with the risk of being accused of simplism by wine snobs and the like, i have concluded, after much reading, tastings and late night reflections on the matter, that wine quality is derived from 3 simple concepts: fruit, terroir, and passion.
as i have written here before, let's not forget that wine comes from grapes and that grapes are fruits. the riper and healthier the fruit, the better its quality and therefore, the better the resulting wine.
now, the concept is a little more complicated than that of course, but at the end of the day, if the fruit is not ripe, or if it is not healthy, for sure the wine will reflects this and give all kinds of off smell and off odours which the wine makers will try to mask with tricks of the trade. quality fruits make the wine smooth and complex on the palate.
people in the new world hates this word because first of all it is french, second, it is not translatable in 1 word, and third, new world wine makers make wines to reflect the grapes inside the bottle and very often do not pay much attention where it was grown.
however, terroir, which can be loosely translated as "a sense of place" is very important when one has optimum ripening in mind. terroir includes everything necessary to ripen the grapes properly: the exposure to the sun, the protection from or access to air currents and winds, the drainage and minerals of the soils and access to low water tables, the general climate of the area and the ripening season normal weather patterns. since grape varieties all have their own ripening requirements, it means that not all grapes ripen properly just about anywhere.
without a good terroir, there can not be good ripening. perfect understanding of terroir by a wine maker leads him/her to highly targeted choices in wine growing and making which in turn leads to increased level of complexity and quality in wine.
wines sold in supermarkets for usd 2.00 like the (in)-famous 2-buck chuck in the usa is not what i am talking about here.
what i am talking about are wines that makes one buy them again and again not because of its price, but because it gave one pleasure.
passion is what comes into play when that kind of wine is being made and i like to think that wine making is still the work of an artisan. each vintage, the wine maker has different raw materials that nature capriciously gave him/her that year. beyond the equipment, beyond the tricks, and the techniques, it is passion that will guide the decisions in the cellar so that the resulting wine is highly representative of the vision and style the wine maker wants to create. just like any work of art, wine of high complexity and quality are crafted to reflect a highly personal vision of the world.
and so it is. it is not very complicated. each time we sip a wine, we really need only to ask ourselves the 3 questions: was the fruit ripe and healthy? does it gives me the feeling it was made from a place i can almost imagine? does it give me a sense of the wine maker's vision and wisdom?
and how does such a wine taste like? again, in keeping with the spirit of simplism, i focus on 3 simple ideas: complexity, length, balance:
not very complicated to understand. on the first taste, does it frankly reminds you of 3-4 aromas and flavours. even better, does it change each time you take a new sip? it should if it is to be called complex.
how long do those 3-4 aromas stay on your palate after you have swallowed? here i am not talking about the acidity (how much your tongue waters), or the tannins (how much your tongue feels "furry"). i am talking about the aromas, the flavours you perceive while the wine is on your palate. if those stay less than 3 seconds, it is not very long, is it? 4-5 seconds it more like it. if it lasts forever, even better still.
too many critics think that balance is a given. i do not. too many wines are uni-dimensional. one or two flavours or characteristics sticks out and take over over the whole experience. for me, it is not magical. if it taste of oak and very little else, then it is not in balance, is it? a good wine should be elegant and all flavours integrated and in harmony with each other. otherwise, it becomes a pain to drink it.