Good wines win medals, great wines win hearts!

Chateau Petrus 6 Bottle Wine Box

What makes a wine great?

I’ve been living wine for most of my life. When I was a young boy through to when I left home was a time when my bedroom door opened up onto a rack of barrels. Each day I would meet new people in and around the winery. Some long time friends of my parents, who in needing an escape from city life would find themselves ‘getting their hands dirty’ in the winery for the day. As a boy I thought they were crazy, but little did I know that they were subtly shaping the way I saw the world of wine.

Throughout my life so far, I have been lucky enough to taste some of the worlds greatest wines. From the 1982 Chateau Margaux  that I was allowed to taste as an 8 year old, to the magnum of 1990 DRC La Tache that was opened when I was just 15, the 1998 Rockford Basket Press I stole from dad’s cellar, to the 1981 (my birth year) Penfold’s Grange I was given at my 21st birthday, and the numerous times that friends have bought their best bottles around to our place (and vice versa) from all over the world. We drink them with great pleasure. My friends and I always discuss what makes this wine good, what makes the other great, what isn’t so good about this one when compared to that one. It’s an endless discussion, but I always seem to ask myself “What is it that makes a wine great?”

Firstly, from my experience, a great wine is not made by winning a trophy at a wine show. Although this can be a marker of very high quality, wine show judges are given guidelines from the chief judge as to what to reward, and what to penalise. These parameters change from show to show, from class to class, and from judge to judge. What is a trophy wine at one show may not win a medal at another. Secondly, point scores. Wether they be scored out of 100 or 20, point scores from critics are very subjective. The consumer must be wary of these as not all critics see wine from the same prism. They all have pretty good palates, but tasting wine as you know is the ultimate in subjectivity. The best that can be done here is to align yourself with a critic who values similar wine qualities to you and test their hypothesis. What makes this even harder, some wine merchants apply their own points to a wine using the same system to wines, and display that these points come from their panel of judges. These scores should be  treated with scepticism at best. High scores here are often aligned with stock levels in order to move inventory.

Over the years my palate has been spectacularly let down by using medals and point scores attached to wines to ascertain quality. Unfortunately if you are a winemaker, the above examples are the quickest way for a winery/winemaker to be noticed in the marketplace. There is so much wine out there that it is really difficult to be seen through the forest of bottles that bombards the consumer. If there is one thing I have learn’t through my wine life experience, its that there is no quick road to greatness. Great wines have a story behind them, and stories take time to develop, often decades.

All the wines that have impacted me in a profound way are wines that speak to my heart and soul. I have rarely felt that way because they have a trophy attached or great point score. These experiences usually happen when I visit a winery and meet the people behind the wine, or a friend brings a wine to share that they love, or my trusted merchant tells me about the producer and the wine knowing that it is what I love. Sometimes I have had these experiences when eating out and a great sommelier (after discussing what we want) suggests a wine that will enhance my dining experience. And nearly always these wines are from producers with something to say (through their wine). These producers are usually producing small volumes of wine that are full of their personality and their place. Rarely are they from wine factories. These wines say as much about the person who made them, and the people who drink them, as they do about the time and place they were created. They leave you with a sense of comfort and satisfaction that etches itself into your memory forever!