We’ve all met him…the guy who pours a glass of wine, smells, swirls and sometimes even spits. Then he pontificates, mumbling French words like Pouilly-Fuissé that make the rest of us nervous.
Wine snobs beware. This article is about to blow your cover.
Here’s the real veritas about vino. When it comes to wine, you’re the boss. Wine’s not brain surgery, no matter what the guy with the souped-up corkscrew has to say. It’s about the individual palate.
Unfortunately, plenty of myths, lies and legends exist, and they foster the kind of snobbery that makes the average wine drinker uncomfortable. Listed below are a few of the most common ones.
Myth #1: The wider the “legs,” the better the wine.
Not true. Legs, referred to by the English as “tears,” are transparent residue that streams down the sides of a glass after wine has been swirled. Legs are composed of water that clings to the glass as wine is exposed to air. It can be an indicator of alcohol content, but it has nothing to do with quality. Wines exhibiting prominent legs don’t necessarily taste better.
Myth #2: Old wines are better than young wines. (Corollary: Old wines are worth a lot of money).
Only a fraction of the world’s wines will increase in complexity and value as they age. To be on the safe side, wine should be drunk within a year or two of release. In the U.S. most wines are consumed within 24 hours of purchase.
A rule of thumb:
Most white wines should be drunk within a year or two of production (maybe three depending on the method of aging and conditions of storage.)
Red wines can be cellared a bit longer, three to four years, under the right conditions.
Wines such as Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed within a year. These contain very little tannic structure and are not meant to be aged.
Myth #3: Expensive wines are better.
This is a tricky one. The cost of materials, both inside and outside the bottle, should have some relationship to the selling price. Quality fruit is expensive because careful viticulture is labor intensive. Cheap, mass-produced product often lacks the character and quality of handcrafted wines that are prepared in small lots by vintners who make costly decisions in the name of quality.
However, a $50 + price tag on a bottle of wine is no guarantee. Plenty of good (maybe not great) wines can be found in the $10-$25 price range.
Myth #4: Wine should be allowed to “breathe” before consumption.
“Breathing” means the introduction of oxygen into wine. Most wines can be sufficiently aerated by swirling in the glass. Bold, tannic young reds, aged reds with lots of sediment and rich white wines can open up with additional aeration. Decanting is probably the best idea if a wine truly needs to “breathe.” The narrow neck of the wine bottle doesn’t admit enough oxygen to make a difference.
Myth #5: White wine can be refrigerated indefinitely.
No wine can be stored indefinitely, even under ideal conditions. Most red wines (excluding, for example, Nouveaux and some Rosés) don’t require refrigeration. White wines can and should be refrigerated before serving, but not necessarily stored in the refrigerator, where the temperature is around 40 degrees. The dehumidifying conditions can cause corks to dry out and shrink, thus compromising the quality of the wine. To be on the safe side, store wines at a consistent temperature and refrigerate before serving.
Myth #6: Wines can be made without sulfites.
No wines are sulfite free. Sulfites occur naturally in grape skins, and sulfur is used as a disinfectant in the winemaking process. Even wine labeled as “organic,” contains the by-products of sulfur used as a cleansing agent.
U.S. laws require winemakers to include the words “Contains Sulfites” on their labels. Wines from other countries also contain sulfites, whether or not this is indicated on the labels.
“Organic” wines should not contain added sulfites. If the sulfite level exceeds 10 parts per million, the wine must be labeled with the words “Contains Sulfites.”
Myth #7: The best wines come from France, Italy and California.
Good wine is a product of careful viticulture and competent winemaking. Great wine can come from places you might not expect, like Canada or Pennsylvania. Remember, California was not known or respected as a wine region as recently as the 1970s. Now Napa and Sonoma wines are regarded as some of the finest in the world.
Although the winemaking tradition runs deep and long in France and Italy, these countries do not possess a monopoly on making good wine. Wherever quality grapes can be grown and processed by knowledgeable winemakers, good wine can be produced.
When it comes to wine, you, not Robert Parker, (no disrespect intended!) are the boss. It’s not about fancy words or fancy names. It’s about your taste buds. The best wine is the wine you like, no matter what the experts say.
Christine Carroll is a Certified Specialist of Wine. She is also a columnist for Wines and Vines Magazine in San Rafael, California, and one of the principals of Crossing Vineyards and Winery. You can contact her at: email@example.com