How to Discover a Great Bottle of Wine

  • Wine Industry Icon, Anthony Terlato, Chairman of the Terlato Wine Group is hailed as "The Father of Pinot Grigio" and is the producer of award winning wines from American's most esteemed appellations. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Anthony Terlato is "One of the most accomplished wine personalities on the planet."

Here are his valuable and timeless tips on how to select a great bottle of wine:

Sanford VineyardWithout any doubt there can be a difference between a wine a person likes and a wine that is an important (great) wine. A beginning wine drinker initially judges and describes what he likes, as good. In some cases it may take some time before what is truly (good) important and what he or she likes is the same. As taste is subjective, the determination of this has a lot to do with the level of knowledge the person has, the more knowledge the better equipped they would be to know the difference. In order (I hope) to be more precise and consistent and try to close the gap, I’m going to parallel the world of art with the world of wine in an attempt to show why diversity is positive and provide a substantial reason for purchasing wines that are authentic, I assure you they will eventually create anticipation and give you much more pleasure when you drink them.

Looking to the world of Art to understand Wine

In the world of Art:

  • Originality, (uniqueness)
  • Identity, (distinctiveness)
  • Authenticity, (legitimacy)
  • Reputation of the Artist, (vision and skill)

These four attributes identify the importance of an art and are not limited to just paintings, but music, sculpture, and food included. They are not described as “quality art” or “quality music” but it is implied if the art possesses them.

In the world of wine these attributes though they may vary somewhat from country to country seek to establish the same parameters and so are manifest in these concepts.

The terroir; its origin the place where it comes from it defines the uniqueness of a place, the soil, sub-soil, the rocks beneath it, physical and chemical properties, the climate and micro climate of a region, whether it reflects sunlight, or absorbs heat, just to mention only a very few characteristics, that classifies the wine as unique and original, terroir normally refers to small blocks of vineyards in an appellation. So terroir gives a wine “place” (e.g. Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Napa Valley)

The appellation d’ origin is a map that gives a wine identity, the geological composition of the land is marked and only vineyards within the determined marked area are permitted to use the place name; the appellation defines the limited area within which the soil has many of the same or similar unique attributes (Pauillac, Margaux, Stags Leap District, Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Ynez Valley, Napa Valley). Appellation status gives wine identity.

The combination of terroir and appellation gives a wine authenticity.

Terroir and appellation suggest and define by past experience the grape varietal (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, or Merlot etc.) that thrives in this soil and appellation. Subsequently the reputation and historical legitimacy of the winery owner and skill of winemaker give a wine what is generally judged as “nobility.”

It is good to know that the rules or laws regarding terroir and appellation for a major part were designed to protect the purchaser from some fraudulent producers who took advantage by putting information on the label that was disingenuous, so honesty is an underlining attribute as well.

Though terroir as a concept has no direct relationship to quality, accept the fact that the greatest distinguishing factor amongst even exceptional wines is the composition of the soil. Winemakers themselves when tasting wines consider wines of quality those that are clean, well made, have a sense of place and display intense varietal character. For example:

  • Bordeaux, (Pauillac): Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Sonoma, (Russian River Valley): Pinot Noir
  • Napa Valley (Stags Leap District): Cabernet Sauvignon

(This last attribute is where a purchaser needs to invest some time. In reading, you’ll have to find a few books and writers you trust that can qualify them.)

The information in this discourse is from 50+ years of observing, talking, reading numerous books articles and magazines, tasting, watching, all of this comprises the thoughts outlined in addition to my own curiosity.