What Makes Great Wine?
Like anything subjective this is an
It's as if you were turning up to a
blind date and the woman you meet bombards you with her list of
questions. What's your favourite movie? What's your favourite food?
If you were stranded on a deserted island with one other person who
would it be?
All valid questions , but if you had
not already run for the hills, everyone's answer would be different
and to gauge the “right answer” for the suitor you would need a
degree in psychology. Let alone restricting your answers to a single
response.So to with wine one persons Chateau
Margaux is another persons overly drying red wine.
So to break it down despite the
subjectivity clause, what is great? And how does the fermented grape
juice rise above it's humble beginnings?
To be great things need to be above the
ordinary. Really Sherlock!!
Ordinary wine is simple, lacks
intensity, easy to drink but hard to savour.
It is defined mainly by what it lacks;
balance , length, texture, structure, aroma, bouquet, mouth feel,
complexity, varietal definition , typicality, terroir and above all
flavour ( I know that some of these terms sound like a construction sites glossary but in a way great wines have layers).
So how do you rise above and make
Well there are two types of 'Great'
wine. The wine on the page and the wine in the glass.
The wine on the page is about pedigree,
awards, tradition, price, fashion, marketing hype, capital
expenditure, press and scale. Some are valid guides to 'Great' wine
but by no means infallible. For at the end of the day these things
can fail to equate to the most important criteria. GREAT WINE IN THE
Great wine in the glass takes you to
another place the floral,citrus and honeyed toast of an aged
riesling, the complex flavours of a great Bordeaux blend that gives
you violets and cassis framed in a firm savoury elegance, that
changes in the glass as you get towards the bottom of the bottle.
Great wine when matched well with food can heighten the experience of
both. Where the flavours and characters of the food dance with the
wine on your tongue. To pass these things off as wine snobbery ( more
about wine on the page), really means that you have yet to experience
such delights. If this is not your thing cool. But if you are
interested in food and wine it means you have some fun things to
Making 'Great' wine comes down to
capturing something in the bottle that speaks to you.
That makes this wine much more
enjoyable and memorable than what you normally quaff.
A winemaker/vigneron/vintner does this
by bringing an expertise and passion to what thy do. For at every
stage of the grape growing to wine making to maturation there are
forks in the road where choices can be made to dictate the quality
and style of the wine. What choices are made and how they are
executed ultimately dictates the quality and greatness of the wine.
These days many wine industry people
comment on how wine is made in the vineyard. This is partially true.
For great wine to be made the grapes need to have the right balance
of acidity, tannin, sugar, flavour and colour for the style of wine
intended. And to do this the vineyard needs to provide the right
climate, soil and management to deliver the grapes in these optimum
How is this done?
#Do your research.
#Matching climate to particular grape
Planting the right grapevines in
the right site can make a huge difference to the balance of the
grapes. Their are optimum conditions for temperature and moisture
status for particular grape varieties, And more suitable aspects and
soils. Sites within a region or even a vineyard can be quite
# Don't rely heavily on so called
Many 'experts' do not have local
knowledge. You will gain much more insight into a site or a region by
talking to locals who have been growing crops for years than relying
on the high flying consultants for advice. In my experience many
'gurus' bring unintended bias to the table.
# Growing grapes for yield versus
Some grape varieties have a more
forgiving tolerance for higher yields than others when it comes to
delivering quality. However, generally speaking 'Great' wine comes
from vineyards in balance where the leaf to fruit ratio is kept in
check either naturally or by management practices.
Growing grapes where acid,sugar and
yield are delivered is very different than growing for flavour and
# Management practices
Techniques to optimise the conditions
for ripening the fruit can delivery quality into the winery.
Consistant, clean, ripe balanced fruit can be achieved based on
manipulating canopies and soil conditions and the timing of certain
practices for light infiltration, cropping level, disease control and
microclimate stability. Practices on one site vineyard or region may
not be suitable in a different place. Know your site.
Once the vineyard delivers optimal
fruit on the vine it is quite critical to harvest this fruit in the
right window of opportunity and at the right temperature and urgency
and condition so as not lose any characters.
The process once in the winery takes on
many avenues depending upon the style of wine. But certain criteria
hold true for making 'Great' wine.
# Know your fruit
An understanding of the vineyard
and where and how it has grown is almost essential. Some winemakers
may get away with a lack of familiarity but will not be able to make
truly great wine year in and year out from this vineyard without
being familiar. Certainly to make improvements they will need to have
a control from which to tweek management practices. A communicative
and open relationship with a vineyard manager on the same page if a
larger operation would be critical.
Knowing the level of ripeness and how
that equates to wine style. Let the fruit reach it's full potential
in complementing it with the right techniques to get the best out of
what you have. Particularly in regards to acidity, extraction, oak,
tannin,alcohol potential,colour, flavour , definition and mouth feel.
# Know the potential
Get a handle on the age ability and
maturation spectrum of the wines your making and how certain
techniques are more suitable to making extraordinary wine for
particular wine styles.Taste as many different styles as possible.
Experience in how wines age from
everywhere as well as your own vineyard and region is helpful in
choosing which path to follow.
# Find your Niche
While having a burgudian like Pinot
Noir you may get a following. Be different, don't follow the crowd.
Do what you do well. Right now alternative varieties are all the rage
and are a point of difference. But if everyone has them they lose
their panache. By matching the site suitability and marketability of
a wine with your passion and uniqueness you will make great wine that
should sell. But don't sacrifice the last two for the first two as
then you become just another winery/food technologist. Truly 'Great '
wine is unique even within one region.
# Bring passion to the table
# Do your homework
To truly deliver extraordinary wine
you have to have a full arsenal of wine making techniques at your
disposal. If you are making traditional wines in a traditional region
and are following traditional methods. Understand why they work so
that when troubleshooting you become a valuable part of the team.
Innovation in traditional areas puts you ahead of the game. In a
region where more modern processes are followed don't be afraid of
low tech old world solutions but understand what they bring to the
table. For the minimalist low interventionist organic winemaker.
Being hands off requires a very extensive knowledge of the risks
involved. Like Miles Davis, you have to know all the notes before
knowing what not to play. To pretend otherwise is just a sloppy
approach and speaks more of marketing than true intent or even worse
ignorance. Great wine doesn't have a caveat it speaks for itself.
# experiment and give yourself options
Try new approaches within the scope of
doing your homework and give yourself options to blend. Learn to
adapt to what the vintage delivers.
Maintain a focus while still giving
yourself options to create. Don't try to be all things to all men.
Make something you are proud of.
# Goes without saying it must have the
'BIG YUMS' factor.
Doing a vintage with an English bloke
who used to work at Odd bins I remember him saying that this wine has
the 'BIG YUMS' factor.
The wine in the end has to taste
delicious for the style intended. The enjoyability factor is vital.
Would you want to drink a bottle of this wine. Don't let artefact get
in the way.
Finally 'Great' wine needs to be
shared. For to truly appreciate it, you need to see how others react
and how you react in their company. Sure you can truly appreciate it
on your own. But the experience will be or the more richer in good
company. I do stress good company, don't waste it on your relative
that only drinks Rum. You need to have a people filter and that is
probably the hardest choice knowing who to share it with.
Still it's not like your pulling teeth.