I was reading through Paula’s blog post from last year wherein she mentioned that I helped her choose her blog topic by asking her this question “what is the most frequently asked question by your friends when chatting about wine?” Well, I asked myself this question just now and decided that I would write this post in an attempt to debunk some controversial myths and misconceptions in the wine world.
There are many and maybe I’ll return to the topic in another post later in the year. However, as we just launched our Burgundy 2016 En Primeur offer and are preparing for our Easter Special Wine sale it might be opportune to talk about certain topics – in no particular order.
If you would like to receive details of our Burgundy 2016 en primeur offer or get details of our Easter Wine Sale – contact us here.
Aroma vs. Taste vs. Flavour
These are not myths or misconceptions but I would like to explain the differences before I continue. A wine’s aroma is its ‘smell’ sensed by receptors in the nose. A wine’s taste is sensed on the tongue and is one of 5, i.e. sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness or umami. A wine’s flavour is the sense of aroma, taste and feel combined.
One wine trend at the moment is ‘organic wine’. I’m often asked about it and whether it’s all about additives. It’s not but it seems to cause a lot of confusion. Simply put, organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming. It does not mean that the wine doesn’t have additives and it doesn’t mean that a wine is vegan. It is all to do with sulphites.
To confuse you more, the USA and Europe have a different definition of organic:
Europe: a wine made from organically grown grapes that may contain added sulphites
USA: a wine made from organically grown grapes without added sulphites
I do not intend entering the organic vs non-organic debate here, but I would highlight the importance of sulphur-dioxide (SO2) in the winemaking process and the point that only 1% of the world’s population can be affected by sulphites. I should also mention here that whilst the use of the term organic is regulated – sustainable and biodynamic have no legal definitions.
Just one more point on sulphites, it’s a common misconception that, in wine, they are the cause of headaches when drinking. There are many theories as to the cause of a hangover but it is not from sulphites. It could be the volume consumed or quality of the wine, histamines, tannins or even alcohol intolerance but in truth, we don’t actually have the full answer!
Cork vs. Screw Cap.
Since the 17th century, corks have been used to close bottles of wine. Cork is a natural substance (from the bark of a tree) that slowly allows oxygen into the bottle – beneficial when aging. The downside of cork is that it is expensive and sometimes can affect the wine with a taint over time (see Donal’s post on the topic).
You might think that the screw cap was invented to address these downsides, but in fact, it has been around for about a century. Approx. 60 years ago it was introduced as a wine closure. And yes it does address oxygen transfer, economic efficiencies, and cork taint but it kinda takes away from the tradition of popping the cork. My opinion would be that cork is better for fine wines and their aging.
I appreciate that, for people outside the wine industry, it’s hard to get passionate in the debate about closures so let’s agree with the sentiment that the reward is inside the bottle. My last word on this topic is that we should continue to research closures by opening more of them.
We should research wine bottle closures by opening more of them #greenacresirl #wine
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Sweet vs. Fruity.
One characteristic of a grape variety is its underlying flavour. This particular flavour should always remain throughout the winemaking process unless a mistake is made. The stronger the flavour the more fruity a wine. One of the most common misconceptions about wine is that fruitiness equals sweetness. One way to remember the difference is that you can smell a fruit (grape) but you can’t smell sugar.
To explain sweetness, I want to quickly run through the fermentation process with you. All wines start off as grape juice which contains natural sugar. Yeast is added which ferments the juice i.e. the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol. When the yeast converts all the sugar into alcohol the resultant wine will be considered dry.
Now this process can be stopped short leaving some sugar behind – (residual sugar). When this happens, the resultant wine is considered sweet. The winemaker’s style will determine how dry or sweet the wine is and anyway, taste is subjective. You and I, drinking the exact same bottle might well have different opinions on what we’re drinking. When you add in food pairing it can place us even further apart.
The next time you are having a tipple, try and distinguish between the fruit and the dryness/sweetness of the wine. Most of the time, you will taste the sweetness on the tip of your tongue. As alluded to above, fruitiness is a flavour characteristic which you can generally tell from the aroma before you taste it.
Cheap vs. Expensive.
First up, let’s agree that there are some basic costs to getting the wine from the vineyard to your glass. These would include VAT, duty, shipping, labour, bottling, labeling etc. But if these are basic costs why are some wines so expensive, you ask?
Well, let me cover five main elements that contribute to the expense: 1) the region the wine is from, 2) the reputation of the producer, 3) supply/demand, 4) quality and 5) classification (e.g. France). Does price guarantee quality? No, but it is a strong indicator because even in bad years the best producers will not provide a terrible wine.
