It’s a claim that has appeared in almost every wine magazine, on almost every food and drink website and has been discussed in almost every wine tasting room: “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 possible to taste the difference between cheap and expensive bottles. Skills can also improve significantly over time, indicating that blind-tasting is not an impossible myth.
Further, there is actually a strong relationship between price and quality, but it takes thoughtful practice for the connoisseur or sommelier to identify to identify those differences.
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.
The Three Distinguishing Features
To truly taste — and best appreciate — a great bottle of expensive wine, we recommend looking for these three objective qualities in every glass.
High-quality wines have higher complexity than low-quality 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 flavors in a single sip.
A high-quality wine has well-balanced flavors. 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 higher clarity. If you can detect an intense scent of these notes, you’re drinking a high-quality wine.
Two Bonus Features to Consider ...
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 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. Identifying flavors and characteristics often becomes more clear when we have a reference point, and are thereby enables to understand contrasts and differences.