What Fine Wine Is and Isn’t

fine wine2Emily Saladino in Wine Enthusiast provides a good summary of various views on the perennial question, What Do We Mean When We Say “Fine Wine?”

Aside from the occasional silliness that it’s all just subjective (language is never just subjective), the attempts at definition have some insight.

Here is a sampling:

“I define fine wine as anything that is made with passion and attentiveness,” says Jermaine Stone, founder of Cru Luv Selections.

“Fine wine is a quality descriptor,” says Scott Diaz, senior vice president of global brand strategy and marketing, Demeine Estates. “We define fine wine as a category that represents the highest quality producers from their respective regions.…These are wineries that value uncompromised quality above any commercial demand for quantity.”

“The industry is so expansive that someone at a natural wine bar serving up less expensive small-production skin-contact wines would certainly think of fine wine differently than someone with an expansive Burgundy list serving up bottles regularly over $300,” says Ramon Manglano, sommelier at The Musket Room in New York City. “Are either of them wrong? No, and honestly, they probably see both sides of the coin.”

Each of these quotations is in the right direction. What most expensive Burgundian wines and small-production skin contact wines have in common is that their producers intend that their wines provide an aesthetic experience. Intentions, of course, are complex and multiple. Every winemaker cares about the bottom line and production goals. But for creators of fine wine, the dominant concern, the goal that all the other intentions serve, is to make a wine that attracts focused attention and provides the drinker with a distinctive, memorable experience that concentrates the mind and warms the heart.

Commodity wines are not fine wines because they are made with a different intention—meeting production goals and increasing profit are the main drivers.

Thus, to know if a wine is a “fine wine” you have to know something about the production process and the care that goes into it.

After these insightful comments, it was disappointing that the article ends with a incoherent whimper. Saladino asks why the idea of fine wine persists. She writes:

The notion of fine wine could endure because it provides a framework to decipher the Talmudic complexities of wine, with its opaque labels, multilingual terminology, and competing national and regional classification systems. Even if it’s a personal, highly subjective framework. Or, especially because it’s a personal, highly subjective framework.

“With wine, like anything else, the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know,” says Pass, the Winebow rep-turned-canned spritz founder.

Wine is a big topic with a lot of rules. Sometimes, it’s nice to get to make your own.

Huh? If the meaning of “fine wine” is just something each of us invents, how does it provide “a framework to decipher the Talmudic complexities of wine?”

Can I understand calculus by inventing meanings for the symbols?

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