Food & Wine

What Makes a Wine Great?

10 November 2021By Kylie O'Brien
red wine pouring into a glass
iStock/Jag_cz

Written by

Kylie O'Brien

Kylie O’Brien has worked on some of the world’s most magnificent vessels with amazing people for more than 13 years. A graduate of The Australian College of Applied Psychology, she is the author of Crew Wanted, The Stewardess Bible, The Chief Stewardess Bible, The Inside Job, and has been a monthly contributor to Dockwalk magazine for more than five years.

When I think about wine, I am overcome with a sense of joy. Not only because wine tastes good, but also because it evokes feelings of home, and familiarity, bonding, hospitality, and friendship.

Wine is in essence a social oddity that has the ability to form fond memories. These recollections can then be placed into the memory vault, to be considered fondly whenever that same vintage presents itself again. Wine drinking is something that people love to do. It can be viewed as a ritual, whereby people like what they like until their palate evolves to embrace new depths and flavors. They may open a bottle the same way, at the same time of the day, or because of a particular reason; the habitual motives for wine consumption are endless.

Seasonal Wine & Trends

Like a great social conversationalist, wine easily moves and relates to the season (e.g. say, eating seafood by the seaside). Pairing wine with a menu is a skill that every stew should strive to master.

Wine taste and grape preference is purely subjective. So, what makes a good wine and what makes a particular wine trend? The houses of Penfolds, Biondi Santi, Mondavi, Saint-Émilion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Montrachet are all winemaking idols, legends, and some may even say, gods. Their winemaking reputations are surpassed by none, and the name alone will push the price tag up in some cases. In lieu of having a renowned name to sell your wine, here are some qualities that make a good wine great.

iStock/Morsa Images

High Grape Quality

High grape quality ensures there are no faults in the winemaking process, which equates to good winemaking skills and knowledge. It provides a good aroma and a fine balance between acid, tannins, and taste.

This quality can be achieved with perfect growing conditions. In addition to the skill of the winemaker, Mother Nature plays a great part here. The soil, climate, and flora (such as other plants around the grapes, weeds, yeast, and bacteria) blend to create ideal growing conditions. There are further considerations:

  • The vineyard’s positioning, altitude, and exposure of the vineyard
  • Is it on a slope or in a valley?
  • Is the vineyard positioned by the seaside or a river?
  • The complexity of the soil composition, which will all contribute to the depth and the intricacy of the taste

Winemaking icon Robert Mondavi believes that “Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art.” However, the winemaking process is a complex science that requires a synergy of elements to get it right.

Which Technique is Better?

The next step in the winemaking process comes after the “perfect grapes” have been harvested, and the winemaking process begins, which does require a great deal of skill and knowledge.

In truth, wine trends are heavily influenced by food, celebrity lifestyle, scarcity, and prestige.

There have been many debates over the years between the Old World and the New World winemakers as to which winemaking technique is better. (This isn’t the place to discuss such methods, as I wouldn’t do either side any justice within a short article.) However, what can be said is that there is a price disparity between wines due to the quality of the vineyards, the size of the crop, and the terrain on which the vineyard sits.

It costs money to produce amazing wine. Factoring in the economic cost of lowering the crop yield and increasing the quality of the grapes adds to the scarcity of the wine, thus increasing the value. The amount of care, labor, and materials invested into a specific crop will raise the cost of the bottle.

Breathe It All In

The wine’s aroma and its balance are key. Great wines not only taste good but also smell good. The balance between acid, tannins, and the aroma have been carefully considered to create the wine’s unique character, texture, and rich signatures. Never expect a modestly priced Beaujolais Nouveau to taste like an expensive aged Cabernet Sauvignon.

Like a great social conversationalist, wine easily moves and relates to the season.

Wine trends have always fascinated me. I could never get my head around why one particular wine was trending for that particular season given the personal preference for wine. In truth, wine trends are heavily influenced by food, celebrity lifestyle, scarcity, and prestige. For example, chilled red wines have been a huge hit here in Australia recently along with the lighter fragrant reds. In addition, and along with a healthy vegan diet, organic wines are becoming massively popular worldwide.

The combination of perfect grapes, growing conditions, balance, and aroma are all created with skill. These are the wines that the uber-wealthy relish: the scarce wines with the big names and hefty price tags. Whether your personal favorite is a $15 bottle of wine or a $40,000 bottle of wine, it does not matter. It all comes down to your personal choice.

This article originally ran in the July 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

More from Dockwalk