Wine is awesome, but part of what makes it so awesome — its combination of hedonism, agriculture, people, amazing geography and history — means that it’s anything but a simple topic.
Wine myths and lies abound to trap the intrepid journeyman like a vinous Scylla and Charybdis that threaten to wreck your fun as you try to navigate to the most pleasurable spots on your personal wine jaunt. We’re here to help; below are five of the biggest wine lies and misconceptions, with expert insights into how you can avoid them and keep the wine pleasure rolling.Lie #1: Price = Awesomeness
One of the biggest lies perpetuated in the wine world is that you get what you pay for. This is half-truth, because while a wine’s price often correlates to overall quality, the numbers after the dollar sign have a hell of a lot more to do with what the market will bear than with whether or not you’ll actually like drinking it.
To elucidate this, I called on my buddy Mark Oldman, a man who’s made his living busting wine myths and whose most recent book, Brave New World of Wine: Pleasure, Value, and Adventure Beyond Wine’s Usual Suspects has garnered critical acclaim, taking home the 2011 Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year Award.
“One of the central misconceptions of wine is that more dollars bring more deliciousness,” Oldman told me. “While price does often signal an approximation of a wine's quality, it can also reflect a winery's marketing costs and other non-taste-related factors, such as the winery's interest in increasing their profit margins.”
Beat this lie by getting over the feeling that you’re a cheapskate if you pick up bargain wine picks that you and your friends like to drink. As I often tell people who sheepishly admit to me that they love a $10 wine: if you find a cheap wine that you love, guess what — you win, because you just successfully beat the system!Lie #2: Sparkling Wine Is for Special Occasions (or Sissies)
I’ve got to hand it to Champagne: they’ve marketed themselves as the world’s most special special-occasion beverage, particularly for women. But the downside to this is that drinking sparkling wine when the special occasion is, say, the fact that you successfully survived a Tuesday somehow feels like cheating and/or detracting from your manliness. Maybe it’s the silly-looking flute-style glasses, which in fact you don’t need (more on that in a minute).
Don’t fall for it, people. Sparkling wine can turn anything, even a post-bar-hopping late-night hookup, into a special occasion (tip: always, always, always have an inexpensive bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge for late-night emergencies!). And no lady in her right mind will walk away unimpressed that you knew your bubbly.
“A misconception is that Champagne is meant only for the ladies; this couldn't be further from the truth, as most wine pros of both genders consider Champagne and other sparkling wines one of the most versatile, festive and relatively affordable wine types there is,” notes Oldman. “And even if Champagne were prized more by women, don't you want to be drinking what they like to drink?!?”
As for the ooh-la-la flute glasses, Oldman insists you don’t need those, so ditch ’em if they make you feel wussy: “There's no need to use a flute-style Champagne glass with your bubbly. While a regular large-bowl wineglass doesn't retain and display the bubbles as well as a flute, you won't notice that if you are drinking with requisite gusto!”Lie #3: If It’s for the Ladies, It’s Gotta Be Light, Pink or Sweet
Buxom, beautiful and talented Leslie Sbrocco, founder of ThirstyGirl.com, is an Emmy award-winning television host, author and speaker; more importantly for us, she’s an expert on the subject of women and wine. So I asked her to give us the ladies’ perspective on the biggest wine lies. The biggest for Sbrocco? That you shouldn’t order red wine for that cute girl at the bar; by most counts, women’s wine tastes are a lot more complex than just popping the cork on a sticky-sweet Moscato.
“As I was researching my first book, Wine For Women, and then subsequently writing about it…I don’t know how many times since…I can tell you that women drink more red wine than they drink white wine and pink wine,” Sbrocco told me. “More women are drinking Port! And I know just as many guys who drink Riesling as they do big tannic Cabernet.”
And while we’re on the subject of wine and women, you should know that it might behoove you to let the girls be girls when it comes to vino, because (as they are with most things), the ladies are firmly in the driver’s seat on this one.
“Women buy the most wine and we drink the most wine,” Sbrocco affirms. “Estimates are anywhere from 55 to 75 percent in terms of not only the women doing the actual wine purchasing, but on the influence they have on what their men purchase. It doesn’t have to be sweet and pink or white, just make it good!”
Read more of the top wine lies you may be falling for...Lie #4: Screw Caps Are for Cheap-Ass Wine
For some reason, this lie simply refuses to die, like the perpetual rumor that there will be another Duke Nukem video game sequel. There’s no doubting that cork still has the panache, but screw caps have come a long way since the bulk wine days. Screw cap closures are here to stay, and they are not a signal that the wine is plonk. Need proof? One of the world’s most sought after — and expensive — wines, Henschke’s Hill of Grace, is topped off with a screw cap.
“Not that I’m anti-cork; I just think there are so many terrific wines under screw cap, and the technology is so improved, you’re only going to see more wines using it,” notes Sbrocco. “As one winemaker said to me about screw caps, ‘it’s wine as I intended it to taste.’ Don’t worry about the container, worry about the juice inside.”
If your girl gives you the evil eye over your choice of screw-capped libation, you can counter her concerns with the story of how Sbrocco stymied TV star Al Roker when he questioned one of her romantic wine choices that involved the Stelvin:
“A couple of years ago I was doing an aphrodisiac food and wine segment on The Today Show, and when I get to oysters I had a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. When I cracked the screw cap on it, Al Roker asked me, ‘But Leslie, what if your lover thinks it’s cheap?’ So I told him ‘Al, tell your lover it’s hip to be screwed!’ They told me I was the only person to ever leave Al Roker speechless…” Lie #5: Wine Critics Offer the Best Wine Picks
Finally, the greatest irony in the wine world is the idea that wine critics will help you pick out the best stuff. It’s ironic because it’s true, but only after you actually know what wines you already like.
Why? Because critics have their personal preferences just like anybody else, and wine tasting is never totally objective. So it doesn’t matter if I call a wine “sexy” and give it an A rating, or the bottle sports a shiny gold medal around its neck on the store shelf, or even if a big glossy wine mag bestows a recent release with 99 out of 100 points — none of those recommendations mean a hill of beans if you don’t already have a good idea what you like and what you don’t. Otherwise, you might be spending a good chunk of change on a wine that you and your date think tastes like a fig-and-prune reduction sauce simmered over a tire fire.
So how do you know who to trust? First, trust yourself — get to know what you like, and then follow the critics whose taste preferences most closely match your own (that is, if they give high ratings to those or similar wines). The critics who pass that muster will then be guides to clue you in to more wines that you and your best girl will actually enjoy drinking (instead of feeling like your palate got prison-raped at the store counter, only with less dignity).
**About the Author:* *
Joe Roberts is a certified wine geek, and has been called "an original" by media maven Gary Vaynerchuk, "provocative" by the Seattle Times, and "a Robin Hood in the exclusive world of vineyards and corkings" by The Urban Grocer. His wine knowledge has been tapped by the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, Mutineer Magazine, Publix, Palate Press, Mint.com, and Wines.com. You can find Joe regularly roasting wine's sacred cow (and pairing them with robust, obscure red) at the award-winning 1WineDude.com.
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