Often I hear winemakers and other winery representatives tell consumers that what determines if a wine is good or bad is whether you like it or not – end of conversation. At best I find this condescending, and at worst, downright insulting. What they’re telling you is that you’re not smart enough to understand all the things they know about wine, and they don’t want to waste their time with you.
Wine ratings don’t help a lot either. Have you ever tasted a wine that got a 95 from some prestigious wine publication and wondered “How did this get a 95? I can’t even drink it!”
Results from wine competitions are not always useful. The wines are tasted blind, but judges are all different and instances abound where a wine gets a gold medal in one competition and no award at the next. Moreover wines are not swallowed and much of the mouth feel goes unnoticed.
Humans vary greatly in the number of taste buds they have (women generally have more), and we differ in our ability to detect certain aromas and the thresholds at which we do detect them. But it does not follow that there are no reasons for why you like a wine or find it undrinkable. Delving into these reasons can enhance our enjoyment and help us in what is for many a lifelong quest to find and appreciate really fine wines.
So what makes a good wine and what makes a bad wine? Why do you love my Cabernet Sauvignon but not the one from the winery down the road? There are really only three things to consider: What does it smell like, how does it feel in the mouth, and what taste does it leave after you swallow the wine. That’s it.
As to smell, is it pleasing or do you detect a hint of a disagreeable odor? There is a tendency these days to describe wines by listing eight or ten fruits, vegetables and various inanimate objects that the wine supposedly smells like, and a kind of parlor game to see who can list the most. Forget this! It will not tell you if you are going to like the wine or not. If you like the smell, taste it. If you don’t there’s no point in tasting it.
Then see what the wine feels like in the mouth. Is it harsh? Or is it smooth and silky? Does it leave a dry feeling after you swallow it? Or does it leave a clean and pleasing taste? Is it too acidic? Or not acidic enough (flat)? Is it too tannic (astringent) or not tannic enough?
So a good wine is a wine that smells good with no disagreeable odors, a wine that is smooth in the mouth, and a wine that leaves a pleasing and lingering aftertaste.
But why do you like my Riesling and not my Cabernet Franc, both of which would be good wines by that definition? That will be the subject of my next posting.