The magic of wine is that it is complex, beguiling, exciting and interesting. It also tastes pretty darn good too, which we’d argue is the most important thing of all! There’s plenty of myths to trip up the unwary though, and many ‘facts’ taken as truth that are easy to avoid, from serving wine at the wrong temperature, to drinking badly aged wine. Here we list 16 of the most heinous.
1. Expensive wines are better than cheaper wines.
I thumb my nose at thee! Better in this instance can be pretty subjective. Lots of factors can play on a wine’s quality, and [sweeping-generalisation-alert] if you like concentrated, rich wines with plenty of new oak character then bigger is definitely better. Gets pretty hard going after a sip or two though! Wine price is affected by a great many things, and it’s entirely possible to pick up a bottle of wine for £10 that you will enjoy just as much as one that costs £20. Or even £200.
2. A big, heavy bottle means it contains better wine.
Nope, it means the winemaker wanted to make a statement. Or more likely, a fez in marketing decided that you, the consumer, will associate weight with authority and quality, and will quite happily shell out a few more quid for the wine. Not to mention cover the extra shipping costs that add to the price, or the environmental impact of the glass. Of course, he clearly has confidence in the wine, but a heavy bottle does not better wine make.
3. Serious wine only comes under a cork.
Fibs! Or do you deny that New Zealand and Australia make seriously enjoyable wine? Tests have shown that wines can age better, for longer, and more gracefully under screwcap than cork. Instance of faults are much lower under screwcap as well. That said, cork is a natural, renewable product and cork production is much higher quality now than ever before, so simply put, don’t let the closure sway you one way or the other. Unless you forgot your corkscrew.
4. No-one makes good wine in a ‘bad’ year.
A challenging vintage definitely separates the wheat from the chaff, but that doesn’t mean no good wine results. Better wine-making technology, the ability to accurately forecast weather, and a host of other tools at the hands of a talented wine operator means that smart cookies can make exceptionally good wine that reflects the year. It might be lighter in style than the year before, or richer, but it’s a good representation of the grape, the weather, and the place it came from.
5. The best wines are made from only one grape variety.
One word: Bordeaux. You can write a beautiful violin solo or piano concerto, and it will be magnificent. You can sing acapella, and it can be beautiful. The whole orchestra, a choir in harmony. They’re different, a sum are greater than their parts. Some instruments work better together than others and complement each other in ways that one alone would not. Others are better alone for the way they express themselves. One metaphor later and you get the idea.
6. Opening a bottle lets the wine breathe so it tastes better.
Yes, a tiny fraction of liquid exposed to air through the top of a bottle is going to have a dramatic effect on your wine.
If you want wine to breathe, it will need a greater surface area exposed to oxygen in order for it to perceptibly change. A decanter works, or simply give it time in your glass. You could also use an aerating pourer, which forces air through the wine as you pour and mimics the effect of decanting.
7. You should always decant an old wine.
Actually in some cases you really shouldn’t, unless you want to drink it all very quickly. Some very old wines are very fragile, and might be magnificent for the first 5 minutes after decanting and then rather tired after 6 minutes. If in doubt, pour a small tasting sample, taste it, and taste it again in 10-15 minutes. Make your choice.
8. Old wines are worth more than young wines.
Not by default. Scarcity – supply and demand, as with all things, is the real factor in price.
9. Old wines taste better than young wines.
As trite as it sounds, they just taste different. As they age, wines lose overt fruit character and develop more ‘tertiary’ characters from bottle age, fruit becomes more dried and you may see more nutty, savoury characters emerging. The majority of wines made aren’t intended to age, and lack the components a wine needs to mature gracefully. These are usually fruity, fresh wines intended for immediate consumption. So that bottle of Vina Sol in your wine rack from 5 years ago? Yeahhhh… Would have been lovely. 5 years ago.
10. You should wait for the perfect time to drink any bottle that’s worth ageing.
This one is actually true – except that the perfect time to drink any bottle is usually ‘Now’.
11. Champagne doesn’t age.
It’s true that most champagnes are Non-Vintage, which means that they are a blend of wines made in different years to maintain a consistent style. These are released ‘ready-to-drink’, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be kept for a while. Many, such as Bollinger and Louis Roederer, will continue to mature over 3-5 years. They’ll develop richer, nuttier and honeyed notes and the fruit character will go from zippy-fresh to ripe. Vintage-dated champagne, similarly, can be consumed on release, but the best years can be kept for decades. They may lose some of their effervescence, but they make up for it in flavour and texture.
12. All wine critics are experts.
Wine encompasses more than just how good it tastes! The subject is huge, covering culture, economics, botany, chemistry, geography, geology, climatology, biochemistry, politics, and more besides. Do you know anyone who is an expert in all those fields? Trust people for their palates, but only a very few can claim to be experts, and most of those would be too humble to do so.
13. Red wine should be served at room temperature.
If your room is between 15°-18°C, then absolutely! The warmer they get, the more they loose their elegance and end up being baked, sweet and jammy. Similarly, serving white wine too cold will strip it of all flavour. With both Red and White, the fuller bodied the style, the warmer you should serve it:
The ideal temperature to store wine – so-called ‘cellar temperature’ is between 12°-14° and the most important thing is that the temperature is steady with no big fluctuations.
14. Better the label, the better the wine.
Pretty graphics maketh not the game. Some of the best wines in the world have labels you wouldn’t look twice at. That being said, some also have amazing labels that really catch the eye or make an artistic statement – like Mouton Rothschild. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
15. ABC, darling.
Never let fashion dictate what you enjoy; be a tastemaker, not a slave to fashion! Anything but Chardonnay/Cabernet (delete as appropriate) was a movement stemmed from the dominance of these varieties in the Californian market back in the 1990s, and at the same time in the UK where there was a glut of cheap, over-oaked chardonnay from Australia. Which is a shame, because a lot of people still believe, mistakenly, that Australian chardonnay is all big and over-oaked. Oak is really, really amazing when used right, and adds beautiful texture and complex, enticing character to wine, though it’s easy to overdo.
16. Red with meat, white with fish!
This is a rule of thumb, not an immutable law. Match big wine and big food, sure, but if the Gentleman wishes Corton-Charlemagne with his Steak Bearnaise because he enjoys it, and the Lady wishes Malbec with her Fillet of Halibut, then who the heck are we to argue? There are some great matches, and some horrendous clashes (smoked salmon and claret should never ever happen, ever) – if you’re interested in learning more, come along to one of our free in-store Wine Courses.