While tasting through the Mucci imports portfolio, sampling in my WSET course, and doing some tasting on my own, I have had the opportunity to try quite a few wines. Sampling through wines of Burgundy in class, great Italian wines like those of Casa di Baal and Negro Lorenzo, and some more inexpensive options out of my own pocket, I am starting to recognize what makes a wine just okay and what makes a wine great.
Everyone has their reasons for enjoying certain wines.
Maybe some will appreciate wines because they best represent their terroir and region, like an intensely fruity Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or a well-balanced Riesling with a hint of petrol from the Mosel. Others may believe a wine is great because of the price it demanded or the restaurant it was purchased from. Certain wine regions will demand higher prices and they will generally live up to the expectation, but it is not a guarantee. Others may find an everyday bargain wine that they love and swear by, but they may have closed themselves off from so many truly great wines.
Great wines all have a few common characteristics, regardless of where they are from or the price they demand. From my experience, a great wine must possess three vital attributes: complexity, balance, and a lasting finish.
Wines may possess a strong up front flavor of fruit, herbs, or even flowers, but is there more to the wine than just that? Do they just taste like jammy fruit like a big Napa Cabernet or red cherry like some Oregon Pinot Noir? Great wines may have a strong recognizable flavor up front like that red cherry of the Pinot Noir, but have many other tastes and aromas that create an observable complexity. These wines may even develop new flavors as the bottle stays open for minutes, hours, or days. A wine like the Memorie della Terra comes to mind, with a beautiful tropical fruit flavor partnered with an oxidative sherry-like characteristic to create an amazing complexity.
In terms of balance, a quality wine should be well-rounded.
A Syrah high in alcohol may be tough to drink if the burning sensation of alcohol is not masked by strong fruit and structure. An inexpensive Nebbiolo may be intensely tannic but lack the acid that would make it much more drinkable. The tannins on these wines may be overwhelming on your palate, whereas the Negro Lorenzo Nebbiolo contains mouth-watering acidity that compliments the strong tannins. Canadian ice wines with high sugar content are made drinkable by the natural acidity of the grapes. A wine can be bold or elegant, as long as there is a balance amongst its components.
Complexity and balance are key attributes, but can be all for not if a wine falls flat on its finish.
A well-made wine will leave you with its flavors for ten seconds, half a minute, or even a few minutes after that last sip. A wine can have a very strong flavor up front, but if those flavors fall off immediately after the sip, it leaves the consumer wishing for more. La Tollara’s Il Giorgione left me with an amazing taste of chocolate and mint for minutes after each sip, something I sat appreciating with each passing second. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to drinking wine, but for me, a wine will separate itself from the rest of the field if it is complex, well-balanced, and has a finish that will leave you satisfied after each sip.