Wine nonsense

Why do people repeat the same nonsense over and over again? A subject like wine is susceptible to this more than any other. In these paragraphs, you will find a list of "truths" and "falses". I'll try to keep the list growing... Support is welcome!

Nr False True
1 Wine improves with ageing. 90% of all wines made are for direct consumption and will get worse after 2-3 years. And bad wines will always be bad.

Of those 10% which can last longer than 3 years, the majority will not improve. They will not turn into vinegar, but the fruit they lose compensates for what they gain in complexity.

Only a few truly great wines will really improve: Vintage Port, some Bordeaux Cru Classés, high Riesling and a few Burgundies are notorious examples.

A few wines seem to remain untouched by age: Eiswein, madera, Hungarian Tokaj.

2 Wine and cheese go together Red wine and cheese mostly form a horrible combination. Either the wine dominates (with very flavourful wine and neutral cheese), either the cheese overwhelms the wine (with cheap wines). Adding small pieces of fruit only makes things worse. You won't taste the wine (what some people would consider an advantage).

If you truly love wine, and you want to have cheese with it, stick to the "classic" combinations or experiment.

Classic combinations such as Roquefort and Sauternes, or Stilton Cheese and Vintage Port, are a wonderful marriage.

Or you can experiment: compose a cheese buffet and get some different types of wine: Full-bodied red, light red, sweet red, fruity dry white, steely dry white, botrytized sweet white, non-botrytized sweet white and rosé. Do not take very cheap wines.

Now taste each of the cheeses with the wine in your mouth. Take notes. Which combinations taste good? Which ones are awful?

3 All wine is the same. Does this hold

for cars? (Porsche is like Lada)

for operating systems? (DOS is like Win NT)

for beer? (Duvel is like Heineken)

for ... (please invent your own catagory)

If there is a type of drink where differences in style and quality (and, admittedly, price) are huge, it is wine. So never let anyone repeat that one: wine is wine.

4 The best wines are extremely expensive. In blind tastings, the most expensive wines (f.ex. Le Pin or Pétrus) turn out to be more or less as good as their peers which cost a tenth to sometimes one hundreth.

How comes certain wines are so expensive? Market hype, "hot names" is the answer. For only 15 Euro (600 BEF) you can get a wine which is on the level of top-class Bordeaux. Yet is is not Bordeaux: the Cornas of Durand (1996) has won several awards. It's a Rhone wine.

On the other hand, you'll never get top class if you don't pay for it. Do not expect to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Fiat, if you get what I mean. True quality is expensive because of low yields and light pressing.

Moral of the story: never, never pay the name. Review results of blind tastings and follow your own taste. Those are a better indication of quality than market price.

5 It's a numbered bottle so it's good wine. In some regions, there are regulations which oblige producers to number their bottles. Rioja and Chianti are two examples. But this does not mean there's good wine in this bottle!

Some producers even misuse the "numbered bottle" image to improve the prestige of their--sometimes simply bad--wine. Once more: rely on your taste, not on the label.

6 I always get a headache from drinking wine. Wine itself causes seldom headaches... unless the quantities consumed are very high. In fact, an addition causes the headache: sulphur. In most wines, it's present in very small quantities to protect the wine from infection. In cheap wines, one has to add a lot of it, because the wine is not made in a very careful way.

So: try a good bottle and you won't have headaches anymore.

7 Fruity wine is too sweet for me. There is a difference between fruit and sweetness. A sweet wine contains sugar, while a fruity wine does not necessarily so. Most cru classés of Bordeaux have a good deal of fruit (blackberries) but are completely dry: after vinification, there is only a tiny bit of sugar left. The rest is alcohol.

Also, wines can be sweet without having fruit aromas. Hungarian Tokaj, for example, is very sweet but often shows honey and dried flavours. Older Sauternes smells of honey as well.

8 Real wine lovers drink only dry wine. Many of the best wines in the world are sweet: Sauternes, Tokaj, Beerenauslese (and higher), port and some types of sherries. Often, such wines reach high prices (and prizes at worldwide contests).

But this is not to say that wine lovers drink "Liebfraumilch", the only drink in the world of which three times the annual production is drunk each year (sic).

9 I like (French, Argentinian, German, Spanish,Chardonnay, Merlot,...) wine the most. There are several arguments that undermine this statement:

1) In a blind tasting, most people including wine masters, sellers and makers, do not taste wether it's a French or, say, a Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon. So if you do not taste differences, how could you say that you like one more than the other? The same holds for wine styles or grapes.

2) In every wine region, good wines as well as garbage is produced. Even Bordeaux winemakers sometimes produce very unpleasant wines (which are mostly too expensive anyway).

3) How can you say that you love all wines of a certain region or style if you haven't tasted them all, or, let's say, half of them?

10 "Fino" is the finest sherry. Actually, "Fino" is the most normal sherry nowadays. There are several other types, each showing more or less finesse. They range from truly bone dry (Manzanilla) to utterly sweet (Pedro Ximenez). The finest sherry I ever drunk was a Dos Cortados (producer Lustau). This sherry has great complexity, deepening taste and large aftertaste. I don't know of anything finer, but I'll not claim this is the best for I did not drink all top sherries.

11 Pouilly Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé... These two french wine regions are quite often mentioned next to each other. Yet there is almost no point of comparison (but the fact that both are French regions producing white wine).

Pouilly-Fuissé is a white Burgundy, so the grape variety is Chardonnay. Pouilly Fumé is a Sauvignon Blanc wine from the village of Pouilly-sur-Loire. The main characteristique is that it is dry and fresh with a kind of "smoky" quality.

This is actually the best way of separating the real wine amateur from the unknowing wine snob. Act if you were very interested to know from an expert "which wine should I choose, Pouilly Fumé or Pouilly-Fuissé?". If he doesn't tell you that these are two totally different wines from different regions, he is not a very reliable source with respect to wine.

Tip: the left pane works like windows explorer!
Please send your comments to Peter Doomen.
This document was updated 27/05/00.