What Is a Delicious Wine?

drinking wineIn discussing his criteria for a good everyday wine, Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser writes:

But above all, a wine has to be delicious. And if I have to define the delicious-factor, it means a wine has a really good fruit-acid balance with emphasis on high natural acidity. Further, if it’s a red wine, the winemaking—as in tannin management and use of oak—also has to be good—and balanced.

I don’t disagree with this. Certainly fruit/acid/tannin balance is essential to wine quality. But is that all there is to “deliciousness”?

Many (certainly not all)  $10-$12 supermarket wines have fruit/acid balance in that they are neither flabby nor too tart. One might argue that the reds typically lack tannins since “smooth” seems to be what they aim for. But even with more backend structure I wouldn’t call most of these wines delicious.

So what more is required for a wine to be “delicious”?

To me delicious wines have vibrancy and energy. The fruit must be either juicy or rich and have clarity and precision. In the mouth, the wine should dance. It should leave an impression of movement executed with grace and have a finish that feels complete with no exposed acidity to turn the wine sour or harsh tannins to make the wine seem fragmented. These are qualities I only occasionally find for under $20. It’s almost always the finish that fails.

How would you define “delicious”?

6 comments

  1. It should be true to and representative of its type and should exhibit a harmonious vitality between the various structural components at mid palate and deliver an appealing, lingering finish.

    As for those economical $20 wines that fail at the back end, it is my unsubstantiated claim that is precisely why consumers prefer them, for their “smoothness.”

    1. Hi Tom,
      Agreed. Smoothness is what causal drinkers seem to want. But I find with too many commercial wines, they actually aren’t “smooth” all the way through the finish. The structural components to lose their integration.

  2. A couple of thoughts, Dwight.

    First of all, balance is always a subjective term. My wife is a professional chef, and she prefers salad dressings that are less acidic than the ones I like. Delicious to her is just a bit flat for me. And what I think is superb she finds annoying tart. She’s is probably right…

    But your question is larger than that. I discuss this at length with the students in my Cultural Appreciation of Wine class each year, and have come to the following conclusions:

    1. For me, a wonderful wine needs to have both intensity and elegance. Not just power, and not just elegance. That combination (iron fist in a velvet glove?) is what keeps me coming back to a wine over and over. But that is a description of a great wine…not just a delicious one. Add in complexity and you really have my attention.

    2. Hugh Johnson has a wonderful explanation that wine, above all, must be refreshing. It is, after all, a beverage. That would argue in favor of Tim’s suggestion, and my personal taste. But Guinness and Vintage Port are also beverages. Are they refreshing? Not sure–probably not. And there are certainly people who drink wine not because they want refreshment, but because they was richness and power–mouthcoating flavor. They might not agree with my definition of a great wine. And I am not about to argue that they are wrong. Some people prefer Bruckner and Mahler to Beethoven and Mozart.

    3. Let’s not mistake delicious for “great wine.” I’ve had many a delicious bottle of light, refreshing wine that seemed to evaporate right out of my glass (and the bottle!) because it just tasted great. And we drank it with abandon. It was delicious. but it might not have been great wine. It may only have been a great wine to drink on a warm afternoon. Maybe some of those supermarket wines would do the same, although I suspect that they are not quite refreshing enough for my palate.

    4. And yes, smoothness is something many wine drinkers seek. I think it is hard to find a wine that is both smooth and refreshing. There is something about refreshment that requires you to be startled out of complacency. But many people don’t want their wine to startle them. They just want it to embrace them in cashmere. And they find that delicious.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thanks so much for your comment. I entirely agree that we should distinguish “delicious” from “great”. That is what I was going for in my post. So I didn’t include complexity, intensity, or distinctiveness as components of “delicious”. I agree with what you say in (3). That wine that you just want more of is what I’m aiming at. For me, it feels dynamic yet graceful on the palate. It is unrelated to complexity and not necessarily about fruit/acid balance. It’s also not about refreshment. I’ve had some Amarone that are too alcoholic to be refreshing but are delicious.

    1. it all depends on context. Amarone by a warm fire in winter or with a plate of pasta con funghi is wonderful. But is it delicious on a warm summer afternoon?

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