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Dernier Cri:
What’s A Good Wine?

Our savvy reporter answers
one of life’s nagging questions.

Randy Sheahan

Thirty years ago, when I was a wee pup selling wine retail, customers would frequently ask, “What’s a good wine?” Startled always by the naiveté of that question, I would pose a lot of questions in return. Was the customer looking for red, white or rosé? Did they want the wine to be dry or sweet or somewhere in between; light-, medium- or full-bodied; still or sparkling? What were some of the wines they’d tried before and liked? Did country of origin or grape variety matter? Was the wine to be paired with a particular dish or to be drunk more or less by itself? And finally, how much did they want to spend?

I realize now that the question, “What’s a good wine,” is not naïve at all. To the contrary, it’s the central question we all ask — whether consciously or not — each time we buy a bottle of wine. None of us, after all, wants just any old wine; we want a good wine.

So what, then, is a good wine? Well, it can be white, pink or purple; sparkling or not; svelte or portly; dry or treacly; moderately priced or dearly expensive. But above all, it must have fruit. It must taste of grapes. Oh, it may have other elements of flavor — minerals, nuts, herbs, leather, cedar, et al. — but these should be supporting players — embellishments — to the fruit. Indeed, if a wine doesn’t have fruit at the core, I don’t want to drink it.

A good wine should also be delicious. It should display a certain ease of drinkability, should encourage one to take a second glass. It should not assault the palate; it should seduce it. To which end, it must be balanced, with none of its key elements — alcohol, acid, tannin (in the case of red wine), extract, oak, etc. — dominating the show.

As prime examples of good wine, I offer my current house quaffs: 2007 Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge (France) and 2010 Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand). The Guigal, which costs less than $15 a bottle, has good deep color; fresh, zesty, ripe-red-berry aromas; and rich, succulent, chocolate-cherry flavors. While the Babich, which retails for under $12 a bottle, allies fresh apple and herb aromas to brisk, buoyantly citric flavors. Both have ample fruit, are delicious to the max and can be acquired without remortgaging the house. You can’t ask for much more than that.

(Article reprinted from QRW Autumn 2011.)


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