It Ain't Necessarily So

Here are some truths about wine that aren’t necessarily always true.

Expensive wines are better! A wine may be expensive because it’s better, but it won’t be better just because its expensive. The price of a bottle of wine is determined pretty much the same way as other things in our economy; supply, demand and reputation. If a wine is good and in short supply, it will be expensive. If a wine is good but there’s plenty of it around, it will be less expensive. This may also be true if a wine has a reputation for being good, even if this year’s vintage isn’t so good. In any given year a vintner might produce an exceptional wine. If it’s the first of such years, the wine may be inexpensive. If the vintner is able to reproduce this quality year after year, the wine will become more expensive.

A wine with legs is better! Legs, also called tears, are the droplets that form inside your glass after you have swirled the wine. These droplets have everything to do with the alcohol content of the wine, the higher the alcohol the more pronounced the legs, and nothing to do with the quality.

Aged wines are better! Most wines do not improve with any significant age. In fact, most wines older than 10 years will have begun to deteriorate. Most wines are made to be consumed within 10 years. Some wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, that are high in tannin can be made to be aged over extremely long periods of time, but these are the exception and not the rule.

Wines with corks are better! There was a time when only cheap wines had screw caps, but that time has long since past. Today screw caps are a recognized alternative to corks throughout the wine industry. This is primarily because screw caps do not promote something called cork taint, don’t crumble with age and don’t leak air, all things that can ruin a bottle of wine.

Wine with lots of points is better! There are plenty of people out there, like Wine Spectator, who rate wines and give them point scores. It’s useful to treat wine ratings like you treat movie reviews. When a movie gets two ‘thumbs up’ do you always rush to see it? If you are a movie buff, then it probably depends on who gave it the thumbs up. There is no absolute criteria for what constitutes a good movie any more than there are absolute criteria for what constitute good wine. After you’ve followed a movie reviewer for awhile you learn if they like what you like. Same with wine reviews. If you’re going to pay attention to the wine scores, you’re going to need to get some experience with the reviewer.

Reserve wines are better! What does Reserve on the label mean? There are no regulations (in the U.S.) governing the use of Reserve so it can mean anything the vintner wants it to mean. It has traditionally meant that the wine was special in some way; small production overseen by the winemaker, special vineyard, special grapes, etc. But as its use is unregulated, you can’t depend on that being the case.

Cellar Notes

I had dinner the other night at Reef with Adam Richardson, wine maker and international wine director for Underdog Wine Merchants. Among the many labels he is responsible for, Adam founded the Cupcake label in 2008. We tasted our way through all seven of the wines in the Cupcake portfolio including an excellent Sauvignon Blanc, creamy Chardonnay, refreshing semi-dry Riesling, soft and drinkable Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, velvety Mendoza Malbec and a rich Petite Sarah. The suggested retail on these wines is $13.99, so you should find them for less. Most are available at HEB and Kroger.