It’s a good question. What makes a Champagne worth, for instance, $300 instead of $35? That difference in price ought to be a clear indicator of what’s great versus what’s merely good, but anyone who’s ever bought anything expensive and then been disappointed by the quality knows that that’s not always true.
Recently, I sat down with Richard Geoffroy, the longtime chef du cave of Dom Perignon, and asked him (more or less) what differentiates good Champagne from great Champagne. He replied as follows: “There are two axes of intensity. One is length, persistence; one is depth. Many wines glide on the surface—they can be nice and easy and seductive—but they lack that verticality needed for greatness.”
The mention of “axes” and “verticality” definitely tossed me back into middle school geometry class for a moment, but if you simplify into the idea that wines need surface appeal as well as depth and complexity, that’s (I think) what he was after.