The Difference Between a Good Wine and a Great Wine – Part 1

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I often get asked at my Wine Tastings, if there really is a difference between a $5 bottle of wine and a $40 bottle of wine.

The answer is: Absolutely.

Before you start thinking that I’m a total a wine snob here, let me just preface the rest of this post by stating that this does not mean that an inexpensive bottle of wine cannot be perfectly enjoyable. Because it most certainly can!

So, then what is the difference between a Good Wine and a Great Wine?

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Quality

Remember my Quality over Quantity post?

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While I don’t get the opportunity to go into depth in answering this question at my tastings, I do here! So over the coming weeks, I’m going to illustrate for you five main reasons why two wines made from the same grape variety can have huge price differences.

#1 – TERROIR

Terroir is a French term used to describe the location and condition in which grapes are grown. In French, terre can mean land, soil, ground, or earth.

However, terroir {pronounced tehr-wahr} is much more than that. It is everything that encompasses the unique location and natural environment where the grapes are grown: the soil, the climate, the conditions and anything else specific to that particular vineyard.

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Have you see the movie French Kiss?

Terroir is described briefly in this film. It’s the part where Luc {the Frenchman played by Kevin Kline} asks Kate {played by Meg Ryan} to describe a wine:

Kate: “A bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension.”

Kate: “Actually, I was just talking about myself… I don’t know…”

Luc:No, you are not wrong… Wine is like people. The vine takes all the influences in life all around it. It absorbs them and it gets its personality.

Then he has her smell the wine so that she can pick out things like rosemary and lavender which were also grown on the same land as the grapes. This illustrates that all of the surrounding elements in the environment has an influence on the grapes.

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The quality of any finished wine is often determined by the terroir. Certain grape varietals will not thrive without the right soil or right climate. The color, aromas, and concentration of flavor is enhanced when grown in the appropriate location.

This matters not only from region to region, but also from vineyard to vineyard. For example, soils that are well-drained often yield fewer grapes, but with deeper flavors. In addition, cooler climates can foster slow and more even ripening of the grapes on the vines which can help expand the complexity of flavors in the finished product.

These well-sought after plots of land can be quite costly. In addition, less yield = less wine = higher prices. I once heard that to if you’d like to earn a small fortune as a winemaker, you need to start with a large one {fortune that is}!

On the other hand, winemakers who’ve had vineyards passed down in their families for hundreds or even thousands of years know that their vineyards have high value and can price accordingly. For example, French Burgundy and Bordeaux wines can often carry hefty price tags. They’ve been growing grapes in these regions for thousands of years. Over time, the wines have gained notoriety and have come to present a more elegant, classic style that you can only get from France.

Have you ever had:

a Pinot Grigio from Italy vs. from the U.S.?

a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, cal vs. from Bordeaux, France?

a Chardonnay from California vs. from Burgundy France?

a Shiraz from Australia vs. a Syrah from France?

Depending on location, they are very different in style. And that is largely due to terroir.

I challenge you this weekend to get two of these wines and try them side by side. And report back your findings!

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10 responses »

  1. So very true! With a lot of practice and a good palate, a person could actually tell you where the grapes were grown in a particular wine! A lot of Mediterranean wines have a hint of olive to them because the vineyards are next to an olive grove! It’s fun to try to pick up those hints. 🙂

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