10. White wine should be served cold and red wine should be served warm.
The biggest mistake when serving wine is serving white wine too cold and red wine too warm. White wine is meant to be served chilled, not ice-cold. Let me qualify that: well-made white wine is meant to be served chilled, not ice-cold. Too cold and all the flavours and aromas will be muted. A well-made white wine is actually more expressive and tasty when it is only slightly chilled. In fact, a great white wine will taste good at room temperature. Now, if you have a poorly made white wine, chill the hell out of it and you won’t be able to taste anything. But then, we shouldn’t be drinking cheap wine, should we?
You often hear that red wine should be served at room temperature, but the appropriate room temperature is in a castle in England with no central heating. When served too warm, the alcohol in red wine dominates the fruit and other aspects of the wine. The best temp is at around 18˚C. If the wine is too warm, don’t be afraid to put it in the fridge or in an ice bucket for a few minutes.
9. Zinfandel is a pink wine.
Zinfandel is a red grape! Zinfandel is jammy, peppery, fruit-driven with blackberries, cherries and spice. It can often sell for $30, $40, $50 or more. White Zinfandel, on the other hand, is a pink wine made from Zinfandel grapes that are not of the same quality as the ones used to make proper Zinfandel. Light strawberry flavour and residual sugar are typical. Chances are you won’t find a White Zinfandel for more than $14 a bottle.
8. The notion of special-occasion wines.
It seems everyone has that special bottle they’re saving for a special occasion. But I’ve also heard many stories of people finally opening up that sacred bottle and realizing that it should have been consumed several years before. Too often there is a hesitation to open up a rare or expensive bottle because of the fear that the occasion is not special enough. Opening up the bottle will make it an occasion. Barolo with burgers or Bordeaux with beef stew has its charms. What are you waiting for? Grab the corkscrew.
7. All wines are better when aged.
Actually, over 90 per cent of wine produced is meant to be consumed within a couple of years of the time of release. Only a small percentage of wines are built with the tannin structure and/or balance between fruit and acidity to allow them to age beyond a few years. In our consumption-based society, most wines are suitable for “trunk aging” (from the wine store to your home, via the trunk of your car). In fact, most wine is consumed within twenty-four hours of purchase. Producers know this and create wines to serve this purpose. Some wines are better with age, but consult with your local wine merchant before loading up your cellar with “keepers” as opposed to “drinkers.”
6. Smelling the cork can tell you something about the quality of the wine.
The cork smells like a cork. Even if it smells musty or has mould on it, that is not an indication of the quality of the wine or that the wine is flawed. The only way to determine if a wine is corked or otherwise flawed is to smell the wine. Traditionally, the cork was presented so that you could match the vintage date and producer name printed on the cork with the information on the label. If it is different, the bottle may have been tampered with.
5. Champagne and chocolate are a great match.
Champagne and strawberries maybe, but Champagne and chocolate — absolutely not! Unless the Champagne is dessert-sweet, chocolate will totally clash with it. The wine needs to be at least as sweet as the chocolate. Chocolate can vary in sweetness depending upon its cocoa content. Good dark chocolate tends to be more bittersweet. Much better matches for chocolate (depending on the type of chocolate) are Moscato d’Asti, Vin Santo, Recioto and Port. (See the Feb/March 2006 issue of Tidings, page 34, “ Wine & Chocolate.”)
4. “Legs” indicate a good quality wine.
How many times have you seen someone swirl a glass of wine, hold it up, watch the streams of viscous fluid run down the inside of the glass and say, “Wow, fantastic wine. Great legs.” Legs do not tell you anything about the quality of a wine. They are simply a result of the evaporation of alcohol. Frederic Koeppel of The Commercial Appeal describes legs as follows: “The contention between the surface tension of the wine and the interfacial tension that acts between the wine and the inner surface of the glass draws the liquid up the inside of the glass to the point where, exposed to air, the alcohol evaporates, the surface tension of the remaining water intensifies, and the water forms a drop that clings to the glass and slowly slides back down.” Clear now?
3. Opening a bottle, by simply removing the cork, to allow a wine to “breathe” will improve the wine.
Simply removing the cork will not allow a wine to “breathe.” There is not enough exposure to air and unless you plan on leaving the bottle open for several days, there will be little effect. The main reason you want a wine to “breathe” is that exposure to air releases the wine’s aromas and flavours, but predominantly, the oxygenation softens the tannins of red wines, essentially prematurely aging that wine so that it can be consumed and enjoyed sooner. Decanting the wine and/or using an aerating funnel are the best ways to achieve this desired effect. How long you decant the wine for depends on the wine and at what stage in its life it is, as well as the personal taste of the drinker.
2. Pink wine is for girls.
A good quality rosé combines the freshness of a white wine and the structure of a red. In Europe, pink wine is used as a warm weather substitute for red. Perhaps all the candied California White Zin has given pink a bad name, but pink can be tasty, versatile and pretty much a default food wine. Taste a well-made pink wine blind, and I mean completely blind so that you can’t see its colour, and chances are your taste buds will think you are drinking a red. Real men, and women, do drink pink and are better off for it.
1. Popularity equals quality.
Just because a winery has a big advertising budget doesn’t necessarily mean that they make good wine. Flashy magazine ads, TV commercials, radio spots, etc., can all create an image that causes a wine to become very “in,” very popular, very “the thing to drink and be seen drinking.” But wine should be made by winemakers not marketing departments. Don’t be seduced by creative packaging, flashy ads or what everyone else is drinking. They bear no correlation to the quality of what’s in the bottle. Don’t blame the wine just because you haven’t heard of it or can’t pronounce its name. Judge it by what counts the most — taste. And don’t be afraid to be a leader as opposed to a follower. Introduce your friends to something great that they’ve never had before. It’s much more interesting than always drinking the wine equivalent of a Big Mac.