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Category Archives: Wine advice

Four wine myths that confuse consumers

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four wine mythsThe genesis for this post came from the Lifehacker website, which occasionally does wine items that make me want to throw something at the computer screen. The various authors mean well, but usually just recycle urban legends and wine myths that have little to do with wine in the 21st century.

The most recent was an item that claimed you could determine wine quality from the quality of the label. Just rub it, and if the label has raised lettering or if it feels like more expensive paper, then the wine is safe to buy. Otherwise, the wine is more than likely swill. There is some truth to this, in that producers sometimes put more expensive labels on cheap wine to entice the consumer. I have a label here, from a $10 wine from a multi-million case producer, that has raised lettering. The wine? No better or no worse than most $10 grocery store wine.

But to say that label quality has anything to do with wine quality is foolish (and Lifehacker was called on it by more than one commentator, including me). What determines wine quality? What’s in the bottle — and not what’s on the bottle, how the bottle is made or how it’s closed, or even if it is a bottle. The key to quality is finding producers who understand that and who spend their money on the wine and not marketing the wine. And you can’t find those producers by rubbing labels; you have to drink wine.

Keeping that in mind, here are three more myths about wine quality that come up all too often:

• Screwcaps: I still hear, almost 20 years after screwcaps became common, that they’re a sign of inferior wine. If that’s true, then I guess the only good wine in the world still comes from France. Because the screwcap myth is that outdated.

• Punt: That’s the hollow space on the bottom of the wine bottle, and it’s supposed to be a sign of wine quality. Two-buck Chuck (and most $3 wine, in fact) doesn’t have a punt. But most producers still use punts not because it makes their wine better, but because it’s easier — given how the bottle manufacturing process works — than switching to punt-less bottles.

• Legs: Those are the lines that form on the side of the glass, and are caused by the alcohol and sugar content of the wine. More alcohol means more legs, but doesn’t mean better wine. This myth probably dates to the mid-20th century (or even earlier), when most great wine did come from France. In those days, the exceptional vintages, which were usually warmer, yielded riper grapes that produced higher alcohol wines. Hence, equating legs with better wine.

For more on wine myths:
Five wine facts that aren’t necessarily wine facts
Can cheap wine do this?
Cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply

The difference between cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply

wineadvice
cheap wine

Quality? Who cares about quality?

It’s not enough to advocate cheap wine; consumers need to know how to tell the difference between cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply. The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this yet again when I struggled through the 2014 five-day, $3 wine challenge, where the producers cared more about price than they did about quality.

The knock against cheap wine used to be that it couldn’t be made well. That hasn’t been true for at least two decades, but the argument has remained the same. Much of the blame for this rests with producers, who have been content to use improvements in winemaking and grape growing to make palatable wine, but not much more.

Call it, as one retailer told me, the wine equivalent of fast food. It fills the hole, and that’s all the consumer thinks it’s supposed to do. Ironically, this means value isn’t as important as it should be. Two Jack in the Box tacos for 99 cents are both cheap and a value, but why would you eat them unless it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve been drinking all night?

Wine should be more than that. Otherwise, we might as well drink light beer — same buzz, fewer calories, and just as cheap. Hence, how to tell the difference between cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply:

• Is the wine varietally correct? Does the cabernet sauvignon taste like cabernet sauvignon, the merlot like merlot, and so forth? Or have all the varietal differences been taken out, in favor of making a smooth wine?

• Is it interesting? Most boring cheap wine tastes the same. The reds have lots of sweet fruit, some fake oak, and a minimum of tannins and acidity — another way to get to smooth. Chardonnay made this way tastes of vanilla and apple sauce, riesling is sweet and nothing more, and pinot grigio has a dollop of sweet white fruit and a vaguely turpentine flavor. An interesting wine is the opposite: You’re eager for the second sip, and you taste things that you make you smile.

• Does the label seem like it got more attention from the producer than the wine? After you’ve tasted the wine, does the it taste as cute or clever or hip as the label implied it would taste? Or is it just ordinary grocery store merlot?

• Do you want to buy it again? Not, “I’ll buy it again because it’s cheap and tasted OK,” but “Wow, that was really good. I want to share this with all my friends.” This is not an easy concept for most wine drinkers, who are so happy to find a wine that doesn’t offend them that they convince themselves that the wine is better than it is.

• Did the winemaker make an effort, or just go through the motions? And no, you don’t have to be a wine geek to figure this out. Crappy writing is crappy writing, and you don’t need a PhD in English to see the difference. Shoddy clothing is shoddy clothing, and you don’t need Vera Wang to tell you why. All you need to do is pay attention to what you’re drinking, something else we’re afraid to do because it’s wine, and we’ve been told we don’t know enough to have an opinion.

More about cheap wine:
Can cheap wine do this?
Cheap wine can be intimidating
When cheap wine tastes cheap

Image courtesy of The Wandering Palate, using a Creative Commons license

Second annual five-day $3 wine challenge: The results

$3 wine challenge
$3 wine

“The horror, the horror. …”

In one respect, this year’s five-day, $3 wine challenge was no different than last year’s: I made it through unscathed. But the results were also depressing in a way they weren’t last year.

I wanted to find a wine among the six — five $3 merlots and a $4 red blend — that I could enjoy without reservation and use as another example in my campaign to help wine drinkers understand that price is not the most important thing about wine quality. One was OK, one was undrinkable, and the rest were as brainless as bottled ice tea. With so much quality cheap wine in the world, and sometimes for just a dollar or two more, why do so many people buy these, often making a special trip to do so?

When that analysis comes from someone who has spent 20 years trying to say nice things about cheap wine, it means there’s very little reason to drink them. The sad details are after the jump:

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