People who taste wine for a living often long to find a wine with the ‘wow factor’ – that special something that lifts the tasting experience to another level.
Jane and I were recently wowed. Pre-covid, we travelled to a wine region that had enjoyed an excellent vintage. We visited the best makers and bought the wines we really liked made from the region’s signature red variety. Back at home we tasted our way through the wines and they were all very good. Yet one wine stood out … it was just brilliant. Wow!
I was so impressed that I looked up the results of the region’s wine show and there was the wine with four trophies, including Best Wine of the Show. The judges had obviously seen what we had seen.
How does a great wine happen?
Not surprisingly, the foundation is great fruit – so easy to say yet so very hard to achieve. A great many things need to align to produce perfect wine grapes.
The wine that wowed us came from a single vineyard with a reputation for high quality fruit, so presumably the site was good with the right aspect, good air drainage and low risk of frost. With good soil, well drained and not too fertile nor too poor. The grape variety was obviously well suited to the site.
Good viticulture is crucial, ensuring a good crop while minimising the risk of disease. Diligent vignerons may pluck leaves around bunches to expose them to gentle sunshine, building colour and tannins in the grapes. To achieve evenly ripened fruit, bunches may be removed from weaker shoots and green bunches may be dropped once the grapes start to colour up.
Mother Nature has to play her part too, providing a Goldilocks growing season – not to warm, not too cool; not too wet, not too dry. Not too windy and no hail! And a mild, dry close to season allowing the grapes to ripen gradually and fully.
Finally, there is the decision of when to pick, which is crucially important. As grapes ripen there is a lot happening – sugar is going up, acid is going down, flavours and tannins are changing. There will be a day or two when the combination is optimal, a narrow window that can easily be missed. Careful hand-picking is essential.
Given perfect fruit, the winemaker’s role is simply to capitalise on a rare opportunity. And not to stuff it up.