Wine Academy part 1: When is a wine ‘good’?


Jeroen van Mierlo teaches wine courses, in which he teaches people the basics about wine. In this biweekly column ‘Wine Academy’ he answers the 25 most asked questions about wine. The first question is:

When is a wine ‘good’?

First of all: a wine is good when it meets the demands you set for it. It very much depends on the setting as well. Do you drink wine with some snacks, without snacks, during a lovely dinner? Let’s assume that the wine is qualitatively good, so there are no issues like cork or bottle quality issues.

To judge if a bottle of wine is good, you look at the following aspects:

  • The complexity of the wine
  • The balance between diverse elements
  • The concentration of the wine
  • The aftertaste

The complexity of the wine

With the complexity of the wine we mean the presence of aromas and flavours that make the wine recognizable. If a wine has just one aroma, it’s a unilateral wine and not complex. If a wine has multiple aromas and flavours, there is a lot to discover in the glass. In this case you can speak of a complex wine.

The balance between diverse elements

The balance of a wine is very important. A wine that is not well-balanced is often considered unpleasant or not good. We experience it as ’not tasty’. What exactly needs to be balanced? This is mostly the harmony between the alcohol percentage, the tannin, the acids and the sweetness. For example when there is too much acidity, the wine can be considered sour and therefore not tasty. If there is too much tannin, the wine can be bitter and stiff.

The concentration of the wine

The concentration of a wine is a sign of quality. This is a combination of the teamwork between aromas, the flavours and the structure of the wine. We’ll get more into detail about the aromas of wine in one of the later Wine Academy articles.

The flavours in wine are in fact observations you do when you taste the wine. How does the wine taste? Does the flavour linger or does it fade away soon? To taste the wine better, wine connoisseurs often slurp the wine. This way more oxygen will reach the wine and this will enhance the flavour. Of course you can also use a swirling carafe or a wine aerator.

The structure

Nowadays the structure of the wine is also very important. The structure of the wine is defined by the way the wine feels in your mouth. This feeling can be described as ‘tight’, like eating a Granny Smith apple. You can also think of wine that’s a bit more greasy and leaves a little layer in your mouth. This also happens when you eat olive oil or honey.

The aftertaste

This is a very important aspect of wine tasting. The aftertaste is what the drinker is left with when he’s done drinking. If the aftertaste is bad, the experience will be remembered as bad in total. The most important question is: how long does the aftertaste stay? Does it linger long, or does it fade away?

So in short: you start by asking yourself if the wine is tasty yes or no. Then you consider complexity, balance, concentration, structure and aftertaste. After this you can make a judgement of the wine based on the total package of information.<