Wine rant

Wine Talk: Misconceptions abound when it comes to wine. Here’s to dispelling some of those myths.

Time after time I hear preconceived ideas or myths about wine that I would dearly like to shatter. I have written a few statements below that reflect commonly held opinions, and then took great pleasure in writing what I think!
“Red wines are for those that understand.”
NO! The people who say, “I only drink red wines” are, more often than not, trying to explain how much of a wine maven they are. This to me is like a music lover who listens to one type of music and a gourmet who eats only one style of cuisine. How someone who really appreciates wine can drink only red wines is something I cannot fathom.
Fortunately, more and more people are realizing that there is far more variety in white wines than red. White wines are often better food wines than red. Also they are usually better value. And if none of the above, they are certainly far more suitable for our climate than reds. I have news for you: White wines are coming back in!
“A heavy bottle means quality.”
NO! It is a fact that many wineries invest in large, heavy bottles rather like a port bottle, an old beer bottle or worse, to try to give a feeling of quality. They do it because many customers are lulled into thinking that a wine is better if it comes in an impressively heavy bottle.
However, think of the poor sommeliers. How can they pour such heavy monstrosities? Think of the carbon footprint. Also think of the storage problems, as these overly muscled bottles don’t fit in standard wine racks or regular wine fridges.
I think of these heavy bottles like an old tart covered in makeup. What are the wineries trying to hide? Don’t be seduced into assuming that heavy means quality. It doesn’t.
“Red wines should be served at room temperature.”
NO! It is true that we have all been bought up to understand that red wines should be served at room temperature. However, the average room temperature has increased with the years, as have the alcohol levels of the wines.
I therefore firmly recommend putting your red wines, even the best reds, into the fridge for 20 minutes before you open them. This will result in the reds being only slightly chilled, and the wine will stay more together as it warms up in the glass.
Certainly in Israel, which is a hot country, and with high alcohol wines we have here, a slight cooling makes perfect sense. Also don’t be afraid to ask for an ice bucket for your reds in a restaurant.
“Follow the wine scores and wine critics.”
NO! This fad of scoring wines out of 100 was imported from America. I personally don’t like scores. I don’t score restaurants that I visit, music at concerts I listen to nor paintings at art galleries I visit. So why do we do it with wine? Also a score is such a definitive statement. When I open a red wine, it reveals itself slowly. Does one judge the wine at the first taste or after half an hour, two hours or even the next day, when the wine will either have deteriorated or may possibly be even better? No need to simplify something as complex as taste or that changes like wine.
Furthermore, I am not convinced that the wine critic, presumably a great expert, is the best person to taste for the regular consumer. I suggest you follow your nose. Know what you like and buy what you want. Just always be prepared to try new things all the time.
“Each wine must be served at exactly the right temperature.”
NO! I don’t buy the way the wine books deliver the message. The experts may write something like this: “Quality Chardonnays should be served at 12° , dry white wines at 8°, sparkling wines should be served at 6°, dessert wines at 4°....” and so on.
The problem is that I have never seen anyone with a thermometer checking these temperatures to ensure, for instance, that the difference between 6° and 8° is kept. So the advice is pretentious and impractical.
My advice is to simply put your hand on a bottle. You will instinctively know if it is very cold, cold, chilled or at room temperature.
So the more practical service guide should be:
Very cold – sparkling wines, dessert wines, simple white and rosé wines Cold – quality white wines Chilled – light red wines Room temperature – reds (though, as already stated, I like reds lightly chilled)
“A quality wine is a full-bodied one.”
NO! Unfortunately, it has become a common misconception in Israel that a wine has to be big to be serious. That means high alcohol, heavily oaked (i.e., with a long time aged in oak barrels) and a rich concentration of fruit. If it is elegant, delicate, almost feminine, then it must be too light to be good.
A high alcohol wine might stand out at a tasting. It might do well in a competition. The first nosing (sniffing), or even the first taste, may be impressive. The wine will certainly stand out in a crowd. The first reaction will be “Wow!” The problem is that big bombastic wines, which equate to wines on steroids, are usually disastrous food wines. At a meal, a nose or a taste is one thing, but could you bear more than a glass or even more than a sip? Remember, wine is designed to drink at a meal with friends. It is not there for blind tastings by experts.
A good wine should be elegant with good acidity, which stimulates the palate, complements the food and refreshes your thirst.
The mark of a good wine is the empty glass that you have drunk, while not realizing it.
“Good wines only come with a cork.”
NO! Not anymore. Don’t shy away from any bottle with a screw cap. Screw caps are okay, and they are here to stay.
Admittedly, they may be more common in wines from Australia or New Zealand or in supermarket chains that have been leading the drive, such as Tesco. However, here we are in the 21st century, still using a bit of tree bark to close our bottles. A screw cap is sensible, it works, and you don’t have to find the wretched bottle opener or know how to use it! It is true that the finest red wines will continue to use natural cork, but the screw cap is now acceptable and not just for aromatic whites, which is how it was introduced.
“Wine must be over a certain price to be good.”
NO! No one has ever come up to me and said, “What a great Selected Merlot I had last Shabbat.” Yet Selected is the largest- selling brand in Israel. So many, many people must be drinking it. However, I have learnt that there are wines that people taste and talk about, and others that people drink. The difference is semantics and yet also fundamental.
Most wine writers write about the “better” wines. Most tastings are of the better wines.
However, are these the wines people drink? I once saw the following statistics: Seventy- seven percent of all wine sales in the world are under NIS 20 a bottle (retail price).
Ninety-five percent of all wine sales are under NIS 40 a bottle! All the talk, all the articles, all the scores and all the medals are for the remaining 5%. Hard to believe! I have tasted wines for NIS 20 that are outstanding for wines of that price. The situation is not like 25 years ago when you could go into a supermarket a buy something cheap and it tasted like paint stripper.
Remember, wine is just a drink that is the midway point between grape juice and vinegar. It does not have to be in the front; you don’t have to analyze it. You don’t even have to talk about it. So have the confidence to buy what you like. And I will tell you a secret: Most people are also drinking wines that cost less than NIS 40, whatever the impression they try to convey! Here endeth the lesson.
Adam Montefiore works for Carmel Winery and regularly writes about wine in Israeli and international [email protected]