Some common thinking about wine is really common misinformation — common myths that aren’t true. The following sections set the record straight about these wine myths.
One advantage of varietal wines — wines named after a grape variety, such as chenin blanc or pinotage — is that you supposedly know what you’re getting. However, the presence of a grape variety name on the label tells you nothing about the quality of the wine.
Varietal wines range in quality from ordinary to excellent. Wines named in other ways also range in quality from ordinary to excellent. Varietal wines in general are no better and no worse than other wines.
For wine, as for many other products, a high price often indicates high quality. Purchasing a high-priced wine shows others that you can afford “the very best” and that you have good taste.
But for sheer pleasure, an expensive wine is rarely the best choice. For one thing, the highest quality isn’t itself the best criterion for choosing a wine. Not all situations call for a very high-quality wine, and besides, your personal taste might not align with what critics think of as high quality.
Not all that long ago, this statement was true, but it’s no longer the case. Screw-off caps are still the closure on large “jug” bottles of those old-fashioned, really inexpensive domestic wines, but that type of wine is a dying breed. Meanwhile, sleek and modern screw-off caps have come on the scene as the closure of choice on many bottles of fine wine, especially white wines, from all over the world.
In addition, research in New Zealand has proven that wines can age and develop in bottles closed with screw caps, as wine does in cork-sealed bottles.
Something about red wine just says “serious,” right? But why? Maybe because many people enjoy white wines when they first start drinking wine, and then with experience, they progress to red wine. But many serious wine lovers rediscover the unique virtues of white wines, such as their compatibility with light meals and their easier drinkability, later on.
As guidelines go, this one isn’t bad, but it’s a guideline, not a rule. Anyone who slavishly adheres to this generalization deserves the boredom of eating and drinking exactly the same thing every day!
Even if you’re a perfectionist who’s always looking for the ideal food and wine combination, you’ll find yourself wandering from this guideline. The best wine for a grilled salmon steak is probably red — like a pinot noir or a bardolino — and not white at all. Veal and pork do equally well with red or white wines, depending on how the dish is prepared. And what can be better with hot dogs on the grill than a cold glass of rosé?
Turning to critics for advice is natural. We do it all the time. In most cases, we weigh the critics’ opinions against our own experience and tastes. Yet when many wine drinkers hear that a wine received a 90-plus point rating from a wine critic, they go out of their way to get that wine. The curiosity to try a wine that scores well is understandable, but the rigid belief that such a wine is (a) necessarily a great wine and (b) a wine you’ll like is simply misguided.
The critics’ scores are nothing more than the critics’ professional opinion — and opinion, like taste, is always personal.
If human beings were machines, maybe a person could taste a wine and, with repeated and reproducible accuracy, ascribe a quality ranking to that wine. As it is, however, the equipment we have to work with (our noses, mouths, and brains) is personal and varies in performance from one individual to the next. The experience of wine is always subjective, and the quality statement given to a wine is, therefore, always subjective.
Everything about the wine-tasting experience influences your subjective impression of a wine’s taste. For example, the weather, your mood, and the ambiance of the situation all affect your reaction to a wine. Not only that: One bottle of a wine can be subtly different from another bottle of the same wine, and the same wine in a different glass can taste different.
Wine is an incredibly vast subject involving biochemistry, botany, geology, chemistry, climatology, history, and culture. How can anyone be an expert in all of that?
Different aspects of wine appeal to different people. Depending on what they particularly like about wine, people tend to specialize in some of wine’s disciplines at the expense of others. Don’t expect any one person to be able to answer all your questions about wine. Just like doctors and lawyers, wine professionals specialize. They have to.
The idea of rare old bottles of wine being auctioned off for tens of thousands of dollars is fascinating enough to capture anyone’s imagination. But valuable old bottles of wine are even rarer than valuable old coins because, unlike coins, wine is perishable.
The huge majority of the world’s wines don’t have what it takes to age for decades. Most wines are meant to be enjoyed in the first one to five years of their lives. Even those wines that have the potential to develop slowly over many years will achieve their potential only if they’re properly stored.
To the contrary, Champagne does age well! Depending on the particular year, vintage Champagne can age especially well. The trick, though, is that Champagne demands excellent storage. If kept in a cool, dark, humid place, many Champagnes can age for decades, especially in the great vintages. They lose some effervescence but take on a complexity of flavor similar to fine white Burgundy. Champagnes in magnum bottles (1.5 liters) generally age better than those in regular size (750 milliliters) bottles.