold in a bottle of 375 centilitres and it is not cheap. When you taste this wine, think if the sweetness of the wine is balanced by the acidity. If it is balanced, the wine won’t be cloying!

And if it has a lot of complexity, with different aromas from different clusters, and a long finish, then probably your wine is a very good wine!

In our next lesson, you will learn how to pair wine and food.

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Written by

Matteo Girardi