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Claudio Delfino
July 27, 2022 | Claudio Delfino

What is Fine Wine?

So, what is Fine Wine? Delfino Fine Wines has a very precise definition of the term, with just two absolutely necessary and fundamental conditions.

  1. Fine Wine comes from well-farmed vineyards and is directly traceable to its vineyards. Thus, a wine product that cannot be traced back to the specific vineyards of origin cannot be called Fine Wine, per our definition (and we do not trade it).
  2. Fine Wine-making is an artisanal craft activity. Thus, Fine Wine comes in limited quantities and is traceable to individual winemakers and wineries where the product is fully finished. The fine winemaker is either the farmer itself, or intimately familiar with the farmers and the vineyards of origin. This is the opposite of mass-production by industrial processes, say in excess of ~50,000 cases/year for a given label, which cannot be called Fine Wine per our definition. Also, bulk wine shipping for bottling/packaging/blending somewhere away from the production site, although a fair and profitable activity for many traders in the industry and especially many online subscriptions businesses, is not Fine Wine per our definition (and we do not trade it).

Other variables, like color, aroma and taste profiles ("Organoleptic properties" in fancy terms); price point; vintage year; wine age; projected drinkability window; specific winemaking techniques/materials/tools; selling facility (supermarket vs. specialized wine retailer); containers form and shape; country of origin; certifications; winery business structure and ownership; school diplomas; not to mention label artwork, critics scores, awards, advertising and face-persons, speakers, influencers, etc. - are all clearly more or less important indicators of many attributes, some including quality to be sure, for a product and its fitness with an individual wine drinker's taste, but none of those are fundamental to the purpose of calling a Fine Wine, in our definition.

Ultimately, a Fine Wine will convey to a discerning drinker a very clear and expressive, sometimes almost moving, sense of terroir: the flavors of its patch of land and micro-environment of origin, and the hand of its winemaker. Even another bit more poetically, a Fine Wine will talk to its drinkers about culture, geography, history, and human connections - whether they are blue bloods or blue collars, rich or poor, in a tall stem or low glass, indiscriminately, as long as it is Fine Wine.

A few additional points

  • 'Fine' does not necessarily equal 'expensive'! Retail price has no bearing on our definition: if the two fundamental conditions are met, it is Fine Wine, honest and genuine to its vineyard and winemaker, whether it comes from a longtime winemaking farmer with no commercial intent who will sell you a case for €10, or whether it comes from a world-renowed French first growth producer that sells through negociants and en primeur for $10,000+/case. 
  • 'Fine' does not mean 'Fancy'! Most of the wine produced every year world-wide, and most of the Fine Wine as well, is made to be consumed fresh, say within five years of vintage year, made for casual enjoyment and the every day dining table in wine-drinking cultures. It is generally reported that less than 1% of all wine produced is intended for aging. Fine wine is indicatively the 10% of all wine produced (next bullet).
  • As an approximate but still useful statistical reference, more than 95% of all wineries in the US are small or very small operations (under 50,000 cases/year) but altogether they only account for less than 10% of the wine produced any given year in the US. That is, 90% of the wine produced in the US is from a few mass-production facilities (mostly located in California). 
  • Fine Wine goes with Fine Food.

By the way, the five French "first growth" chateaux - Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Margaux and Haut-Brion - each produce in average between 10,000 and 20,000 cases/year. Chateau Ausone is less than 2,000 cases/year - a production level which is even under the 5,000 cases/year that is often reported as the lower limit of financial viability for a winery business in the US! In Italy, Gaja may be considered by some these days a "giant" in the wine trade, having expanded beyond their native Barbaresco township in Piedmont to the hills of Tuscany and looking beyond, producing several labels that are sold a bit everywhere in Italy (supermarkets - selected ones - included), but they still maintain an overall production below 30,000 cases/year in Piedmont, about 35,000 in Bolgheri and less than 10,000 in Montalcino. Similarly, in the US, Opus One of Napa averages around 25,000 cases/year. These producers, just a few examples of the world-renowed elite, all command prices in the hundreds to the thousands of dollars per bottle. In contrast, a few true industrial wine giants mass-produce in the hundreds of thousands to the millions and even tens of millions of cases per year, and 'content' themselves with prices in the few-bucks to the few-tens of dollars per bottle, where the value allocation to the wine itself is in the nickels and dimes, literally, when all is said and done after production, transport, distribution and advertising.

Final point: Fine Wine, capital F and capital W as per our definition - know exactly where the grapes come from, know exactly who made it - from wine artisans anywhere, maybe little known but established by years of passion and often multi-generations of family farming and wine making, brings you the highest quality/price proposition.

However, it is rarely straightforward for an average consumer to recognize Fine Wine from a product's label and aspect, or even sometimes from taste alone. Two things can help you here, each one sufficient on its own: 1) increased wine knowledge; and/or 2) a trusted wine merchant. It is the intent of this blog to provide some key elements on both: to provide useful information on the products that we passionately select at Delfino Fine Wines, and to earn your trust as a Fine Wine trader.

Time Posted: Jul 27, 2022 at 5:00 PM Permalink to What is Fine Wine? Permalink
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