The Truth About Fine Wines

Karen Frazier
racked wine bottles

The term "fine wine" is definitely one that is more subjective than objective. Often, whether a wine is considered fine depends on who you ask. However, in general, a fine wine is one of exceptional quality. As a result, wines considered fine wines often cost substantially more than table wines or mass-market wines.

Understanding the Fine Wine Meaning

While there are many legal requirements for what goes on wine labels in various countries, there is no legal definition of fine wine. It is mostly a marketing term, although there are generally recognized components to what makes a fine wine.

  • It is made from top quality grapes grown under excellent conditions.
  • The grapes are grown in a top-rated vineyard in a region known for producing quality wines.
  • The winemaker is at the top of his or her field.
  • The winery is one that consistently produces excellent wines.

Some of the many fine wine synonyms from around the world include:

  • Premier cru supérieur
  • Premier cru
  • Premium
  • Cru classé
  • Classified growth
  • Estate wine
  • Imbottiglato all'origine
  • Riserva
  • Riserva DOCG
  • Reserve
  • Superiore
  • Denominación de Origen (DO)
  • Denominación de Origen Calificada (DoCa),
  • Gran reserva
  • Prestige cuvée or special cuvée

Examples of Fine Wines

Fine wines come from most countries and regions around the world. Some examples of fine wines include:

  • All of the first growth wines of Bordeaux including Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, and Chateau Margeaux
  • Grand cru wines from Burgundy
  • High-quality, acclaimed wines from the US, such as Marcassin Vineyard and Martinelli wines from Helen Turley or wines from the Peter Michael winery such as Les Pavots
  • Top Australian wines such as Grange wine from Penfolds and The Laird or Runrig wines from Torbreck.
  • Vintage Champagnes, such as Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot
  • Prestige Cuvée or Special Cuvée from Champagne, such as Bollinger Brut or Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
  • Riserva and/or DOCG wines from Italy such as Barolo from Vietti or Tinganello from Marchesi Antinori

Cost

Fine wine is typically not inexpensive. In fact, it can cost twice as much or more than a bottle of table wine or a mass-produced wine. Whether it is worth the cost depends on what you value and how sensitive your palate is. If you are able to taste all the subtleties of a fine wine, then you may find it worth the cost to pay the higher price tag. If, however, you drink wine but don't really notice or enjoy its subtleties, then chances are you'll do just fine with a mass-market wine or a table wine and save yourself some money in the process.

Corks, Bottles, and More

In general, you'll find fine wines come in green or amber-colored bottles, which protect them from the light when you store them. Bottle shape depends on the region and type of wine. Most fine wines have corks of either natural cork or synthetic materials. However, due to the deficiencies of natural cork including the possibility of spoiling the wine with cork taint, more producers recognize the value of screw caps for wines that don't need to be aged.

Storing, Aging, and Drinking

Fine wines typically allow you to age them for a few to several years under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. Most of these types of wines benefit from the aging process, and their flavors develop more as they age. However, you should always look up your wines to determine how long to age them. Over-aging can be just as detrimental to a wine's flavor as drinking it too young. Once you've determined the aging potential of the wine, store it in a climate controlled location with a consistent temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of 60 to 65 percent. Store the wine away from light, vibration, and temperature fluctuations. When it's time to enjoy the wine, consult a wine temperature chart to serve it at the correct temperature to allow its flavors and aromas to shine.

Wine tasting glass

What Experts Say About Fine Wines

You can get a better idea of fine wines by reading fine wine quotes from experts.

  • "Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art." - Robert Mondavi, Winemaker
  • "There is nothing like wine for conjuring up feelings of contentment and goodwill. It is less of a drink than an experience, an evocation, a spirit. It produces sensations that defy description." -Thomas Conklin, wine writer
  • "I've developed an appreciation for wines that are immediately gratifying, but that can also provide great satisfaction over several years." - Robert Parker, Wine Advocate.

Choosing Fine Wines

Many people wonder how to choose fine wines. If you'd like to move up from table wines and mass-produced wines, start with a few special bottles. In general, you'll likely store these for a few years or longer instead of consuming them right away as you would with a mass-produced wine. To dip your toes into the world of fine wines, you can ask for recommendations from wine shops, visit websites such as Robert Parker Wine Advocate, take a class, visit wineries for wine tasting, or read wine rating magazines such as Wine Spectator. All will help you better understand fine wines so you can make educated choices.

Where to Buy

There are many sources to buy fine wines.

  • Visit wine shops and ask for recommendations.
  • Visit wineries that make and sell fine wines.
  • Visit wine sellers online. You can locate specific bottles using tools such as wine-searcher.

Drink What You Enjoy

Fine wine isn't for everyone. For some people, especially causal wine drinkers, it's perfectly fine to enjoy mass-produced wines that are easy to obtain, easy to drink, and easy on the wallet. If, however, you have a curiosity about wine and like to explore regional variations and different varietals, or if you like to discern the subtleties of various wines such as flavor, texture, and aroma, then give fine wines a try. Start small and see what you like and then branch out from there as you explore the world of fine wine.

The Truth About Fine Wines