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It’s time to de-bunk a few wine myths.

 It’s time to de-bunk a few wine myths.One of the curious, and perhaps frustrating, things about wine is that some of the conventional wisdom about its appreciation falls into the realm of misconception or myth. Even today, wine is shrouded in mystery, and many wine charlatans are still getting away with murder. It can be challenging for the newcomer, and sometimes even the expert, to sort it all out. Quite why wine attracts so much misdirection and fraudulent characters only too willing to try to take advantage of wine drinkers, goodness only knows.

My advice is to believe your own palate and have the courage of your own convictions. You can listen to all the sales pitches and hype you like, but remember, talk is cheap. Any highly recommended wine should taste great – it’s as simple as that. You know as much as anyone what tastes good to you, so don’t be bullied or swayed by persuasive arguments from the so-called experts. Some of them may not be as expert as they claim. And many, more than likely, have ulterior motives. They unashamedly take full advantage of the fact that wine appreciation is highly subjective.

To help you make up your own mind about the wines you want to drink, here are some of the infuriating wine myths that stubbornly refuse to die:

1. ‘The more a wine costs, the better it is’. While there may be some relationships between cost and value, exceptions abound ... thank goodness!

2. ‘Old vines make better wines’. Occasionally ancient vineyards make delicious, concentrated wines. But, by and large, old vines generally produce fewer and fewer grapes until the grower eventually rips them out.

3. ‘Sulfites are unhealthy for everyone’. Sulfites, a natural preservative, occur in all wines. A tiny percentage of people have a potentially life-threatening allergy. And, indeed, these unfortunates know what they must avoid. Sulfites are not a threat, in any way, to the rest of us. They may be a contributing cause of hangovers, but not as much as the alcohol content. And, of course, the quantity of wine consumed the night before!

4. ‘Natural cork is the only good wine closure’. Natural cork is traditional, even romantic, but a high rate of ‘taint’ and failure is prompting an almost universal move to alternative closures. All the progressive wineries, if they have not done so already, are now changing to the screwcap. The screwcap vs. cork argument is won. Contrary to popular belief, the cork is not needed to let the wine breathe – the ullage (air space in the bottle) does that. Give it a few more years, and natural corks will be history.

5. ‘Screwcaps are the sign of cheap wine’. (See above.) I suppose there is some truth in that historically, screwcaps have been used for cheap wine.

6. ‘Europe makes the best wine in the world’. Europe benefits from an ancient tradition but, in the diverse world of wine today, no region can claim supremacy. We are in a golden era. Wine has never been so high in quality. And every wine-growing region of the world is making some future classic wine gems.

7. ‘You can tell a good wine by smelling the cork’. You can tell a good bottle by tasting the wine. And, yes, I know the cork-smelling ritual is traditional and fun, but there won’t be any corks around soon anyway, so let’s get over it.

8. ‘Wine critics are always objective’. Hah! Wine critics are as human as the rest of us.

9. ‘Only experts understand wine’. A particularly pernicious myth this one. No doubt promoted by a few peculiarly insecure wine experts.

10. ‘Zinfandel is a pink wine’. White Zinfandel is a pink rosé-style wine made from a red grape. True Zinfandel is red, ripe and gorgeous, unlike its sickly white cousin.

11. ‘Wine labelled ‘Reserve’ is the best’. Whilst some countries legally define ‘Reserve’ for wines that receive special treatment in the wine-making process, the term is unregulated in many other countries, and may be used indiscriminately, purely as marketing hype.

12. ‘Old wine is better than young wine’. Yes, a few special (read expensive) full-bodied red wines greatly benefit from ageing. But most wines simply fade and lose their fruit. So many of the New World wines are made ready to drink, that ageing is becoming an anachronism, similar to natural corks!

13. ‘Old wines are always valuable’. (See above.) Many old wines are worthless. This myth has legs because so many of these very old wines are never actually drunk. They are just passed between the hands of investors, who by nature, of course, are only interested in profit.

14. ‘Always decant wine’. Unless a wine is either immature or contains sediment because it’s so old, there’s rarely any need to decant. And wine can breathe just as quickly in the glass.

15. ‘Legs on the glass indicate quality’. These ‘tears’ that drip down the inside of your wine glass may reveal high alcohol content, but tell us nothing about the wine’s quality.

16. ‘Never serve red wine with fish’. Although the basic rule offers a useful guide, the many exceptions can be delicious. Pinot Noir with salmon, for example, is one of the great contemporary wine/food matches.

17. ‘Never serve red wines chilled’. Red wines served too warm will taste flabby and unfocused. In a tropical climate, such as Thailand’s, room temperature is far too warm. Red wines will need to be chilled to 18 degrees centigrade (and lighter reds benefit from chilling even more). Despite this, in my line of work, I occasionally encounter indignant resistance to the chilling of red wines. Usually from ‘old school’ European gentlemen, who cling to the belief that chilling a red wine is a Cardinal Sin! Oh, and if you like a quiet life, never get these diehard traditionalists started on their opinion of screwcaps!


Peter James


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