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What's are the differences?

I am not a wine connoisseur. I enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner or with friends. Usually red (shiraz, pinot noir) but sometimes pinot grigio or chardonnay.
I'm curious what people expect from an expensive bottle of wine. I usually buy bottles of wine in the $10-$15 range and they taste good to me. What would someone expect to be the difference with a $40-$50 bottle?

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  1. To some extent it depends on the wine. Ideally more dimensionality -- depth, breadth and length -- as well as greater complexity, purity and finesse. In some cases, greater concentration and ageability. Often more or better oak treatment. Of course, some of these things -- concentration and oak, especially -- can be overdone.

    1. What carswell said. I'd look for more character, more complexity. And in most cases a bigger nose too, meaning a more aromatic wonderful smell emanating from the bottle or decanter.

      I'd describe it as the difference between a good fast food cheeseburger and a really fabulous steak at a fine restaurant. Both are tasty, but the more expensive one will have a more complex set of flavors /aromas and is made with more love and care.

      There's probably a price ceiling at some point, where spending more money just yields diminishing returns, but I rarely spend more than $50 on a bottle, so I haven't found it yet.

      1. For $40 or more, I usually want an aged wine.

        1. When I get to that range (retail and NOT restaurant), I expect the wine to offer nuances and offer them in layers, not just hit-me-with-your-best-shot and be done. I expect a depth of character (though not necessarily fully varietal-specific). Richness and depth should start coming into play. I want these wines to start revealing some aspect of their "place," or the person(s) responsible for it - character in a word. Hope that this helps, and is not too metaphysical, or esoteric.


          PS, when I get into the next tier above, I REALLY expect a bunch of "character," and layer, upon layer of nuances.

          [EDITED] Oops, oolah just hit the board ahead of me, with "character."

          1. To me , a great deal of how I judge a wine is in the finish. For example, my favorite reds have a long, austere finish that lingers without being cloying. For example, a properly aged Cab or Barolo in which the fruit is still present but the tannins have mellowed so there is not longer a "puckering effect". In a white, I like a clean finish that is refreshing. To me , this is a well made, properly chilled Riesling. Great up front fruit, and a clean palate at the end. Gotta go, my glass is empty !

            6 Replies
            1. re: TonyO

              A good wine has a plot: beginning, middle, and end (aroma, taste, and finish).

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                And plot twists! i.e., vitality in the glass, so the aroma, taste, and finish change as you're drinking the glass and the bottle, so each sip (gulp) is linked to but different form the previous one(s).

              2. re: TonyO

                TonyO, is it unusual for someone to like the tannins? My wife commented to me the other day that she likes a wine that gives her a "puckering" effect. We are newer to the world of wine and it seems that tannins get mentioned a lot in a negative sense. She specifically looks for it in a Barolo or Barbaresco as well as her Bordeaux.

                1. re: bobby06877

                  greetings, tannins are inherently neither positive nor detrimental but are integral (on a molecular level I suspect, but I don't possess the chemistry chops) to many other things going on in your palate and olfactory senses , most pronounced in big ageworthy reds like your wife's favorites, and in ports. (the way ports are made extract huge amounts of tannins from the treading, human or robotic, and I think this is part of the structure that keeps the wine from 'falling apart' after 40 years of cellaring) If you glance at the pros' tasting notes of these wines there's always a sentence to sum up the tannins. There's a very old variety in Umbria that is packed with the phenols /flavinoids that evolve and transform in the cellar;extremely tannic(mixed with water in earlier times for sacramental uses), it's bitter and black in youth, marvelous with age. It's said the Japanese like tannic reds because their tea drinking gives them a higher tolerance than Americans raised on soda pop. cheers

                  1. re: bobby06877

                    Like most components of wine, it's a question of style, balance, and personal taste. What's too much, just right, or not enough varies with the type of wine.

                    Wines to be aged need to have a fairly high level of tannin (and/or acid and/or sugar) to preserve them. Wines made to be aged for a long time can sometimes be so tannic as to be undrinkable on release. These tannins mellow and fade with age. At some point, with luck, the wine comes into a lovely balance. If you're not lucky, fruit fades before the tannins and you end up with something that tastes like leathery tea.

