NN LJH e1498552621714 - How does wine become ‘Fine’?

When it comes to the luxury end of the wine category, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I had the opportunity to spend two wonderful days as a guest of Nicole Rolet of Chêne Bleu last week, participating in a new think-tank style event that focused on the future of ‘Fine Wine’. In addition to the roundtable and group discussions that formed the primary content of the event, all 60 participants were asked to bring a wine with us to share that we considered to be ‘fine’, along with our own definition of ‘Fine Wine’. I have to admit that I found choosing a wine to take somewhat intimidating. What if the other participants didn’t consider my choice of wine to be ‘Fine’?

When considering my definition of ‘Fine Wine’, based in part on what we observe amongst consumers, I suggested that a ‘Fine Wine’ is a wine that makes me, those with me, and the occasion, all feel special. It is a wine that is a treat and creates a level of expectation when you open, pour and taste it. For me, a ‘Fine Wine’ is any wine that an individual believes is ‘fine’, drawing a parallel perhaps with art – with beauty being in the eye of the beholder, often based on a collective view.

Interestingly, when debating our definitions of ‘Fine Wine’ at the event, the consensus was that a ‘Fine Wine’ cannot be defined by a minimum price threshold. As my fellow delegate Jancis Robinson MW put it, ‘I do not believe there is a direct relationship between price and quality in wine’.

She continued: ‘Fine Wine for me has charm, refreshment, intrigue, balance, ageing potential, development in the glass, terroir expression, persistence and memorability. In short, it is wine that improves in both glass and bottle’. Central to most of the participants’ definitions of ‘Fine Wine’ was the notion that it must be a wine that reflects place – where it comes from and who makes it, delivering the taste and expression of these through the wine.

So, what wine did I take? I actually took a bottle of Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, so not a bottle with an especially high price tag. The reason for this goes back to my teenage years, when my father introduced me to the wonderful world of the rich, oaked white wines of Burgundy, and the start of my ongoing love affair with full-flavoured Chardonnay. For me, Au Bon Climat is a wonderful expression of both an Old World and New World approach to wine making. It was fascinating to see that many of our choices of our ’Fine Wine’ to share stemmed from a single, memorable occasion rather than what one might consider to be more ‘classic’ examples of ‘Fine Wine’. So perhaps there is substance in the notion that a ‘Fine Wine’ is simply a wine that the drinker considers to be special, often based on personal memory and experience.

As it turns out, my Au Bon Climat Chardonnay, despite having one of the lowest price tags in the room, received positive feedback and was enjoyed by others. I also had the pleasure of tasting other participants’ wines, including both a Kistler Chardonnay and a Penfolds Yattarna, so thank you for that!

Author: Lulie Halstead

Email: lulie@wineintelligence.com