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Does ‘quality’ mean anything?


Having read some of the discussions on the Wine Society Survey thread I was struck by the various posts that mentioned ‘quality ‘. I’m interested in what other people think the term means.

One point made - and this is a frequent assertion - is that price and quality are unrelated because a the more expensive wine is less appealing to a given consumer. If you like this is the ‘quality means exactly what my preference is, nothing more, nothing less’ argument. This is then extended to the assertion that there is no such thing as quality because we don’t all prefer the same wines.

I do not buy this argument and I do believe there is an inherent character of a wine (don’t confuse that with value for money) that I would term quality. It has something to do with balance of all the components but isn’t just that alone - but involves a certain amount of understanding the intended style. If the consumer has a low involvement (the ‘I’m to busy to bother thinking about it’ ones) it is a fairly meaningless concept. But since many here are more engaged than that I hope that others share some of these views. But maybe I am mistaken?

One other observation. If quality isn’t a valid parameter then why should anyone bother with buyers (other than those who can drive down the price best)?


Mmm! Preference is a personal matter. Quality is perhaps when a preference becomes shared by a significant number of persons! In the case of Robert Parker for instance the significant number was one, as he seemed to convince a lot of people that his tastes pretty much represented quality!

I suppose there are shared factors (tastes/aromas) that make up good quality wines, but as far as I know there is no instrument that can measure absolutely the quality of a wine. Many elements can be measured - sugar level, alcohol level, acidity, etc - but the total is always different from the sum of the parts.

If you or I taste a wine and think its quality is amazing, does that make it so (for anyone else)? If several thousand people reach the same conclusion, does that?


I’m thinking about the “fall-out” between RP and Jancis Robinson over the virtues of a particular wine, which I read about recently on this forum I think. Perhaps shows how difficult it is to pin down quality too precisely.


I’m more in the camp that says you can have differing views but inherently that there is a validity to the concept of quality. Jancis and RP’s beef about Pavie 2003 was more about typicity than inherent quality I think.


Exactly this. You can get a group to agree on the concept of quality in a wine. That may be the people who follow Parker, or it may be the students and ex-students of the WSET, or the wine trade in the UK or in “The West” more broadly. But there will always be a sizable proportion of wine drinkers who have different ideas. At best quality is inter-subjective - essentially arbitrary, but agreed on by a group of people who are in communication with each other. Or another way of looking at it is personal preference that has partly been influenced by peers.

What value is the concept of quality in wine, anyway? It might help if you are buying wine for a largish group of people that you think all subscribe to the same idea of quality (which essentially is what people in the trade do). But if you are buying for yourself, and a few other people whose tastes you know, quality is pretty pointless - you should obviously just buy what you like.


I think the big danger in the idea of quality is when people score a wine highly “because it is of high quality”, which in my view means “because they think other people would like it”. The problem is that their idea of what other people like might be wrong, and scores can finish up not working for anyone apart from those that believe in the inherence value of numbers. On that basis I would prefer to hear personal preferences.


I agree there is a degree of ‘group-think’ operating here. I wasn’t really arguing that it is inherently a concept to apply too much weight to (and I was to extent trying to start a discussion). Personal preference trumps any external factor in the end.

And I don’t think quality and scores bear any relationship (I find the whole concept of scores deeply unappealing) - if there’s no accompanying note then they are close to meaningless (and I spend quite a bit of time editing/proofing vastly differing tasters notes for the same wine tasted at exactly the same time).


I think the notion of ‘quality wine’ is not dissimilar to other aesthetic pleasures, which are - by definition- impossible to quantify, being a subjective experience.

Appreciating art is very similar, to my mind; who decides what is ‘quality’ and what isn’t? I’ve been struggling for years to understand what one is supposed to ‘appreciate’ about Picasso, or about non-representational/abstract art in general. For me, art is about the skill of interpretation and representing that which you interpreted. What does women with two vertical eyes have to do with it - is beyond me. It leaves me totally unmoved.

One of my closest friends is a Doctor of Art History. We’ve had hours and hours of discussing the above - and even though I admire and appreciate her knowledge and expertise in her subject, she will never ever convince me that Picasso’s work is ‘of quality’. I am definitely in minority here - and experts may simply attribute it to my lack of knowledge or expertise, but if it doesn’t move me, make me think or takes me somewhere beyond my world - there is no aesthetic experience.

