Every day, I hear a new misguided rumor about wine. Just the other day, I was helping a young lady who wanted a Chilean white wine. I showed her the selection, and she asked, “Do you have anything older? Older is better, right?” I explained to her that when buying Sauvignon Blanc and other white wines, they are best enjoyed youthful and fresh. I honestly don’t think she believed me, but you can’t win them all. With April Fool’s Day upon us, we decided to debunk those myths. Here are the most popular myths about wine and why they are wrong:
Screw cap wines are never as good as wines with a cork.
I once had lunch with winemaker Peter Loring, whose Pinot Noirs are continuously written up in Wine Spectator, always earning 91 points or above. I asked him why he chooses a screw cap closure for his highly rated, highly priced Pinots. He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Because you only have one chance.” Winemakers know if you get a consumer to actually pick up a bottle of wine, and he or she randomly gets one flawed by TCA–the fungus that infects clean corks and gives them an awful moldy, cardboard flavor, most will never come back to try it again. Brian and many others believe it best to take that chance at a flaw completely out of the equation. Utilizing screw caps is also better for the storage and longevity of wine. You don’t need to lay the bottles down or worry about the corks drying out. Some of my most expensive wines have screw cap closures.
Legs on a glass of wine tell the quality.
Legs, or tears, are the trails of wine left on the sides of the wine glass after a wine has been swirled. I often hear tales like, “My grandfather once told me a wine is good if it has slow-running legs.” It may be a good wine, but the legs are telling you the alcohol content and sugar levels of the wine. If you like a highly alcoholic, dense, sweeter wine, then yes, you might think this is a great wine. However, many of the world’s great Pinot Noirs, Sangioveses, and Nebbiolos have lower sugar content and less grip on the sides of the glass.
The higher the cost, the better the wine.
There comes a point at which most people cannot distinguish between wines of quality. An analogy for this would be the difference between regular fruit and organic. Organic fruit is more expensive because it costs more to produce. It costs more to produce because you lose more fruit since you aren’t utilizing pesticides and other chemicals to keep animals and insects away. Similarly, wine costs go up because of the rarity of the place they are from and the costs that engenders. Most wine from California’s Napa Valley is more expensive than wines from Argentina’s Mendoza wine appellation. Both are world renowned for their excellent terroir and ability to grow bold, complex Cabernet Sauvignon. However, the cost of living is drastically lower in Argentina, so a wine of equal quality could be far less from Argentina than one from California. Moreover, most people can taste the difference between an under-ripe, out-of-season peach and a fresh-picked peach at the height of summer, but can they tell the difference between an organic and a nonorganic peach? In the wine world, it would be like being able to taste the difference between a $10 bottle and a $50 bottle. But between a $50 and $100 bottle, most could not tell the difference.
If the cork is flawed, so goes the wine.
A cork can be a signifier of a good or flawed wine, but it doesn’t have to be the end all, be all. If the cork crumbles while opening a bottle of wine, there is a good chance the cork was beginning to dry out, which could lead to oxidation. However, you cannot be sure until you taste the wine. A cork could be wine soaked halfway up, which could mean the bottle may have become too warm, expanding the wine and forcing it up into the cork. Still, you cannot be sure until you taste the wine. A cork may have a literal half-inch of sediment on it, meaning the wine may be getting over the hill. Yet you cannot be sure until you taste the wine! Some of the best wines I ever had in my lifetime had the worst corks. Even if the cork crumbles and falls right in to the wine bottle, please, I implore you not to discard the wine! Get out a wine strainer or even a coffee filter and strain out the cork bits. This wine may still be heavenly.
Older wines taste better.
This has got to be one of my favorites, simply because it is something I often deal with. This myth comes from decades ago, when many European wines could take generations to develop. Even today, some wineries retain these winemaking processes, yet most wines that are produced today have a peak time to drink. That peak time is between 3 and 5 years. Now, I’m not saying that if you find a bottle of 2002 Justin Cabernet Sauvignon in your basement, it won’t be good. It will probably be delicious. What I am saying is that most everyday wines are best consumed within 5 years of their vintage. Higher quality–read pricey–wines are made to last longer, developing over time and with age. In general, if you do choose to age a wine, what you are expecting is for the tannins to fall off, creating a softer, more elegant wine. Vintage has a lot to do with the quality of a wine, too. If you are looking for an excellent bottle from our extensive cellar that has already been aged, you want to choose a 2002 vintage over a 1998 vintage since the 1998 vintage was quite difficult and created wine with vegetal overtones.
This blog is no joke. I hope everyone learns a lesson from this. Wine is a delicate issue and needs protection from these horrible rumors that could lead to bottles being dumped in the sauce, or even worse, down the drain! There are so many other misconceptions about wine out there that I feel it’s my duty to debunk! But it’s late, and this Super Somm is tired. Tomorrow is another day, and another wine to save (or sell.)