Fine Wine: A Guide To The Finest Wines

Fine Wine: A Guide To The Finest Wines

Fine wines, or finer wines as we sometimes call them, are a real treat. Once the preserve of Old-World regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, or Tuscany, these days fine wines can be found in countries such as Australia, England, South Africa, and the USA. Crafted by passionate producers from the finest vineyards, whether they’re making red, white, rosé or sparkling wines, their aim is the same: to create something extraordinary and unique.

This increase in the number of fine wine-producing countries means that they can now be enjoyed by all wine lovers. Once upon a time, fine wines were largely reserved for the rich. Or in the case of wines such as Romanée Conti – a snip at around £20,000 a bottle – the absurdly rich. Browse our 90+ point wine list, and you'll find fine wines from just £13. Some are ready to enjoy now, while others will improve further with ageing. Assuming that, unlike us, you can resist the temptation to drink them now!

So, what is a fine wine? And what styles of fine wine are there? In this fine wine guide, we'll take you through the fantastic world of finer wines and show you how with more nations producing fine wines, they are for the many, not the few.

What is a ‘fine wine’?

To us, a fine wine is one that offers something extra special. A wine whose flavour, character, and complexity sets it apart and which has a real taste of place. We don't think it should be defined simply in terms of price or rarity; we’ll leave that to label slaves. For us, it’s what's inside the bottle that matters. 

What styles of fine wine are there?

This is another area of fine wine where there have been a lot of exciting developments in the past few years. Traditionally fine wines were either red, white or sparkling, and when we say sparkling, we really mean champagne. Today, fine wines come in all styles using an amazing array of fantastic quality grapes.

Fine red wines

Red wines are the most popular fine wines. Maybe this is because red wines tend to offer more flavour. Maybe it’s because they can age. Or maybe it’s just because the likes of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rioja are among the oldest and most famous wines in the world. Whatever the case, red fine wines have never been, well, finer. Traditional classics have been joined by new wines from:

  • Argentina – their Malbecs are marvellous. Big, bold, well-fruited, and yet with surprising elegance and freshness, especially if they come from high-altitude vineyards. These are some of the best-value fine wines around, and while delicious young, they can age brilliantly.
  • South Africa – with its range of incredible sites and microclimates, South Africa can turn most grapes into wine gold. Their Cabernet Sauvignons, are rich, yet fresh, and complex, and their luscious, silky Merlots reflect this grape’s incredible class.
  • Chile – just as Argentina has made Malbec its own, so Carmenere has become Chile's signature grape. This Bordeaux reject (Carmenere found it too damp and so it ripened too late) has become Chile’s star performer. The best are indulgently fruity, with blueberries and black cherries overlying a firm structure that allows it to age.
  • Australia – as you may know, Australia’s big. Really big. So big that it can provide the perfect home for pretty much any grape. Singling out fine red wines from Australia isn’t easy, but no one does Shiraz better, and their cool climate Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs can be breath-taking.
  • USA – ‘Home of the brave… winemaker’. OK, that’s not how the Star-Spangled Banner goes, but it’s true. The USA is a hotbed of wine innovation. They’ve made Italy’s Primitivo their own with their mighty Zinfandels. Their Cabernets famously saw off the best of Bordeaux at the ‘Judgement of Paris Tasting’, and their Pinot Noirs can be out of this world.

Fine white wines

France pretty much had this area of the fine wine market sown up for centuries. Between Burgundy, The Loire Valley, Alsace, and the hugely underrated dry whites of Bordeaux, lovers of fine white wines needed look no further. That all changed in the ‘70s and ‘80s when the likes of New Zealand's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc burst onto the scene. Wine lovers raised on sedate, grassy, reserved Sancerre had no idea what to make of these flamboyant fantastically fruity creations. What they did know was that they wanted more and other nations were quick to reinterpret the classics:

  • New Zealand – their Sauvignons are amazing, but they’re masters of other vines too. Kiwi Chardonnays range from the elegant and refined to the mighty and magnificent. Their Rieslings are wonderfully intense and complex, and their Pinot Gris has all the rose petal and pepper tones you’d expect, but with a greater freshness and life. 
  • Spain – whether your tastes tend towards the super-clean and zesty or the rich and weighty, Spain has a fine white wine for you. Their crisp, tangy Albarino wines are wonderfully refreshing, while white Rioja is often sumptuous, rich and satisfying. 
  • South Africa – Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc lead the field here. Both grapes lend themselves well to being oak-aged, with cool climate Chardonnays offering more than a passing resemblance to white Burgundy. Chenin Blanc (Steen in the local lingo) can be everything from light, bright, and refreshing to rich, honeyed, and even sweet.
  • Australia – since the early 2000s a revolution has swept through Australian wine. The focus is on quality and as winemakers have gained a greater understanding of their vineyards' sites, so they’ve planted a greater range of vines. Aussie Chardonnays are frequently exceptional, but you can now get Viognier, Semillon, and Mediterranean varietals like Fiano which are just as exciting. 

Fine sparkling wines

While champagne remains the greatest sparkling wine in the world, it’s by no means the only one. Fine sparkling wines are more affordable than they’ve ever been, and a good thing too! While many nations produce fizz, the non-French leaders of the pack are arguably:

  • England – once a novelty, now a world-beater, English sparkling wine is something we can all be proud of. Southern England has the same chalk-based soils that you'll find in Champagne and the sea-breeze-cooled coasts are perfect for making sensational wine.
  • South Africa – in cooler regions such as Stellenbosch, Elgin and Robertson, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir enjoy the long growing seasons that allow them to achieve that just-ripe, high-acidity character that you need for great sparkling wines. Their rosé fizz with its lovely red and black berry notes is particularly worth seeking out.

Fine rosé wines

For the longest time rosé wines weren’t really considered ‘fine’. The ‘problem’ may have been they were thought to be too much fun, too easy to enjoy, and just too, well, delicious. Provence rosé was always an exception to this rule, but it has now been joined by fine rosé wines from: 

  • Lebanon – Lebanon’s red wines have long been admired. The benign climate and poor, rocky soils are ideal for growing high-quality red grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault. These same grapes lend themselves to the production of seriously good rosé wines, ones that have a fantastic depth of flavour and which also develop over time. 
  • Italy – specifically Sicily, is another emerging force in the wine world. This Mediterranean-cooled isle produces a range of excellent rosés from both local grapes such as Nero d’Avola and Nerello Mascalese, alongside newcomers like Shiraz. Cherry-scented, dry, and with a soft intensity, these are great food wines.

Like to know more about wine?

We hope you’ve found this fine wine guide useful. If you’d like to explore the world of wine, why not become a Perfect Cellar member? With our exclusive TastingBOXES, interactive tastings via Alexa, and an incredible range of fine wines, we have everything you need to enjoy finer wine. Perfect.

You may also be interested in reading our more in-depth red wine guide, white wine guide and sparkling wine guide.

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