The sun shines, the grapes ripen and wine is created. Why do some wines become superstars, they reach very high prices, such as Vega Sicilia, from Spain, Screaming Eagle, from California, Domaine de Romanée Conti, from Burgundy, and Chateaux Margaux, from Bordeaux, to name a few? What are the determining factors that make a bottle of great top wine?
In general terms, the natural factors that determine the quality, style, and price of wine are grapes, weather, and soil. Winemakers and winemakers also influence the quality, style, and price, deciding which grapes to grow, winemaking techniques, how wines ripen and, very important, market demand.
Most “top superstars wines” are made with four grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir for reds, Chardonnay and Riesling for whites. All these grapes are widely planted all over the world, so they are not so infrequent, so there are obviously other factors.
Which grape planting will be determined by the microclimate and the soil. so that the decisions taken in the vineyards will have lasting effects. The grapes ripen at different times throughout the end of the summer and also require different climatic conditions. For example, Pinot Noir is a sensitive grape that needs a mild climate with well-drained soils. If it is too hot, the wines will taste like overcooked fruit or if the weather has not been mild enough, the wines will be poor and acidic.
The great top wines are made with grapes that grow in vineyards that are carefully cared for. The grapes are picked when they are at their perfect ripening point, which requires a great knowledge of the precise moment in which it should be done, get the right balance between acidity and sugar.
Knowing the potential that each vineyard can have requires many years of experience. Plots that are just 50 meters away may have a huge difference in the quality of their grapes. This may be due to the orientation, especially in Germany, where it is colder and, therefore, having had enough sun during the day at the right angle will influence how the grapes ripen.
Already in the cellar, only grapes that are perfect are used. This may mean that more than 80% of the fruit is discarded, and will be used to produce second level wines that, by the way, are usually in demand.
The winemaker’s skill is crucial when deciding very carefully which container to use to ferment the wine, followed by post-maceration fermentation, after which the wine ages. They should also know how to use oak barrels, to enhance the flavors and develop more complex flavors and textures in time. How the wines age, for how long and what type of barrels are used, will influence the style, quality, and price. Choosing the best oak barrels, which are generally French, is expensive.
Most wines are made to be drunk when they are young and do not improve over time. However, great wines need years to reach their fullness and tend to be very closed when they are still young.
These great wines are not made every year. The conditions have to be perfect. In Bordeaux, the general belief is that there is a magnificent vintage every five years. Then comes the issue of supply and demand. Most of these wines are produced in relatively small quantities, and the demand is very high. Consequently, some of them are treated as art pieces at auctions.
Above all, the reputation of great wines is achieved after many years. Many of the best-known names have had their ups and downs, but on their level, there is something special that places them above the rest.