The wine world is full of people who know exactly what they’re talking about, even when they don’t. My pal John Bratcher loves to tell the story about the guy at a wine tasting who said in no uncertain terms that blended wines were inferior to varietal wines (those made with just one grape, like chardonnay or merlot, instead of more than one). John then mentioned that all of the great French red wines were blends; how did that fit into the man’s world view?
So the next time you’re buying wine, don’t be afraid to be skeptical. Taste is in the palate of the beholder, but there are objective truths about wine and the wine business. After the jump, five of the most annoying facts that really aren’t:
• “If it says reserve on the label, it’s a special wine." This is almost always not true. Save for Spain and Italy, most wine producing countries don’t regulate terms like reserve, and producers can do pretty much what they want. Why else would an $8 bottle of wine have a label that says special vintner’s reserve if not to convince you it’s better than an $8 bottle of wine?
• “Red wine is good for your health.” How can the Wine Curmudgeon argue with accepted scientific fact? Because it’s not necessarily accepted. Yes, drinking red wine (or even white) in moderation may be beneficial. The key word, of course, being moderation. But the rest of the claims and the counterclaims, which appear in a seemingly endless parade of studies, should be taken for what they are – research projects.
• “Wine tastes like chocolate.” Want to score points with women of a certain demographic? Then use this pickup line (which, actually, is much of the marketing genius behind the Cupcake brand). Wine does not taste like chocolate. It’s not fatty, for one thing. It has a lot more acid. Some red wines may have flavors that resemble those of chocolate, but that’s about as close as it gets. So when you see a label (from Cupcake, of course) that says, “It’s reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake with a mocha coulis,” it probably isn’t.
• “A handcrafted wine.” The trend toward embracing local, in wine and elsewhere, has seen companies of all sizes try to position themselves as small and fuzzy and friendly. In wine, this shows up in the term handcrafted, which makes it seem as if the winemaker spent the entire winemaking process sitting up every night with the grapes. In fact, the term has no real meaning, since no one has yet figured out a way to machine-craft wines. The only way to make wine is to taste it by hand, and this is just as true for big companies as small ones.
• “Box wines aren’t any good.” Regular visitors know how much the Wine Curmudgeon loves absolutes, and I hear this one all of the time. Older wine drinkers can’t believe anyone would drink wine that doesn’t come from a bottle, but box wines are more popular than ever before (one study says they’ve grown to be as much as 40 percent of the wine market). And, yes, some of them are well worth drinking. And some aren’t. Which makes box wines just like the rest of the wine business.