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The book


What makes a wine good?

By Jeffrey Carl

The simple answer is that good wine is wine that you like. This is the honest answer, but it doesn’t sell $300 bottles of Burgundy, and it won’t win you any snob points if what you like is sold at 7-11. Just as there is no universally accepted standard of what tastes good, there is no single definition of what makes a wine good. A wine can be well-made and expensive but if you don’t like the taste, you’re better off getting a Diet Coke. You should expect your tastes in wine to change as you try more of it and begin to develop an appreciation for what a good wine can be.

A more complicated (and socially acceptable) answer is that good wine is known for its complexity and richness. When tasting wine, you will hear wine lovers talk about the wines having smells or tastes (often called “notes”) ranging from oak, blackberries, butter, apples, and presumably anything else vaguely edible. (If someone says that the wine’s bouquet has notes of “kielbasa,” run quickly. Do not attempt to save your loved ones.)

Bad wine basically just tastes like booze and grapes. Good wine is a complex beverage that holds multiple flavors and whose taste changes over time. All wines, based on their type and characteristics, have a “lifetime” over which they mature and improve – or don’t. Top-of-the-line French wines are known especially for gaining subtlety and complexity as they age; but the vast majority of wines produced in the world today are produced to have bold flavors almost immediately and do not necessarily improve with age. The flavors of a wine actually change once they are opened, and nearly all wines taste their best within a few minutes to hours after opening. Exposed to the air, any wine will eventually turn into vinegar, and many very old wines that are highly prized may already be worthless.

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