Nine common misconceptions about wine.

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2012 at 8:30 pm

1) You have to spend a lot of money to get good wine.

Sure, if you want to get the wines that get the highest scores in the magazines, it’s going to cost you. However, in addition to all the flaws inherent to the 100-point system for wine rating, there are also a lot of wines out there that are never put in front of any wine writers. And, since the wine press can drive consumer demand, often to a maddening degree (seriously, 90 points from Parker for a wine that retails for $9.99 and people will buy a whole case of it without ever tasting it.), this means that you can find un-reviewed wines that are an outstanding value. On the other hand, there are some really awful wines out there that have also not been reviewed, which is why finding a reliable wine person you know you can trust is vitally important if you want to expand your horizons and get the best bang for your buck. I mean, yeah, maybe I’m just arguing in favor of my own job, but if I didn’t believe in the value of those in my profession, why would I bother doing this for a living?

2) Wine is fancy/grown-up.

I’m having a hard time coming up with a better way to phrase this, although I can’t quite think of a better way to describe the misconception. This manifests from a couple of angles. First, there’s this idea that wine is inherently special or fancy, making those who drink it fancy by association. Otherwise, that wine is the adult beverage, to a greater degree than beer or liquor. You can see the logic in this way of thinking when you consider how most Americans are first introduced to alcohol. I don’t know about you, but I started with beer, wine coolers, and cheap liquor diluted in sugary mixers. We as a species have a habit of defining things in terms of their opposites, so if cheap beer and jello shots are the booze of young adulthood, wine and more sophisticated cocktails must be the booze of maturity, right? The truth is that wine is a drink. To be sure, it is a marvelous, marvelous, wonderful drink, and if I could never have wine ever again I would be very, very sad. But at the end of the day it is a drink, and there is no reason to be afraid of it.

3) Cabernet and Merlot are different.

Of course, in the strictest sense of the word, they are two different varieties of grape, however they are not different to the extent that wine marketing in the US has made them seem. Merlot was positioned in the market as the alternative to Cabernet, the softer red wine for people who didn’t like all the big tannins of Cabernet. However, the fact is that which has more tannin between Cabernet and Merlot has as much to do with winemaking choices as with any inherent quality of either grape. Both varieties have the capacity to be massively tannic, or relatively soft, and both can present the same stemmy, green, under-ripe character when the grapes don’t mature properly. I would wager you could put a lineup of Cabernet and Merlot in a blind tasting and even the most skilled tasters in the world would have a very hard time picking out which was which.

4) Everything that sparkles is Champagne.

This may come off as just a bunch of snobbishness or nerd rage, but there are two really important reasons to distinguish between the sparkling wines of Champagne, and those from the rest of the world. One is just on principle. Champagne is the name of a place. So, calling wine that doesn’t come from that place after that place really doesn’t make any sense, right?

The second reason has to do with what’s in the bottle. In addition to place, the wines of Champagne are made of certain grape varieties, and made in a specific fashion. Champagne must be made of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, and it must undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle to create it’s bubbles. It must also spend a certain amount of time in contact with its lees before being disgorged and sold (18 months for non-vintage, and 36 months for vintage). So, for example, Prosecco is made in Italy using a grape called Glera and carbonated via the Charmat method, wherein the wine undergoes secondary fermentation in a large, sealed vessel, and is then transferred to individual bottles once it is carbonated. So the only similarity between Prosecco and Champagne is that both are sparkling. On the other hand, Franciacorta, which is also Italian, is made using Champagne grape varieties, using the Traditional Method of secondary fermentation in bottle, and must stay on lees for at least 18 months.

5) Cold wine has to stay cold.

I don’t know exactly where this idea comes from, but on a regular basis I encounter people who think that if a wine goes from a refrigerated temperature to room temperature it will somehow be ruined. This misconception is most often applied to sparkling wines. Simply put, this isn’t true. With all wines, one should avoid frequent, extreme swings in temperature, however if wine were so fragile that it couldn’t handle being allowed to warm up a little bit, it’d be a bit difficult to transport thousands of miles across the Atlantic, don’t you think?

6) Only rich people have wine cellars.

This is kind of about how I like my wine, so I guess it’s a hot-button issue for me. Thing is, I like my wines with a little more age on them. Most wines that are sold in the US are consumed within 48 hours of purchase. I find that most wines I really enjoy are better with at least a little more age on them, so when so many people are robbed of the opportunity to drink appropriately aged wines, it makes me sad.

7) French people know a lot about wine.

Not just French people, but I’ve encountered a number of people who assume that certain other people obtain knowledge of wine as a birthright, which is every bit as silly as it sounds when I phrase it like that. I’ve met plenty of French people who knew very, very little about wine. That being said, one sure-fire way to learn more about wine is to drink more of it, so if you want to learn about wine you gotta start drinking more of it. And don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean more by volume. 5 liters of Franzia aren’t going to leave you any more insightful about wine. Take as many opportunities as you can manage to taste wine, and keep an open mind.

8) Screw-caps are for cheap wine.

Every time somebody passes up a bottle of wine just because it has a screw-cap, God kills a puppy. True story. Any wine that’s meant to be consumed within 5 years of vintage date is better off under screw-cap, that’s all there is to it. Corks fail. A lot. In the case of wines that are going to age longer than that, the case can be made for cork allowing the wine to age more gracefully, however there is still no getting around the failure rate of closing your wine bottles with tree bark.

9) Chardonnay is oaky and buttery.

Oaky comes from oak. Buttery comes from malo-lactic fermentation. Neither of those characteristics is inherent to the grape variety. I’m not judging one style of Chardonnay over another, I just hate hearing people saying they don’t like Chardonnay because it’s too oaky.

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