Again, you might ask if paying €500 rather than €50 for a bottle means that it’s worth it or that it’s better? The answer to both is – not at all. This is because so much depends on your own taste preferences. What I recommend you do is find a style of wine that you like and buy a relatively expensive bottle and a cheaper bottle and compare the tastes. Over time you will determine what represents good value – to you. And it’s all about value for money.
Warm vs. Chilled.
I want to start by saying that room temperature was a guideline created long before central heating. So I’m going to cut to the chase and say that red wine is best served between 16-18°C (some lighter reds such as Beaujolais will even benefit from being lightly chilled!). My personal rule-of-thumb is to serve the lighter reds towards the 16° end and the heavier ones towards 18°.
Many people drink their white wines, way too cold. As a result, they don’t really allow the flavours to develop. You will want to serve your white wines between 7-12°C. My same rule-of-thumb applies except that I would serve sparkling wines (Champagne), slightly colder than a light white wine.
You can serve Champagne straight from the fridge (c.4°C) but you may find the flavours are enhanced if you let it stand for 15/20 mins before serving.
Old Wine vs. New Wine.
I’m not talking about Old World wine vs New World wine here – that difference is all about geography. I’m talking about the perception that older wine is better than new wine. Here’s my opinion – ageing a wine does not always make it better. I mean, bad wines are bad whether you drink them young or old.
New, or younger, wines are usually fruitier and fresher tasting. But very young red wines can often have rough and undeveloped tannins. A white wine can lose its fruit-forward character over time. In addition, spending time in a bottle can change any wine significantly as the wine mellows out. However, some red wines need a lot of time maturing to reach the required finish. Also, with aged reds, when those wines ‘mellow out’ the tannins soften – those (tertiary) aromas that people describe as farmyard or earthy, appear. Whether you prefer that or not is entirely up to you. Old or new, it’s all about loving the wine you’re with.
Red Wine vs. White Wine.
A question we’re often asked in the shop is – which lasts longer after opening, red or white wine? Once you’ve opened the bottle, white wines (when put in the fridge, where you should always store your opened wines) will last longer than reds. In general, most wines will last only about 3-5 days after opening.
I know what some of you are thinking – what’s left-over wine, but if you do – then it’s all about storage.
Sparkling wine in the fridge with a stopper will last 1-3 days.
Light White and Rose in the fridge with a cork will last 5-7 days.
Full-bodied White in the fridge with a cork will last 3-5 days.
Red Wine in a cool dark place, with a cork, will last 3-5 days.
Fortified Wine in a cool dark place, with a cork, will last 28 days.
How long will your opened wine last? Read about best storage here on our blog post #greenacresirl
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Bottle Punt vs. No Bottle Punt.
Allow me to explain. Many wine bottles have an indented bottom (dimple) called a punt. You will have noticed some waiters serving with their thumb in the punt and their other arm behind their back. This is for show really. The myth here is that there is a correlation between wine quality and whether a bottle has a punt or even the size of the punt.
Not all bottles have a punt and the rationale behind it is largely historical. In fact, they resulted as an artefact rather than an intention of bottle manufacturing. As a result, over the years people have debated the effects of the punt such as:
- it has more glass and therefore is more expensive to make
- it makes it heavier to hold and creates the illusion that it is a better wine
- it catches sediment better
- it allows your wine to chill quicker
- it makes the bottle more resistant to high pressure
- it allows bottles to be stacked more easily
So, while people’s opinions differ on the usefulness of the wine bottle punt, most critics agree that a wine’s quality cannot be judged on whether or not one exists in the bottle.
Wine Glass vs. Ordinary Glass.
To be honest, you will find some people who will only drink certain wines from certain glasses. You will also find people who will drink any wine from any vessel (music concerts anybody?). I’m somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
I’m not going to throw my toys from the pram if somebody serves me say a Chardonnay in a Sauvignon Blanc glass but no – I won’t drink from a plastic cup because I’m outside at a BBQ.
You might hear it argued that different glasses are just a marketing gimmick but I don’t agree with this. Different glasses are shaped to help enhance the flavours and aromas of different types of wine. More narrow openings for white wine and wider openings for red wines allow the wine flavours develop differently by controlling the amount of oxygen that gets at the wine.
Before I start getting technical about it, I would suggest that the shape of the glass does affect the way the wine tastes. At the end of the day, I will drink wine out of any shaped glass. My advice is to be cognisant of the fact that the experience can be improved in many ways and using a different shaped glass is one of them.
There are so many questions about wine that remain unanswered. However, it cannot be denied that wine has had an influence on culture, throughout history, for about 7,000 years. It is understandable that there are many myths and misconceptions about it but, for many of us, debunking those is a labour of love. I invite you to go on that journey with us.
I’ll leave you with a funny quote from W.C. Fields – “What contemptible scoundrel stole the cork from my lunch?”
We look forward to engaging with you again soon – Cheers, James
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