What makes a 'good' or 'bad' wine?

Many times I am asked to describe the difference between a "good" wine and a "bad" wine. This is tougher than one might think.

Wine is a very subjective art in which we see people waxing eloquent over wines or those who spit the same wines out with a look of utter despair. This might be the strangest part of the wine business: Rarely do two people agree completely over a glass of wine! I know why this happens but it does not answer completely the difference between the good and the bad in vino.

Let me give you the result of 40 years of experience, which might shed a little light on the subject of good and bad in relation to a glass of wine. Here are a few items to consider:

Frame of mind — This is a biggie when it comes to evaluating a glass of wine. We know that emotions play a big part in the physiological make up of people. A stressed-out wine drinker creates bitterness on the palate, as well as bitterness in the mind and soul.

I have seen from time to time, during formal and informal wine tastings, situations where a few wine drinkers will pan a wine that the rest of us really like. It turns out, and I have done a little snooping in the matter, that those loud minority wine folks — those who go against the majority of the group consensus — are many times stressed-out on some level and their palates are simply out of balance. This causes uneven perception in the wine world and can also cause consternation among wine makers or retailers on a very deep level.

I remember an instance where four of the five judges loved a certain Pinot Noir from Oregon and the fifth judge simply hated the wine. After some discussion with her, it seemed that she was having severe boyfriend problems and nothing (it turned out) seemed to go her way at the judging table that weekend! In fact, she related to us that everything tasted "bitter" during the three-day judging. Hmmm.

  • A simple cold — Nasal congestion, clotted palate or coated tongue can be real killers as to deciding the good, bad or ugly of a bottle of wine. Hay fever, allergies and colds can greatly affect the sensations on the palate. What is needed is a strong sense of smell and taste and a clear mind and heart when judging a wine or simply deciding the good or bad of the bottle.
  • Food — One of the more overlooked aspects of deciding the worth of a bottle of wine is what preceded the wine on the palate. Greasy foods, foods with hot spice, foods with a lot of milk-based items can really put the nix on a pretty nice bottle of wine. This is why wine is rarely served in Mexican restaurants, Indian restaurants or Thai restaurants, where the cuisine might be really spicy or hot. Heat and spice can tear the heart or delicacy from the middle of a wine and make the experience less-than-great. This is why we have beer!
  • Ego — This is a big one. Some folks, if the wine is less costly than they think merits a nice wine, will dismiss the wine completely and never try it again. I have seen this happen more times than I wish to say. I have seen really nice wines under 10 bucks get shunned from the table simply because of their low price point. I know it sounds nuts, but it's true. Conversely, I have seen really expensive wine get all kinds of acclaim because of the reverse reaction.
  • Temperature — Nothing is worse than a warm bottle of Chardonnay! Equally bad is a cold bottle of Syrah. Wine must be in line with what accents its goodness as far as temperature is considered. I have also seen really over-chilled Champagne and white wines where the wines are so cold nothing hits the palate but ice cubes. This is not a good thing and tends to really knock an otherwise really nice bottle of wine on its butt.
  • Moderation is the ticket — Chill slightly, eat judiciously and try not to be anxious or upset when evaluating that glass of wine. Don't let the price fool you either. Let it go and let the wine speak for itself and (try) don't get in the way of what really might be out there.

There you go ... see you next week!

Share This Story