                    1. re: bobby06877

                      To my friends in the Nutmeg State (assuming the 06877 is your zip code but then again, it could be your birthday.....), tannins are part of a wnes "DNA" so to speak. Like many other CH'ers have said, it is personally preference. I personally like them toned down a bit, partially why I like wines that are ready to drink when released (give me a big juicy Zin or Syrah anyday). However, there are those that like that sensation and the flavor profile that goes along without. To them I say Cheers !

                  2. Analogies between wine and things like art and music usually fall apart pretty quickly, but one area in which it holds -- at least longer than typical -- is here.

                    Think of the difference between a child's painting -- brush or fingerpaints -- and a iccasso or Van Gogh. Or a high school student very good in art and the play of light and shadow in an impressionist like Monet, or the inner glow with a Rembrandt . . .

                    Think of lyrics by the Trogs, versus those by Lennon-McCartney. Or the first composition by a music student and a Mozart concerto . . .

                    Hey, my kid's paintings are wonderful -- and I have several on my wall! -- but, truth be known, I prefer the Picasso. I liked "Wild Thing" (You make my heart sing") as much as the next 1960s refuge, but there was something truly special about a song by the Beatles.

                    The same holds true. There are some truly outstanding wines in the $10-15 range, but the majority of wines in that price range are "quaffers," meaning they are fine for everyday drinking, enjoyable and satisfying, but not overly complex, profound or mult-faceted . . . as many, but not all, wines are in the $40-50 range.

                    There are exceptions to be sure -- on both sides. More money does not always equal better wine. But in generalizations, there is a point at which more money is spent to produce the wine (and thus the wine costs more), and a point beyond which the higher price tag is a result of hype, buzz and market forces (as opposed to quality).

                      1. I think I'd love to attend a wine tasting with Carswell and Oohlah and Bill Hunt and TonyO and zin1953 and anyone else who can walk me through these nuances. What I mean is, I know when I love a wine, and I know when I dislike a wine, but I don't think I could tell you why. I generally trust the pros at my favorite wine shop to select my wines for me based on whatever criteria I present to them (i.e., what I'm cooking for dinner; what type of BYO restaurant I'm bringing the wine to; etc.) I also don't know how to pick out the subtleties -- that "layering" and those complexities you refer to. And I don't know how to detect things like "currents" or "apricots" or "chocolate" or any of those descriptive flavors that wine mavens are apt to point out.

                        I suppose my question is, how does one go about acquiring the skill of wine appreciation? If drinking a lot of wine were the answer, I'd already be writing the book.

                        22 Replies
                        1. re: CindyJ

                          CindyJ -- where do you live? Assistance may be just around the corner! ;^)

                          1. re: zin1953

                            I've been known to travel for far less than a good glass of wine! :)

                          2. re: CindyJ

                            I'd start with the UC Davis "Aroma Wheel," and begin to catalog, either on paper, or in you mind, what you find in the way of aromas and then flavors. Chart the development, or decline, of a wine in the glass. Go very slowly - time is not important, in that the wine shouldn't be rushed. Look for the tactile sensations: the feel of the wine in your mouth, the feel of your mouth after the wine. As the adage goes: "practice, et al." It's far more about learning to appreciate every aspect of the wine, and not just quantity. I'm with you, in that I should have a 10 volumne set of books by now. I am critical enough to want every wine is a good glass, so I can hopefully get everything that the winemaker attempted to impart on that particular wine. Yes, sometimes you find things that the winemaker would have rather omitted, but that's life. Every wine is a work of "art," it's just that some are better, than others.

                            Most of all, enjoy!

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Cindy -- let me add to Bill's very good advice . . .

                              1) Get a three-ring binder, dividers, and filler paper like you had in high school.

                              2) Use the dividers to separate (e.g.) Cabernet, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, etc.

                              3) Every time you have a wine, on the notebook paper, either tape the label to the upper right-hand corner, or copy ALL the information on the label (brand name, varietal or proprietary designation, appellation, vintage, grape content [if listed], alcohol content, etc., etc.). On the upper-left hand corner, write down the date you bought the wine, as well as the date you drank the wine, how much you paid and where you bought it.

