When Justin Pass talks to potential buyers about Sera Luce, his ready-to-drink canned spritz company, he often mentions his experience in the fine wine business.

“It gives credibility to the brand,” explains the former Winebow sales representative. “Working in good wine means you learn how wine is made around the world, what the growing practices are, what the soils are and all those nuances that go into quality wine. “

That all who hear the term share these connotations is almost irrelevant. As with so many aspects of wine, finesse is in the mind of the beholder. As natural, fresh, or even farm-raised, there is no definition or official regulation that allows some wines to be rated good while others languish without modification.

This vagueness gives the term wide application. Importers, distributors, retailers and hospitality professionals like Pass see themselves as specialists in fine wines. Investment firm Cult Wines describes its mission as “transforming the fine wine industry”, and a quarterly luxury lifestyle magazine, The world of fine wines, has subscribers in 30 countries.

Justin Gibbs, Liv-ex / Photo via Liv-ex

But what exactly do we mean by good wine? Do we use the term to describe something significantly different about some wines than others? Does the term even relate to wine or the perceived status of certain bottles and the people who pursue them?

“People don’t define good wine,” says Justin Gibbs, co-founder and director of Liv-ex, a global wine market. “It is defined by an active secondary market. For Liv-ex purposes, a fine wine has resale value, improves over time, and enjoys brand recognition because of its heritage, critical acclaim, or a combination of these. this.

Rarity can also be part of this equation, Gibbs says, upping the appeal of specific houses, brands and vintages.

Other wine professionals associate the term viticultural and oenological practices.

“I define good wine as anything made with passion and care,” says Jermaine Stone, founder of Cru Luv Selections, host of Wine & Hip Hop and a 2020 Wine lover 40 Under 40 Tastemaker. “I am thinking of wines from single vineyards or Champagnes from winemakers. When the winemaker shows a little more attention and care, for me, it’s good wine.

Demeine Estates, a Napa-based importer and wholesaler of what the website calls “the best wines in the world,” takes a similar view.

“Good wine is a descriptor of quality,” says Scott Diaz, vice president of global strategy and marketing at Demeine Estates. “We define good wine as a category that represents the highest quality producers in their respective regions. These are the producers who have implemented the highest level of winemaking and viticulture standards that align with producers in other major regions of the world. These are wineries that value uncompromising quality above any commercial demand for quantity.

What do we mean when we say good wine
Jermaine Stone, Cru Luv Selections, Wine & Hip Hop / Photo by Head Make Book Productions

That said, Stone and Diaz are wine experts with the time, experience, and inclination to understand agricultural science and production practices. How should a consumer know what sets fine wines apart from the rest of the bottles in their local store or bar?

“It depends on their level of wine knowledge or education,” says Deniece Bourne, Account Development Manager at Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Some people might consider good wine to be exclusive to Old World regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Others could say less that the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti would not qualify. Bourne believes good wine can come from anywhere, and cites English sparkling wines as “some of the best” she has tasted.

“Good wine is a matter of perception,” explains Bourne. “With globalization and the increase in information and access to different styles, the definition of good wine is changing. There is more education and access to the internet, it is easier for people to travel and have experiences in the vineyards. All of this changed the perception.

This development can also occur at the individual level.

“When you really dive into the weeds of wine, you start to understand that what’s really important is your taste,” Stone explains. “Something as ambiguous as a term like good wine, it’s impossible to define because it’s very personal.”

What do we mean when we say good wine
Deniece Bourne, WSET / Photo by Dominique Bennett

Stone suspects that many consumers associate good wine with price, assuming that expensive bottles are more likely to be thinner than others. This too presents a minefield of subjectivity.

“Generally, Burgundy is more expensive than German Riesling, but maybe I like German Riesling more than Chardonnay,” Stone says. “So maybe you give me a taste of a $ 100 Burgundy, but I like my $ 12 Riesling more.” Who can say that Burgundy is finer than German Riesling, especially if whoever foots the bill prefers the latter?

As natural, fresh, or even farm-raised, there is no definition or official regulation that allows some wines to be rated good while others languish without modification.

Affordability is not a universal concept either. If you typically spend $ 15 per bottle, you might think a $ 35 bottle is best. If your wine budget starts at $ 50 a bottle, the math changes.

“Back then, you couldn’t have told me that when I was spending $ 20 on a bottle, I wasn’t drinking good wine,” says Stone. “It was absolutely good. I mean, it suited me perfectly.

Also, cost and value are not necessarily the same and are always on the move.

“Was it Warren Buffett who said price is what you pay, value is what you get?” Gibbs asks. “They are two very different things.” Again, Gibbs refers to the secondary market value of a wine, which is set by buyers and sellers.

“A lot of times the buyer and seller set the price and I think, ‘You must be kidding, there’s surely no value in that,’” he says. “But, on the basis that the market is always right, the market is always right. What the market is willing to pay, the market is willing to pay.

What do we mean when we say good wine
Scott Diaz, Demeine Estates / Photo by Jason Tinacci

In this case, whatever you think is right is. Wine is a sufficiently broad category that any sub-sector encompasses a range.

“The industry is so large that someone in a natural wine bar serving cheaper small production skin contact wines would certainly think of fine wine differently from someone with a long list of Burgundy serving bottles on a regular basis. over $ 300, “says Ramon Manglano, sommelier at the Musket Room in New York. “Are any of them wrong?” No, and honestly, they probably see both sides of the coin.

If we all agree that there is no one way to define good wine, why does the term persist? Is this wholesale marketing copy? Or is the very notion of fine wine an affectation, the textual equivalent of Niles and Frasier Crane whirling Sherry around and mocking their beloved reclining chair of their out of place father?

Perhaps it is less sinister. The notion of good wine could endure as it provides a framework for deciphering the Talmudic complexities of wine, with its opaque labels, multilingual terminology and competing national and regional classification systems. Even if it is a personal framework, very subjective. Or, above all because it is a personal, very subjective.

“With wine, like anything else, the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know,” says Pass, the Winebow representative who became the founder of canned spritz.

Wine is a big subject with a lot of rules. Sometimes it’s nice to make your own.