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Friday, April 12, 2013

Some Wine Myths

There are misconceptions about many complex subjects including wine. You may already know these, be surprised about some, or maybe disagree with some. Like I said wine is complicated.

Screw Caps

Screw caps and plastic corks are for cheap wine, right? Many Americans started their wine experience with something cheap, sweet and under a screw cap so this myth persists. Today the evidence says screw cap closures are almost always better than cork, but tradition dies hard.

Corked Wine

A bad wine means it's corked? There are many reasons a wine might not be as good as it should be. Corked wines have gotten a lot of press over the past few years. Bad does not usually equal corked. It can, but it's often not the problem. Usually it has to do with traveling or storage. Sometimes it may even be a problem at the winery. So if a wine seems bad don't assume "corked" unless you understand what a corked wine tastes and smells like.

Serve Red Wine at Room Temp

Room temp is about 70 degrees or so. That's too warm for wine unless you like a heavy, alcoholic taste. If it's too cold you'll lose a lot of the flavors. About 60 degrees or a bit higher is best. If the wine wasn't stored in a cool enough place then put it in the fridge for a hour then set it out for a few minutes before drinking.

Serve White Wine Cold

 Too cold of a temperature will hide the flavors of the wine you paid good money for. Actually, you can serve a bad wine really cold to hide the flavor, but let's hope that's not a problem. A cold refrigerator temp is good for sparkling wines and Sauvignon Blanc. Chardonnay is better somewhere between this cold temp and the temp you should use for red wine. If you're going to err either way then serve Chardonnay closer to 60 degrees rather then 40 degrees.

Legs on the Wine Glass

When you swirl a wine in the glass the "legs" or "tears" stream down the side of the glass. Slow or fast moving streams of wine can tell you about viscosity (the body of the wine), but have nothing to do with quality.

Red Wine is Better When it Ages

Some wines will be better after they have aged properly. Only a small percentage of wines improve after a few years left in the bottle. Very few of us can age our wine correctly meaning the right temperature, humidity, etc. And even then how do you know when it's best?

A better way to "age" a wine is to either open the bottle several hours before you will drink it or decant the wine. Decanting is simply pouring it into a clean, neutral vessel (glass is good) to let oxygen soften the wine.

The biggest mistake with aging is buying an expensive Cabernet, for example, after being told that it will be better in five years then sticking it in a wine rack on the kitchen counter. This wine will be awful in five years as light, heat and vibration will destroy it.

Besides what does it mean by "better?" It will be certainly different after a few years of aging, but will you find it better than when you purchased it? Many people like drinking young, big, fruity wines and don't like the characteristics of an older wine.

White Wine doesn't Age

Usually not, but I've had a couple Chardonnays that were aged properly for many years and were amazing wines. But they were definitely different than they were when they were young. So I wouldn't say dry white wines don't age, but that you generally don't want to age them.

White White with Fish and Chicken

The preparation is the key. You might be using anything from lime juice to a spicy BBQ sauce and this will determine what wine you should have, not the meat itself. For instance, if you slather lots of that spicy BBQ sauce on your chicken while grilling a Zinfandel might be a better wine pairing than a Chardonnay. More flavorful fish like salmon are often great with lighter reds like Pinot Noir.

Red Wine with Red Meat

This one is fairly safe, but there are lots of reds to choose from. Besides if you just don't like red wines or maybe it's a really hot day and red doesn't sound good then have a full-bodied Chardonnay or a Viognier. (Don't know what Viognier is? Look it up)!

The Best Wines Come from the Years with the Best Weather

Someone or another will declare a particular California vintage as a great vintage, or the vintage of the decade, or some such. This usually means these are years with warmer summers. Warmth leads to higher alcohol, lower acids (that might be added back during wine making), and basically really ripe wines. If this is what you like then you'll like these warm weather wines.

The other issue with declaring great vintages is that California is a big state and even a particular region has weather idiosyncrasies. So if someone says 2007 was a great vintage in Napa, as many did, what does that mean? For what grape variety? For what parts of Napa as some areas are borderline hot while others cool?

Having said that, there are years that in general produce better wine than in others, but that's such a broad stroke you can't really apply it to all purchasing decisions. 

Listen to Wine Critics and Judges

You can use this as one data point. Wine quality is 98% subjective. It's like having someone else pick a piece of art to hang on your wall. Okay, some folks will let an art "expert" decorate for them and some will go see a movie because a movie critic liked it. It just seems better to buy what you like, not what someone else tells you to like.