                              4) Using the rest of the page, write down -- in your own words -- what you thought of the wine. Good, bad, not sure -- whatever! Use the UC Davis aroma wheel as a tool to help pin down *specific* descriptors (in other words, try to be as specific as you can: "appley" is better than "fruity," "like a Granny Smith" is better than "like an apple," etc.). Include all the things in your description that Bill mentions -- not just smell and taste, but all the tactile information that Bill cites.

                              THEN . . .

                              Take the notebook with you when you buy wine, and use it to help you go exploring. Let's say, as an example, you really liked the 2008 vintage Chateau Cache Phloe Vineyards Russian River Valley Zinfandel . . . you could try:

                              a) a 2008 Russian River Zinfandel from a different winery;

                              b) a different 2008 vintage wine (Cabernet, Chardonnay) from Chache Phloe Vineyards;

                              c) a different vintage of Cache Phloe Zinfandel;

                              d) [maybe] a 2008 Cache Phloe Zinfandel from a different vineyard or appellation;

                              and so on and so on -- use the information (2008, Cache Phloe Vineyards, Zinfandel, Russian River Valley, etc.) as a "jumping off point" from which you can explore other wines.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                e) A Primitivo from Italy and a Plavac Mali from Croatia (wines made from grapes closely related to Zinfandel)

                                Actually I'd start with some other grape, one that's planted all over the world.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Robert? The Zinfandel is as hypothetical as is Cache Phloe Vineyards . . .

                                  How Cindy -- or anyone else -- explores the World of Wine is, of course, up to them. Some people wish to explore only the US before branching out overseas; others want to explore Italy or ___________ (insert country here) first. The basic point, I think, is that whatever area one wants to explore, the above steps can be adapted to suit.

                                  1. re: zin1953

                                    Ah heck, I just e-mailed Ralph at K&L, asking if he could get me a case of Cashe Phloe RR Zin! (Grin).

                                    Good examples. As a theme for a possible tasting/dinner, one could explore an appelation, or sub-region and see what is available and good, say RR Valley. With a bit of work, one can find areas that produce, say Zins, that they like, but Cabs, Merlots, etc. that just don't cut it for them.

                                    This sort of experimenting helps, when confronted with a wine list, with a lot of producers, with which one is unfamiliar. One can either wing it, or by choosing an Amador Zin, that they've never heard of, because they've had some great Amador Zins, or tell the sommelier/wine steward that they LIKE Amador Zins, but are not familiar with the "Cache Phloe, Moneybag's Vineyard." The waitperson should then have a base to work from. If the CP, MV is atypical of other Amador Zins, he/she can let the patron know. When choosing wines for someone else, I like to know what they have had, that they liked, and also what they have disliked. That is at the same level of knowledge, as knowing how the chef is preparing the Port wine reduction for the filet that evening.

                                    Even esoteric info, like how a particular winemaker addresses a problem vintage, can pay dividends years later, when everything on the wine list seems to be from a "problem vintage." You'll know whom you can trust. Now, I collect info on the folk, who make it all happen, but then knowning who Dan Duckhorn's son, David, married, doesn't help too much, except to know that you're likely to find him in his father-in-law's tasting room down the Valley at Milat - great Cabs, Zins, Merlots, etc., yet all from a winery, that few have heard of, even though it's right at the Oakville Cross on Hwy 29, north of Yountville. The more data, the better.


                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    How, then, do you keep this "exercise" from becoming overwhelming?

                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      It's only overwhelming if you let yourself become overwhelmed . . .

                                      For example, some people dive in head first, sign up of wine education courses through the university or join a local tasting group . . . others (if they live nearby) visit wineries/the wine country every weekend, month, etc. Still others just take it at their own pace -- starting with the fact that they've really enjoyed (purely as a hypothetical) the late harvest Tămiîoasă Romaneasca wines of northern Eritrea, and they branch out from there.

                                      As long as it stays fun, and you're interested, it won't be overwhelming! ;^)

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        We structured a series of wine courses with a local shop, some years back. The program was divided into several blocks, that could be attended individually, or as a complete (yeah, like how "complete" can any wine course be?) program.

