Wine Myths: Uncorked

The world of  wine is somewhat mysterious, especially to the everyday consumer. It doesn’t help that there seems to be a cloud of urban legends hanging over the head of a glass of wine. So I’ve dug my way to the bottom of some of these perpetuated myths, hoping to erase their attachments to the world of wine. In a nutshell, here are the 10 most common myths about wine and the juicy truth that underlies each one.

MYTH # 1: The printed word “Reserve” on a wine label indicates the wine to be special or of higher quality wine.

For the everyday consumer this word on a label immediately pops out. When something is labelled “Reserve” we automatically associate it with being a prestigious product and something that is likely worth a few extra bucks. Unfortunately for us, wine makers know this and will use the term “Reserve” as a marketing strategy rather than a pledge of quality product.  This tactic is particularly exploited in North America where wine makers are not bound by any laws that set guidelines on what can and can’t be labeled as reserve. So more often than not, if you are buying a wine from North America, you should read the fine print to get the whole picture. Spain and a few other countries actually adhere to regional laws that specifiy the guidlines of what meets a “reserve” quality wine.

MYTH # 2: All wine gets better with age.

This is the opposite of true. In fact, the large majority of wines being sold in our market (LCBO) are not meant to age more than a few years, if that. Cellaring wine is a very complicated and expensive process and there are only a handful of wines that are suitable for those kind of conditions. An expensive Riesling or Bordeaux may stand the test of time and cellar for upwards of 10 years, but generally speaking, most wines just want to have fun while they’re young.

MYTH # 3: White wine should be chilled when served.

Myth #3 is a tricky one. It is not entirely a fallacy: white wine should be served cooler than room temperature. Should it be served right out of the freezer? Definitely not. Even if you love the refreshing feeling of an ice-cold beverage, think about the difference in flavour of a freshly cracked beer versus a beer that has been sitting out for 30 minutes. We all know that cooler temperatures act as preservatives and the same thing happens to the aromas and flavours of an ice cold wine. Instead of allowing the wine to be as crisp and flavourful as it should be, a chilled serving will stifle the wine’s true potential.

Try leaving the wine in your fridge for about 45 minutes before you serve it. That should do the trick.

MYTH #4: Fruit (other than grapes) that you smell and taste in wine, were used to make the wine.

Cherry. Plum. Raspberry. Melon. Banana. Lemon.

These are all familiar terms used to describe the aroma and flavour of wine. So wouldn’t it make sense that the wine maker added some cherry pits and banana peel to the must in order to impart those specific flavours? No. That doesn’t make sense at all when you think about it. The reason you are smelling these fruits is not because there is a healthy dose of lemon juice in your Sauvignon Blanc. It’s because each grape expresses itself differently after the fermentation process. That’s why there is such a wide range of grape varieties out there. Each one has its own personality and those personalities tend to permeate the scent and tastes that are familiar to us.

MYTH # 5: You can tell if a wine is good by smelling the cork.

If ever you are out for dinner with someone who thinks it is de rigueur to pick up the cork and smell it, you can go right ahead and snicker to yourself. Although the cork may indicate if the wine has been cellared properly, it doesn’t provide many other clues than that. This tradition has been carried down for centuries, from the early days of wine making when the authenticity of a wine would sometimes be at question. The cork was usually an indication of the wine’s authenticity and so developed the process of smelling and touching the cork before actually tasting the wine. But ultimately, there is nothing the cork can tell you that you won’t be able to smell or notice from the wine when it is in your glass.

MYTH # 6: Pinto Grigio and Pinot Gris are two different grapes.

This little gem of information needs to be heard, so I’m going to say it once, loud and proud. Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris are the same grape. You might be thinking that the two expressions of this wine are completely different, and in thinking that you are absolutely right. The reason for giving two names to one grape is due to the way the grape is vinified.

Pinot Grigio (unless it is outrageously priced) can usually be chalked up to this: Pinot Gris’ watered down, flavourless little sister.  So for the sake of drinking something delicious, next time you wander over to the tried and true wine that tastes like water, go for it’s more flavourful expression and pick up a Pinot Gris. Your taste buds will thank you and so will I.

MYTH # 7: Uncorking a bottle of wine lets it breathe.

Merely popping the cork out of a bottle, really doesn’t do much for a wine. It may allow a little smidge of air to the wine, but overall you are better off decanting the wine so that it reaches it’s maximum flavour profile instead of letting the air dwindle away in the neck of the bottle.

MYTH # 8: Legs indicate the quality of a wine.

Legs always seem to be a hot topic of discussion when it comes to wine. People swirl and then are fascinated by the streaks that come pouring quickly or slowly down the walls of the glass. Most people are taken by the legs because they presume that dripping legs proves a good quality wine. That simply isn’t the case. When it comes to legs, you are discovering one thing and one thing only: The alcohol level. The higher the alcohol level, the more legs you’ll see. Let’s wash our hands of this myth, once and for all.

MYTH # 9: Riesling, especially from Germany, is always a sweet wine.

For a very long time, Germany used a process called chaptalization to add sugar to their wines. Because their grapes were growing in a cooler climate, the grapes would often not reach full ripeness and thus, sugar was added to the wines to balance the acidity. Unfortunately, this conundrum gave German Riesling the name of being a “sweet wine”. This is true for some Riesling, but now more than ever Riesling is being vinified dry and let me tell you, It. Is. Awesome. To find yourself a dry Riesling, it is never a SURE bet but here are two tips to send you sipping in the dry direction.

1) If the wine says “Trocken” you are looking good. “Troken” is German for “Dry”.

2) If the alcohol indicated is 12.5% or higher, the Riesling is likely a dry style.

Happy hunting!

MYTH # 10: France is the largest producer of wine in the world.

Although France is responsible for largest export of wine in the world, it does not hold the title for largest producer. The Italians hold this title by a dog’s hair, beating out France by producing 360,000 more tonnes per year.

Have you heard something about wine that seems to be suspect? Let us know!

image via SteveGarfeild

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