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Evaluating Wine Quality


  • In almost every wine magazine, food and drink website, and in almost every wine tasting room there has been the discussion whether or not one can distinguish cheap from expensive wine. “Even sommeliers can’t tell the difference between cheap and expensive wine.”
  • Regardless of how many times this phrase has been repeated, is it the truth?
  • Experienced sommeliers who experiment with intensive blind-tasting practice over time often find that it is very possible to taste the difference between cheap and expensive bottles.
  • Tasting skills and evaluation may be improved significantly with experience, indicating that blind-tasting for quality factors is quite possible.
  • Further, there can be a significant relationship between price and quality, but it takes thoughtful practice for the connoisseur or sommelier to identify those parameters in a blind tasting format.
  • Of course there is also the debate of how much personal preference comes into play when determining how “good” a wine is. However, one can still train the palate to pick up the qualities of expensive wines, even if a particular bottle is not a personal favorite.

Distinguishing Features of High-quality Wine

To truly taste — and best appreciate — a great bottle of expensive wine, look for these three objective qualities in every glass.


High-quality wines have more complexity than low-quality, bulk wines. When drinking a cheap bottle, you may only be able to detect a single flavor. Because a high-quality wine is more complex, you should be able to detect several aromas and flavors in a single sip.


Higher-end wines shoot for balance. Balance in fruit, sugar levels, acidity and tannin. When a wine is balanced these four components are harmonious.  Wines that run on the cheaper-side, tend to accent one component more than others, often it’s the fruit. A cheap wine often has too little or too much of a particular flavor.

Think about the proportion of the flavors when you sample a wine. None of the important flavors — like the oak or the fruit — should be too subtle or too overwhelming. A bottle with the proper proportions of flavors makes for a well-balanced, higher-quality wine.


When drinking a high-quality wine, you should be able to very clearly identify how intense the wine smells. Higher intensity means you can pick up different notes with more clarity. The more layers of aroma that you are able to pick up, likely the more complex the wine is likely to be. Be on the lookout for oak’s significant influence, which often adds character and interest alongside the primary fruit components.

Two additional features can be insightful, but their assessment requires more practice:


The palate and finish of the wine should cohere with and evolve from what the nose promised. A wine has integrity if your experience of it is consistent from beginning to end.


A wine is “typical” of its kind if it exhibits the essential characteristics of its grape and regional appellation. Untypical wines may disappoint tasters hoping for a specific varietal experience.

For the most insightful tasting experience, it is also recommended to try more than one wine at a time, by differentiating them in side-by-side comparison. Perhaps take a series of three Chardonnays from different regions (California, Australia, and Burgundy for example) and compare and contrast the wines’ acidity, sugar, fruit and overall balance. Identifying innate aromas and flavor characteristics often becomes most clear when we have a reference point. The more you taste, the better you will be able to identify key components of specific varietals.

By Jörn Kleinhans, AboutFood