So with wine; if the experts in the field deem a wine to be ‘of quality’ - I won’t really know whether I deem it so too - until I try it. And if I don’t ‘get’ what it is they are talking about, I won’t buy it again. So quality is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

Having said that, I take what @Oldandintheway says about the objective appraisal of wine; I guess that’s what the WSET system tries to so. And it does differentiate between one’s pleasure (or lack thereof) and the actual, physical properties of the wine. So there is an argument which can go - this wine is well-structured, well-balanced and all its elements are in harmony, and though I don’t enjoy it- it is still quality wine.

I’m not 100% convinced, though.


Well if you’re in a minority here it’s a minority of at least two. I’m on your side!

But agree that with anything that has a significant element of personal appreciation, quality is always going to be in the eye (taste) of the beholder.


Scoring systems - still don’t quite get it and not a fan. Having studied the WSET, I can appreciate the systematic approach that made me think about how the elements work together. Personally, I think it has given me an ability to think about wine - and its context - and then incorporate a more informed understanding of what appeals or doesn’t appeal to my personal taste. So I can judge for myself what I deem a quality wine. And more importantly, I can articulate why that is so and try to figure out if the expert tasting note is describing (not scoring) something that intrigues me. I don’t subscribe to the view that ‘any wine I like is a quality wine because I like it and it’s all subjective’ anyway. I WILL put on my judgy face if someone expresses a preference for Carlo Rossi wine (Californian table wine in a jug - think about it).


Clicked on the link and it’s given me an earworm, namely, The Bottle by Gil Scott-Heron.

As earworms go, it’s a good 'un !


I’ve been thinking some more about this quality business and, whilst I still hold to my view that with something like wine this is a highly subjective measure (which is not the same as ‘I like it so for me it’s high quality’), I think there are some pretty indisputable levels of quality that we can probably all agree on.

Some years ago I was a member of a bunch of impoverished climbers staying in tents in Grindelwald. As Switzerland was so expensive we would nip over into Italy to do our shopping including the purchase of wine in tetrapacks for around 40p a litre. This was not that long ago and I think I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, that this was not quality wine :joy:


Beware of over used or mis used words.
Quality is so often used as an adjective. In reality there are varying degrees of quality, so it should have an adjective prefixed.
How often have we seen in the ‘cheap’ wine purveyors shops phrases like “Quality wines at bargain prices”. What is that supposed to mean?

Mentioning other words of misuse here would be out of context… but I’m sure the ‘community’ knows what I mean!!


It depends who “we” are. If you are talking about us in this community, you could well be right. Extend the “we” into Eastern Europe, Asia, or to include most people in the UK, and I doubt it.


Very much agree that a formal wine education helps analyse a wine various elements and dimensions, and helps you understand what you and others like and value. In itself that is a very useful skill. And if people want to define quality in their own way, then fair enough, but I still think any definition is rather arbitrary.


I’d just posted this on another thread that had drifted towards “quality”

Quality can be analytically defined (see WSET courses for this) and I think what most people confuse this with is “personal preference” …hence a wine being “better” to one person than an other - if you don’t drink red wine and are given a glass of GC Burgundy or 1st growth Bordeaux you probably won’t like it


Or, conversely, might have an epiphany!

I think I was referring more to the notion of ‘quality’ as defined by so-called ‘experts’. I accept that personal taste does not equate an objective measure of quality, but judging something subjective in an objective way is always going to be a bit odd . I also think some wines gain an iconic status, which - after a while- become divorced from any notions of ‘quality’. But what do I know…?! Only my own tastes. :smiley:


“Experts” - ‘x’ the unknown factor…‘spurt’ a drip under pressure :wink:

I am vary wary of experts and only follow a few ‘wine writers’ - those who have similar tastes to me so I can ‘trust’ their musings.

This is the big confusion - quality isn’t about taste - its about how well something has been done against defined characteristics .


For me, this is true - but to a point.

If you have a wine that ticked all the boxes on the criteria measuring quality, and yet nobody liked it, or enjoyed it or ever wanted to buy it - is it still quality wine? I guess ‘objectively’ it is - but if it’s not experienced and enjoyed, what’s the point?

These are my general thoughts about so-called ‘natural’ wine. Great effort, but I won’t part with my money. Some of it is wine of quality, for sure - but it’s a quality I can live without.


Forgive me if I miunderstand, but are not the natural wines you don’t like technically faulty? And thus not of high quality? If a natural wine is free of faults (as conventionally defined) and of “high quality” otherwise - yes, they do exist - you probably would not know it was natural when served blind.

Interesting point you made about fine art earlier. There are many differences between fine art and wine, but I agree with you that both essentially come down to personal taste. However, a lot of philosophical tradition would argue otherwise - for find art at least, if not wine.