The True Meaning of 'Fine Wine'

Updated June 6, 2022
couple selecting fine wine in store

Fine wine sounds all hoity-toity and, quite frankly, a little pretentious. It's one of those old-school terms that's been carried through wine culture over decades, yet it lacks a formal definition. Fine wine's meaning is much more subjective than objective, and therefore it really depends on who you ask and what their personal preferences are. So, what makes a fine wine? Here are some factors for what makes a fine wine.

What Is a Fine Wine?

While there are many legal requirements for what goes on wine labels in various countries, there is no legal or formal fine wine meaning. It is mostly a marketing term that has been applied throughout the wine industry to set specific wines apart. At times, certain wine critics and wine writers have had substantial sway over what people thought was fine wine. More recently though, people are letting their palates speak for themselves and dictating their own personal preferences and definitions. This is all to say that really, there are no rules when it comes to fine wine, and it just depends on who you ask. While a sommelier, a small-scale natural winemaker, and a wine collector may each have their own take on what makes a fine wine, they are all likely to consider some of the following aspects in their assessment:

  • The grapes are high quality and grown with attentiveness and precision.
  • The vineyard site is exceptional.
  • The growing conditions were excellent for a particular vintage.
  • The region is famous for the specific style of wine.
  • The winemaker is experienced and well-known.
  • The winery consistently produces excellent wines.
  • The wine has aging potential and developing character.

Fine Wine Labeling Terms to Consider

While certainly not all good wine is labeled in any particular way, some fine wine is. Different countries and appellations throughout wine-growing regions around the world have varied terminology they use on a wine label to indicate its quality. The following terms commonly appear on high-quality bottles:

  • 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

How Cost Factors Into Fine Wine

High-quality wines can be found for as little as $25 and as much as $250 and substantially more. Overall, the higher-quality a wine, the more expensive it will be. Considering fine wine's meaning is really more subjective in nature, there isn't exactly a set price range. If you are used to a commercial bottle at $12, a $40 grower Champagne may light your palate up like you never knew possible. Or, maybe you regularly drink Premier Cru Chablis, and your step-up is Grand Cru. Whereever you are on the scale, there are high-quality, fine wines to be had in a wide range of budgets. Just don't expect to find them at the grocery store.

Aging Potential

Often times, those considered to be fine wines have aging potential for at least a couple of years. When stored properly, these wines really come into their own over time, developing complex tertiary aromas and flavors in bottle. But remember, there are no real rules when it comes to fine wine, so you may also come across an absolute stunner that is best enjoyed in its youth while it is explosive with delicate floral aromas and fresh fruit notes.

Choosing Fine Wines

If you'd like to move up from generic table wines and mass-produced wines, start with a few special bottles. You'll find higher-quality wines at boutique bottle shops where there is a carefully curated selection. If you can articulate what you like and dislike in a wine, a somm or similar will be able to guide you to a bottle that aligns with your taste preferences or lead you to experience something new altogether. Web shops also have a dizzying selection these days, so if you are trying to track down a more obscure bottle, heading online may be a good bet.

Fine Wine's Meaning Is All About Personal Preference

Taking your wine game up a notch and searching out a fine wine that is new to you is a fun way to expand your palate and explore a new grape, style, region, or producer. Get curious, branch out, and find out what a fine wine means to you.

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The True Meaning of 'Fine Wine'