11. How much does it cost?
When they assess a wine’s quality, professionals don’t always take this factor into consideration. “You get what you pay for” is a motto that doesn’t necessarily apply to wine. Prices depend on scarcity, prestige value, production and marketing costs, and other considerations, and often have little to do with the level of pleasure a wine will bring. A $50 wine might well be noticeably better, even to a beginner, than a $10 one — it isn’t necessarily five times better.
If prestigious labels aren’t important, it’s perfectly possible to find very nice wines for $10 to $15, and really good ones for $15 to $25. There’s nothing wrong with spending more than that if the budget permits, but spending a lot of money on a bottle that turns out to be merely OK takes a lot out of the enjoyment of the wine.
12. Does it have a high score from the experts?
As noted above, it’s not essential to consider the scores awarded to various wines in deciding whether or not they’re good. On the other hand, all other factors being equal, if you’re trying to decide between two or more bottles of a similar type and price — and if you’ve considered the advice above — sometimes looking up scores from The Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator or the like can help. (Wine shops and restaurant wine lists often showcase these numbers, so there’s not even any looking-up to do.) Scores may not be infallible indications of quality, but a bottle ranked in the 90s or high 80s will almost certainly be worth drinking.
13. Do you like it?
This is the ultimate determinant of wine quality for each of us. Taste in wine, like taste in restaurants or movies or just about anything else, is highly subjective and can be affected not just by what’s in the bottle but by your mood, the food you’re eating, and the company you’re with, among other things. It’s quite possible, in fact, that you’ll love a wine on one occasion and find it merely blah the next time you try it.
When all is said and done, though, what really matters isn’t the way a bottle looks or the grape it’s made from or its equilibrium or even how much it costs. How can you tell if a wine is actually really good? If you like it, it is.