                                        First block: White Wine Intro
                                        Second block: Red Wine Intro
                                        Third block: Wines of the US (red, white, other)
                                        Fourth block: Wines of Europe (red, white, other)
                                        Fifth block: Wines of the "rest of the world" (red, white, other)

                                        One could jump in at any point, that they wished. There was enough overlap, that background was given in each block, but (I hope) not so much overlap, that one doing the complete course would be bored by the redundancy.

                                        Though this was pre-Immer ("Great Wines Made Simple") there were many similarities. I would like to re-structure the course now, and incorporate more of Immer & Zraley. They defined a lot of concepts, that we struggled with, and did a much better job of it, than we. However, all of the folk, who took the "course," gave positive feedback, whether they did select blocks, or the entire program.

                                        In reflection, the only problem was with some of the selections from the shop, in that I felt that many did not exemplify some of the regions, sub-regions, varietals, styles, etc. They were, however, in the business of selling wine. Nothing was bad, just some weaker examples, but obviously ones that they felt were either higher-profit, or that they needed to move. This might not have been as evident to most of the attendees, but I always felt that better selections could have been made in some areas. I was also thinking in terms of the best possible experience, and the wine shop was thinking in terms of keeping the costs in line with the monetary return. They were not trying to score a profit from these courses, but to try and educate clients, and potential clients, of what was available - build their client base and make it stronger. They did have a "bottom line," while I, theoretically, did not. I guess that I could have opened MY cellar and bumped the wines up a notch, or two, but I choose not to for my own financial reasons.

                                        I've not done any University, or Continuing Ed classes on wine, but would suggest that (as the post above suggests) as a good starting point. There is a fairly recent thread by a poster, who was about to do just that with his wife. Last report that I saw, said that they were very pleased, but that was just at the beginning. I assume that it continued well, but do not know.

                                        I'd also look for some like-minded friends to do some tasting parties with. This cuts the cost down, and also leaves less around to be stoppered for the next day. Set some basic ground rules, i.e. price, etc. and then some themes, i.e. The wines of the Southern Rhone, etc. Have fun and maybe do a dinner with wines for the group, twice per year.


                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                          I've taught wine classes like the ones you describe through various retail stores at whch I've worked over the years, as well as more structured cources through University of California Extension programs.

                                          * * * * *

                                          Cindy -- if you have a good retail store near you, or perhaps a wine bar, that offers these sorts of classes/tasting, they are a really good way to start . . .

                                          1. re: zin1953

                                            I do, in fact, have a wonderful wine store not too far from here (although I must cross a state line to escape the archaic government-run liquor control board here in PA, where store employees must pass a Civil Service test to qualify for employment). Moore Brothers a store that focuses on small wine producers, largely in Italy, France and Germany, and provides what I consider to be the ultimate in customer service and wine expertise. I'm going to check out their upcoming events, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

                                            1. re: CindyJ

                                              Moore Brothers rocks! We have one here in NYC too, and those guys really know their stuff. I attend many of their events, and I've learned quite a bit from David Moore in particular.

                                              1. re: oolah

                                                I've never met David, but I've had many conversations with Greg in the Wilmington, DE store. I was curious as to how they're doing in NYC. I think I can safely say that Moore Bros. has no equal in the state of DE, but that's surely not the case in NYC. Moore Bros. is a wine "boutique" and I appreciate the difference.

                                                1. re: CindyJ

                                                  They're definitely in the top 5 wine shops in the city. Not as broad of a selection as others, but they make up for it by knowing so much about the regions they do serve, and by bringing in a lot of lovely and hard to find wines. I was at a tasting on Friday and the place was packed, so happily, I think they're doing quite well.

                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                  Thanks, Hunt and Zin1953! Okay... I've already placed my order for Regular and Sparkling Wine Aroma Wheels. This kind of wine tasting sounds like a fun group activity. Then again, my hubby travels a lot, so maybe I've found a new hobby to help pass these cold winter nights alone. :)

                                  These are ALL helpful hints. I especially love Zin's idea of keeping a notebook with my wine "observations." And, I've learned something from simply reading your posts -- I obviously haven't spent enough time paying attention to what I've been drinking.

