Determining which wines are the best is subjective. Differing palates often render it difficult to crown a best wine, but using certain criteria can help narrow your search.
Finding the Best
Experts use multiple criteria when they determine the quality of a wine. When wine professionals rate or review wines, they frequently participate in a blind tasting where they will know the wine's region, year, and type but not necessarily its maker. In that way, they can evaluate a wine objectively without including a winemaker's reputation or marketing hype in their decision. Wine professionals judge the wines they taste on the following criteria.
At the beginning of a blind tasting, reviewers hold the wineglass up to light in order to see the color and clarity of the wine. They may also swirl it around a glass to judge its "legs," or how viscous it is. Wines should be clear without any lees or other floating particles and be appropriately colored for the type of wine. Viscosity also varies depending on the wine, so reviewers look for good examples for the varietal or classification.
Next, a reviewer sniffs the wine and notes any bouquet. He or she then gives the glass a healthy swirl to aerate the wine and then notes how its bouquet develops. Well-rated wines have no off aromas, and instead yield rich and complex bouquets that develop further with aeration. The wine's bouquet is, in fact, one of the main things that makes some of the best wines so good. The nose plays an important role while sipping wine, because the fragrance opens up both on the palate and in the nasal passages.
Taste, Body, Balance and Structure
After sniffing a wine's aroma, the reviewer will taste the wine, swishing it around to hit all points on the palate, discretely drawing a little air in through the front teeth to aerate the wine. Along with discerning different flavors in the wine, they also evaluate how it coats the palate, as well as the wine's tannic structure. Wines that receive the best ratings have balanced yet complex flavor profiles and pleasing body on the palate. Tannic wines are best with the tannins well integrated, and oaking should contribute toast and vanilla flavors without overpowering the wine.
Wines with a good finish are those that linger pleasingly on the palate after you swallow the wine. The best wines have a lingering finish.
The best wines do not have to be expensive. In fact, many excellent wines can be found for less than $15 per bottle. Ultimately, the best wines are wines you enjoy, so if you love a $5 bottle of blush, you will most likely consider it to be one of the best wines.
Wine pricing depends on a number of factors.
Very expensive wines are often made from select grapes in small bottlings, and come from winemakers considered to be among the top tier of producers in the region. These may include First Growth winemakers from France's Bordeaux regions, cult hit wines such as Opus One, or premium wines such as Cristal Champagne. Expensive wines range anywhere from $50 per bottle to well over $100. Some, such as Chateau Petrus, actually cost over $1,000 per bottle. While wine experts and collectors may recognize the nuances in these wines, for the average wine drinker with an average palate, there is often little to justify spending so much on a bottle of wine.
Moderately priced wines, ranging from about $25 to $50 per 750 mL bottle, are often very fine wines. Winemakers may still carefully select grapes, but the bottlings are usually larger and the selection criteria less strict. In good vintages, these moderately priced wines can be extremely good while also offering a great value.
These wines typically range from about $10 to $25. These may be the winemakers' less premium wines in larger bottlings. That doesn't mean, however, that they aren't good wines. For the value-minded customer, many of these wines are perfect everyday drinkers.
Cheap wines are those that are remarkably inexpensive, mass-produced, and cheaply packaged. Typically these are jug and boxed wines, although some premium boxed wines can be quite good. Cheap wine doesn't necessarily mean it is schlock, however. Since it is so inexpensive, you can try these wines at will and see if you find one that suits your palate.
For those wine drinkers that like to hedge their bets, wine ratings from experts such as Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, or Wine & Spirits can help you find wines that experts have tried and rated. While everyone's scale is a little different, the structure of these ratings typically follow a formula:
- 100 points - Superlative/perfect
- 95-99 points - Collectible
- 90-95 points - Superior
- 85-90 points - Very good
- 80-85 points - Good
- Below 80 - Fair to poor
Using wine ratings can help you select consistently good bottles of wine, but not every bottle receives a rating. Shopping only to ratings may make you miss out on some really great wines. When in doubt, feel free to ask the wine store proprietor, who can help you find a bottle perfect for your taste and budget.
Increasing Your Enjoyment
Recommendations for best wines can help you increase your enjoyment, but don't get so tied in to reviews that you will only purchase 90 point or above wines or you may miss out on some of the best wines. Instead, try a variety of wines to discover those that you love, because they are the best wines for you.