Free your palate by discarding these popular misconceptions about wine.
By Paul Gregutt
It happens to everyone, even those of us who taste wine for a living. Certain common misconceptions about wine become unquestioned truths. And once they harden into beliefs, they inevitably put up fences around anyone’s ability to expand their wine knowledge and exploration.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having favorite grapes, producers, or wine regions. But limiting yourself to only those wines you know you like closes the door on the vast, unexplored territory occupied by all the wines you know nothing about. Don’t let your hidden wine prejudices fence you in!
1. Expensive wines are better wines.
Admittedly, this is often the case. But unlike other discretionary purchases, wine prices are influenced by factors other than quality. Location, image, scores and celebrity connections can elevate prices without impacting quality. On the flip side, wines from less familiar grapes, places and producers—especially imported wines—can offer surprisingly impressive quality for your budget-squeezed dollar. Consider the astonishing popularity of Argentine Malbecs, for example. Those $10 reds are flying off the shelves for a good reason. They over deliver relative to the price.
2. Big corporations only make good wine, never great wine.
This is simply not true. Big companies have deep pockets, rich resources and the talent to make boutique-style wines within the context of a mass-production facility. Not all of them rise to the challenge, but there are many that do.
3. Boutique wineries make wines that are more authentic.
Authentic is a buzzword these days, though nailing down a good definition of what makes a wine authentic is a bit of a challenge. Boutiques make wines in small lots, often focused on particular vineyards, which is one way to define authentic. Experiments in biodynamic viticulture, native yeast fermentations and fermenting in amphorae may all be considered more “authentic” than standard winemaking practices. But are such wines really better, or just different? That’s a more important consideration than some indistinct notion of authenticity.
4. Serious, ageworthy wines are always sealed with cork.
Actually, screwcapped wines can age just as well as—some would argue even better than—wines finished with cork. Some wineries, like Australia’s Peter Lehmann, use screwcaps exclusively, except for wines being shipped to the United States. But even here, more superpremium red wines are using screwcaps. There is no technical reason that those wines won’t age just as well as those finished with cork.
5. Big, tannic wines just need more time to age.
This is one of those wine myths that contain a smidgen of truth. Yes, over time, tannins drop out of solution, hence the need to decant older wines. But any wine that is unbalanced when young is likely to remain so when aged. If a wine is too tannic, too acidic or too alcoholic when young, it is not likely to have a long life ahead.
6. There is a perfect time to drink any wine worth cellaring.
Most wines, even cellar-worthy ones, are delicious upon release. The better wines will age well for up to a decade. Rare indeed are wines that need a decade or more to reach their peak. It is always better to drink a wine a year too soon than a day too late.
7. A massive bottle means the wine must be good.
A heavy glass bottle is certainly an indication that the winery has made a substantial investment in the packaging. It’s also quite likely that it will have a hefty price tag to match. But does that guarantee that the actual wine inside will be exceptional? Not at all. Most of the time, it simply means that it will be very ripe, jammy and aged for an extended time in expensive new oak barrels. Good for some palates, not so good for others.
8. Sweet wines are for beginners, not educated palates.
Some of the greatest wines in the world are sweet. Sauternes, ice wines, trockenbeerenausleses and so on are decadently sweet, immensely flavorful and also quite ageworthy. And generally the more educated palates are the ones that they most appeal to.
9. In poor vintages, no wines are any good.
Vintage ratings are useful as general, broad indicators of the climatic conditions in a particular region in a certain year. But in every region in every vintage, almost without exception, great wines are made and poor wines are made. Ultimately, the quality of any finished wine is a reflection of the skills of the producer, not the vagaries of the weather.
10. All wines worth cellaring are red.
Certain white wines—vintage Champagne, Sauternes, German Rieslings, and even some dry white wines from places as diverse as the Loire Valley, Western Australia, and southern Spain—are just as ageworthy as any reds. Any older wine delivers a different spectrum of flavors from what you would taste in a young wine. That’s why it’s fun to pull out an old white wine once in awhile, just as you would with a Napa Cabernet or a Barolo, and see where the wine is taking you.