By Texas Wine on April 16th, 2023

How to determine wine quality

Wine is made in many different styles and varies from ultra-dry to extremely sweet. The one thing that we can all agree on is that no matter what your style of wine is, it is preferable to drink quality wines.

Being able to determine wine quality is an essential part of choosing what bottle of wine to purchase however the process is very subjective and the definition of quality varies from person to person.

There are however several different characteristics that can help you determine the quality of a wine and once you understand how to identify them, you can then explore different exciting wines and feel confident that they will be good quality. 

What makes a wine good and how can you determine its quality?

Defining the quality of a wine is a very subjective process as mentioned before, each wine drinker has a different idea of what makes a bottle of wine good, and this has a lot to do with personal taste preferences and wine styles.

There are some steps that you can follow that will aid you in your favorite wines that are also good quality.

Before You Buy

Unless your local wine merchant or winery allows you to taste wines before purchase, you will need to assess the wine based on the information that is provided on the label. If you buy wine at a local wine merchant or winery, there will be trained staff available to assist with any questions that might arise.

Purchasing wine at a supermarket usually means that you may need to make your own choices as often there are no wine professionals on hand to guide you through the process.

Understand the information that is presented on the label - The ability to decipher the information on a wine label will provide important information about the wine.

Always look for indicators such as the quality scale rating - wines that are produced in Europe must adhere to very strict appellation rules.

The rest of the world is laxer in comparison, however, there are still certain labeling and classification requirements for different types of wine which are a good indicator of its overall quality.

A good example is the Texan wine classifications system - a wine that comes from one of the eight designated AVAs will be superior to those wines that just have “Texas” printed on the label.

Who made the wine? It is a good idea to choose your wines based on who makes them. Well-known producers have a reputation to maintain and will always produce good wines which is an assurance of overall quality.

Viticulture methods - Wine quality starts in the vineyard, the viticulture methods used will affect the quality of the final wine. Vines that grow in a vineyard full of natural biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem usually require less intervention (such as the use of chemicals) and produce excellent grapes.

Wineries that are more focused on quantity over quality, often use intensive farming methods in the vineyard which causes more stress to the vines and sometimes they are damaged during harvest.

Remember “Good grapes make good wines”.

Vinification - Wines that are made from lower-yielding vines usually produce grapes will fuller flavors and fruit concentration. Though labor-intensive many wineries that produce top-level wines will hand harvest and sort the grapes before the juice is pressed.

The wines are often fermented in concrete vats or new oak barrels which are very expensive.

Storing the wines during the prolonged aging process also is very expensive and therefore this cost will be passed onto the consumer when the wine is sold.

Mechanically harvested and sorted grapes often still have particles such as stems and leaves when they are pressed which can affect the quality of the final wine.

Price - It is only logical that top-level wines such as Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Riserva, etc will fetch a higher price due to the intensive labor that is required during the production and aging process.

Fine and rare wines (5% of worldwide production) are made in small quantities and therefore the price will rise exponentially as availability decreases.

The remaining 95% are often reasonably priced wines of excellent quality and though many wineries try to produce wines as cost-effectively as possible, there is a growing awareness that wine drinkers have discerning palates and demand good quality regardless of the price.

Packaging - a well-packaged wine is a good indicator of its quality. If the wine is packaged in a can or a plastic bottle, the quality is probably low.

Wine Assessment

Once the wine is open, you can carry out the physical inspection.

Appearance - should be bright and clear not cloudy or hazy

Smell - Clean smelling (no odd smells such as vinegar or sourness are present).

Taste - corresponds with the aromas that have already been detected. The presence of pronounced wood that overwhelms the other flavors is an indication of the wine being incorrectly aerated during the aging process which can affect the flavor of the wine.

Alcohol - should be well-balanced, not too high or too low but appropriate to the wine in question.

Tannins - Soft and inviting, not harsh and astringent (gives you the sensation that you have a piece of wood in your mouth).

Finish - The sensation of the wine should last on the palate after it has been swallowed. Any characteristic that lasts for ten seconds or more indicates a good quality wine.

Acidity - Acidity that is too high or tastes unbalanced often can indicate that there is a fault in the wine.

Body - Light-medium, medium-full, or full, the wine should have the correct body, sparkling wine should be light-bodied while a Shiraz should be full-bodied.

Complexity and Balance - Wine needs to be well-balanced and harmonious, if one element stands out more than others, this could signal a problem with the wine. Further assessment should be carried out to identify any possible defects.

Learn to identify common wine defects and avoid them




How to Identify

Cork Taint (TCA)

Caused by TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) though completely harmless, the smell and taste of wine are often affected.

Wet dog, moldy, musty aromas, a flat taste.

Green Aromas

Strong vegetal aromas (not a wine fault but some drinkers find this unpleasant).

Green peppers, cut grass, or strong herb aromas

Secondary Fermentation

The wine has undergone a secondary fermentation inside the bottle usually brought on by unfavorable storage conditions

Wine may have bubbles (even though it is not a sparkling wine) and is often accompanied by a sour taste.

Brett (Brettanomyces)

Pronounced often unpleasant odors

May smell like wet cardboard, band-aids, or barnyard aromas


The wine has not been exposed to enough oxygen which makes it develop sulfur compounds.

Strong sulfur odors are apparent (sometimes exposure to air through decanting may help to remove the odors making it possible to drink the wine).

Heat Damaged

Caused by excessive exposure to heat, either during bottling, transportation, or poor storage conditions either before or after purchase.

If air has expanded in the bottle the cork or screw top may be partially dislodged. (red wines may have a jammy or stewed note flavor and whites may have a nutty flavor or brown discoloration).

Microbial infected

A bad taste in the wine

The cloudy appearance of the wine in the bottle, which is often accompanied by smells that resemble a mouse, hamster, or gerbil cage.


Orange or red-brown color

White wines taste like vinegar or are sour. Red wines will no longer have any aroma or flavor and taste flat. (always close bottles with leftover wine and store them correctly to avoid oxidation).


Dark particles found in wine (not considered as a being a defect but rather a sign of age)

Common in bottles over 10 years old, sediment can be removed by decanting the wine.

Volatile Acidity

Nail polish smell and flavor

Wines that have been exposed to too much oxidation often have high levels of acetic acid


Rest assured that if you choose to drink a wine that has defects you will not become ill. However, the wine may not be as pleasant as you would like it to be and therefore you may choose not to drink it. While some of the defects are unpleasant, there are wine drinkers who do not mind and will drink the wine, it is a matter of personal choice.

If you choose not to drink the wine and do not want to throw it away, there are some alternative uses for it.

Cocktails - the addition of other ingredients to defective wine often disguises any unpleasant tastes or aromas.

Cooking - though it may be distressing to not be able to drink a bottle of your favorite wine, you can be assured that it will make an endless variety of very tasty wine-based sauces.

The price of a bottle of wine does not directly correlate to its quality, so do not let the price of a bottle of wine influence your final selection. Choosing a bottle of quality wine is simple and by following the steps that have been outlined in this article, identifying wine quality as well as any defects will become second nature.

Wine quality is very subjective and will depend on your personal wine preferences and style which is what makes each of us unique. 


Author: Texas Wine
Beyond the Label: A Guide to Assessing Wine Quality

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