                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                    The most important thing is . . .

                                    HAVE FUN!


                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                      Tasting wines is a great group activity and, as you suggested, lots of fun. We are fortunate to have a small, local restaurant training cooks and servers that puts on wine tasting dinners. We invite many friends and meet other interesting people at these events, which are approximately every month. Our friends really look forward to them now, like we do. Several of our wives went without us to the Valentine's Tasting because the husbands had a trail riding club dinner to attend.

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        HoHa, I just learned something. I did not know that they had Sparkling Aroma Wheels! I've bought bulk directly from Ann Noble in the past, and have not even gone to the UC Davis bookstore link, even though I have posted it. I'll pick up a package of them as "favors" for the next sparkling wine tasting.


                                    2. re: CindyJ

                                      wow, I'm a newbie compared to the experts of this board, so I'm flattered to be tossed in with them.

                                      For me, just paying a great deal of attention to the wine I'm drinking has made a big difference. So rather than just passively sipping and enjoying, I try and immerse myself in the smells, flavors and textures of every glass.

                                      I also found that trying to learn about wine in the context of food has helped me develop a much greater understanding of the complexities and subtleties in each sip. e.g., *why* does a cab taste so good with a steak, and what about burgundy makes duck taste sublime?

                                      Having a good tasting partner helps too! And by that, I mean anyone who's got the same enthusiasm for it that you have.

                                      1. re: oolah

                                        Ohhhh... and here I'd read that as "good-tasting" partner. Thanks for the clarification. :)

                                      2. re: CindyJ

                                        Great idea ! Maybe CH should hold a few tastings !

                                        I can remember being at a tasting a few years ago and after several hours of "tasting", we stopped at the Owen Roe booth. WOW ! To this day, we are still fans of this winery. For some reason, it just stood out in a crowded room as a wine to be be admired. We all have different palates but sometimes it is nice to drink with a fun group that has some experience.

                                        Wine appreciation is an interesting world. I think each glass should be appreciated on it's own merit. There is no other beverage that has the history, romance, and chemistry that wine does. Pull a cork and enjoy ! Isn't that why we are here ...................

                                      3. Like art, music, and food - everyone has a personal preference in form and style. So ask yourself what you expect from anything that can be procured for a nominal sum, and what you would expect from a similar item which is more expensive.

                                        As a student of wine and a wine educator, I have learned and teach that wine is about enjoyment. There are expensive domestic fruit bombs which I don't particularly like but for which friends and colleagues will pay outrageous sums of money; and they will turn up their noses at a wonderful, terroir-driven wines that present layers of flavour and texture for discovery and enjoyment. So what I look for in an 'expensive' wine is not what others prefer.

                                        The aroma wheel previously mentioned is a great way to organise your thoughts. But the best is to open your mind and memory and ask yourself what the wine reminds you of with respect to smells (good and bad) and taste. Don't be intimidated by others who may sense starfruit or lychee in a Viognier. If you've never been exposed to these fruits, they wouldn't be points of reference in your sensory perception.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: SanseiDesigns

                                          "Starfruit!" Some years ago, a seminar host (I think that it was Brian Delbondio of Markham) was leading a group on tasting terms, etc. Half in jest he quipped, "if your ever at a tasting with real 'wine snobs," and are intimidated, wait until everyone is tasting a white, and in the pause, before they start to expound on what they found in the wine, just say starfruit. Of course, no one has ever tasted starfruit, so they'll assume you're correct, and think you a very perceptive taster... "

                                          Those words stuck and now it's an inside joke, between my wife, and me, to exclaim, "starfruit," if the group has gotten too stuffy.

                                          Thanks for the reference.


                                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                                            My wife says that with "shoe polish." I've always gone for durian myself . . .


                                            1. re: zin1953

                                              Ah, the Durian. I had some for the first time on the North Shore last year. Interesting fruit. Turtle Bay is big on showcasing all sorts of esoteric tropical fruits, etc. Now, if I can just find my TNs on the Durian...