There is an old saying that there is no such thing as a great wine – just a great bottle of wine. I have experienced this myself. I was lucky enough to be asked to host a fine wine tasting of various top class French wines from the best of vintages. We started with Krug, perhaps the best and most iconic of Champagnes. We moved on to two white Burgundies – a Puligny Montrachet and a Criots Batard Montrachet before the reds. A ridiculously expensive but very nice Burgundy was followed by Chateau Margaux 1983. This wine completely caught my attention – to me it was perfect. A Cote Rotie followed the Margaux but despite being a big Syrah based wine from a brilliant producer and a legendary vintage it could not remove the flavour and the impression that the Margaux had left me with. Not even the luscious Chateau d’Yquem could remove the lingering flavours of the Margaux. Part of my payment was to take a bottle of my choice from the tasting and unsurprisingly I took the Margaux.
About a year later I decided to have the cherished bottle of Margaux with our Christmas Lunch. My memory of that first taste of the wine was still ingrained on my mind. I duly decanted the wine and after a lesser Bordeaux reverently poured the wine into clean glasses for the assembled guests. It was very good but it wasn’t the perfect wine! Everything about it was correct – it still had the beautiful mahogany red colour that a wine with age develops, it still had the heady aromas of cassis, autumn leaves, tobacco and cedar – everything you read about a great wine was there. The taste was rich, yet elegant but it was not perfect.
But is a perfect wine a great wine? I don’t think so. We are taught, when training for our various wine exams, to analyse the crucial aspects of wine. Colour, nose (smell), palate (taste including tannins and alcohol) and finally overall impression which translated means – are the the elements in sync, harmonious? Each of these elements should be graded as objectively as possible from 1-5. We are taught that a great wine would have a high score in colour, a high score on the intensity of the nose, the taste should be as expected from the nose and may or may not have additional flavours, the tannins should not be harsh or green and the alcohol should not be prominent. Of course, many wines are out of kilter when tasted and may not be great examples at that moment but experience can help us to decide whether they will become great or fade to nothing.
Based on all the science above, there are many many great wines in the world. They do not have to come from the greatest vineyards in the world and most importantly they don’t have to cost hundreds of pounds. A great wine can be £4.99 or 10.99 or 30.99. It just has to have all the component parts of wine in all the right places. And when you do find a great wine it might not be great every time you drink it but it will be very good every time you drink it.