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With a grasp of various components, you can evaluate wine quality. Just like you, even the pros have their personal preferences, yet certain widely accepted standards have emerged that maximize enjoyment for all. Think about wine quality as akin to a great symphony. When all the instruments—from the violins to the bass to the flutes and brass—work in concert and none dominate, the composer’s masterpiece becomes a glorious experience. The same is true for wine.

Wine’s instruments include its various components—acidity, alcohol, sugar and secondary flavor compounds—and they perform best when balanced and integrated. Just the right amount of acidity balances sugar in sweet wines and alcohol in others, but too much can create a harsh pucker effect. Sugar is best when balanced with complex elements from late-harvest or dried grapes, rather than dominating in a simple wine (although if you enjoy simple, sweet wines, that is OK too). Tannins, too, should not overwhelm but can stand out as a special feature of some full-bodied reds. Great wines emerge when these elements are not only balanced, but when several complex and interesting elements are well-integrated, working together as the winemaker’s masterpiece.

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