The elusive quality that makes us want to drink a glass of wine right away is often encapsulated by critics and connoisseurs in a single word: Wine drinkability. But what does it mean? James Suckling and Zekun Shuai explain.
Many years ago, when talking about drinkability we were probably discussing whether the wine in question was within the suitable drinking window to pull out the cork. Today however, drinkability means much more than simply “suitability for drinking”.
At JamesSuckling.com, drinkability is one of the measures we use for quality, and often it’s one of the basic yet essential indicators for a wine scoring 90 points or above – a threshold for high quality. A 90-point wine is a wine that you want to drink the whole glass right away; 95 points or more, you want to finish the bottle yourself!
A “drinkable cabernet” in a tasting note needs to be interpreted within the context. Is the wine suitable for now? Are we euphemistically suggesting the wine has minimally worthy concentration? Or increasingly, are we saying the wine is an approachable, easy-to-drink bottle that arouses the desire to drink effortlessly? The latter is a way of showing how much the drinker likes the wine in a simple way.
Evaluating drinkability comes when we consider the essential function of a wine. If we were to make a comparison with two different piles of apples on a balance, when a taster highlights a wine’s drinkability, today that probably suggests that the pointer is tilting away from the riper, softer and sweeter red apples towards the fresher, crunchier green ones – the kind that make you salivate.
As many critics and journalists advocate for the drinkability of wine, top producers are also scrupulously assessing the sugar-acid balance of the grapes before harvest, as they simultaneously try to maintain ripeness and freshness, while staying away from overripe, jammy fruit or over-extraction in the cellar. Thus, the drinkability of wine is very much associated with descriptors such as “fresh and pure fruit”, “bright acidity”, “bone-dry palate”, “nuance or finesse”, “precision”, “harmony”, “elegance” and a “linear, mineral texture”, and most often is associated with wines that express character and a sense of place.
So, a wine’s drinkability today reflects a new and still-evolving trend of wine styles that underline the wisdom of “less could be more”. Whether driven by the trend or driving it, wine journalism is also adjusting, marking an aesthetic return to classicism. It turns the wheel to precision and balance again, even though “balance” itself is now a cliché that’s much too vague and inclusive.
For simple wines, drinkability is almost a given. But for the more complex, ambitious bottles with a substantial concentration of flavours that aim to please and can age, we can say it’s a gift.
The JamesSuckling.com team selects six sought-after wines that hit the spot in a range of prices and categories.
William Fèvre Chablis Gran Cru Les Clos 2017
Chablis is probably one of the most underrated yet intellectually challenging and drinkable white wines. The best are known for their full but linear, minerally texture with the nuanced and complex limy, chalky mixture of yellow and green fruit. This William Fèvre Grand Cru Les Clos is a must-buy for quality and great value.
Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2018
You don’t need to pay a high price for drinkability. Beaujolais has a name for making lighter, cheerful and drinkable wines, and this Jean Foillard Morgon Cote du Py gives “Bojo” a serious, structured dimension at a great-value price point. And, of course, drinkability is at its core.
Schäfer- Fröhlich Riesling Nahe Felseneck GG 2018
The top GG German Rieslings have impeccable drinkability, with zesty, lightly fragrant but subtle aromas. And there are great-value bottles almost everywhere. This 99-point Schäfer- Fröhlich Riesling is a textbook example of a dry Riesling with succulence, mineral purity and power.
Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae Malbec 2012
A deeply coloured, rich Argentine Malbec from Catena Zapata, many of whose wines have a supple, ethereal character that unwinds evenly on the palate.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2008
It’s almost unnecessary to mention the drinkability of a fine bubbly, especially Blanc de Blancs and the fine zero dosage. This nervy and composed Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2008 was released recently and is perfect for drinking now, yet could also be cellared for a decade or two.
Gonzalez Byass Jerez Tio Pepe Fino Dos Palmas NV
Still think that fortified sherries are old-fashioned? Try this rich but fabulously creamy, briny and well-aged fino, probably one of the top and best-value sherries made by Gonzalez Byass. The austere yet complex flavours, along with unique floral characters, deconstruct the common perception of drinkability — you don’t need high acidity to deliver that in a wine, or at least not with sherries.