SEARCH close-mobile-search-button
Order in the next HOURS MINUTES  for NEXT DAY delivery  on FREE next day AND nominated day delivery when you spend £150 or more • FREE STANDARD DELIVERY when you spend £75 OR MORE 

Inside Knowledge: What makes a wine fine?

What makes a wine fine?

In Short:
To be classed as a ‘fine wine’, a wine needs to display balance, length and complexity, and also reflect its unique terroir.


What is a Fine Wine?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘fine wine’. But have you ever wondered what exactly makes a wine ‘fine’? It’s not just a premium price tag — though many fine wines, due to their limited availability and popularity, cost more than your average bottle. Fine wines are made with the very best grapes, are produced with extra care, and often come with the potential to age. But ultimately you can recognise a fine wine by its taste. It will have balance, length, complexity and a sense of place, known as terroir. 



The world’s best fine wines are extremely well-balanced. Every element — acidity, sweetness, tannin, body and alcohol —coexists in perfect harmony, without overpowering the others. The ideal balance will vary with each individual wine. In a crisp white Chablis, for example, everything might be restrained: expect a light body met with lean fruit and flint flavours, and fresh acidity. In a warm-climate premium red wine designed for ageing, such as bold reds from California, that might mean powerful tannin, plentiful fruit, punchy alcohol levels and full body. For example, 'Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon' from the Napa Valley balances rich, ripe flavours with robust structure from oak and firm tannins.

Try these premium examples of wines with exceptional balance.

Rijckaert - F. Rouve ‘Haute Cuvée’ Chablis Premier Cru, Les Vaillons
La Réserve de Léoville-Barton, St-Julien


Another indicator of a fine  wine is its length – also referred to as its ‘finish’. Most wines leave a lasting taste for a few seconds after you’ve swallowed. But the complex flavours of a fine wine should stick around much longer; 30 seconds is a good benchmark. With the best Bordeaux wines, sweet Hungarian Tokaji or German Rieslings, for example, you might still be able to taste the wine for 45 seconds or more after you’ve sipped.

Why not try these fine examples of wines with a long finish.

Dr Loosen ‘Graacher Himmelreich’ Riesling SpätleseMosel
Royal Tokaji 5 Puttonyos, Hungary


While more simple wines may have just a handful of aroma and flavour characteristics, the best fine wines come with layers of complex flavours. This is partly thanks to the grapes themselves – the prime vineyard landscape in which they’re grown and the careful techniques of the winegrower. But it is also down to how the wine was made and whether (and how) it was aged. Many fine wines are designed for ageing and develop complexity as they rest in bottle. For example, premium red Burgundy is known to show earthy mushroom flavours as it ages, while the finest mature Rioja can display complex notes of leather.

Try these complex fine wines. 

Louis Latour Marsannay Rouge, Burgundy
Lopez de Heredia 'Viña Tondonia' Rioja Reserva


Fine wines don’t only taste delicious – they reflect the place they’ve come from. This is often referred to as ‘terroir’. Terroir combines everything about where the grapes are grown, from a vineyard’s location and soil type, to its microclimate and surroundings. Sipping a wine that reflects terroir is a bit like enjoying a snapshot of the vineyard at a moment in time; it’s a totally unique drinking experience. This is why many – though not all – of the world’s most renowned fine wines tend to be made with grapes from a single vineyard or a select few. For example, Premier Cru Burgundy wines are sourced from a selection of premium vineyards to capture the essence of the terroir.

Try these outstanding wines which reflect their terroir.

Remi Seguin Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru
Yalumba Cigar Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra


The best way to learn to spot a fine wine is to taste them for yourself. Check out our collection here .