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John Wilson: Why do some wines taste better than others?

How to Drink Better: Tastes differ but it depends on where wine is made, and where and how wine is consumed

This is a great question.

First of all, enjoying wine is subjective, a matter of taste. We all have different personal likes and dislikes so your favourite wines may not be the same as mine. Some of us prefer richer, sweeter wines, others crisp and dry. That doesn’t make mine any better than yours, just different.

Leaving personal preference aside, a number of factors make one wine taste better than others. The first is time and place. A bottle of ordinary wine will taste great if you are sitting around a table with family and friends, enjoying great food. The second is maturity; a minority of wines taste better when they have aged for a few years.

The main reason however is production costs and (sadly) therefore price. Good and great wines are expensive to make. Producers who know they will receive a high price for their wine can do all sorts of things to make it taste better. Grape growers can deliberately keep yields low, so that the grapes contain more flavour. Any grapes that are not in perfect condition will be discarded or used for a less expensive wine. Some wineries have sorting tables with expensive machines (or expensive workers) to remove anything but the finest grapes. In the winery a top producer may have expensive machinery and expensive new oak barrels, some of which must be renewed every year. All of this can have a huge impact on the flavours in wine.

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Then there are factors not affected by production costs. The soil and climate have a huge effect on the grapes and the finished wine. In places like Germany and Burgundy, it has become clear over centuries that some vineyards can produce better wine. So, even if the producer lavishes all possible care and attention on a wine, it may never taste as good as others.

Lastly there is the skill of the grower and winemaker. The most exciting thing for any wine drinker (and writer) is to discover a genuinely talented producer who makes wines that punch way above their weight. It doesn’t last long sadly; as other wine drinkers discover the wine, prices rise.

However, remember that expensive wines don’t always taste better. If a wine or region is famous around the world, the producer can usually charge a higher price for their wine – and it won’t taste any better.