Spitting out a mouthful of misconceptions
by Thor Iverson
Where do you get your wine information? Whether it's from
there's a glut of authoritative pronouncements
on wine out there. The problem is, some of them are wrong. The culprit may be
bad research, word-of-mouth canards, or the commercial self-interest of the source.
But either way, wine lovers are the recipients of a lot of BS.
for a rundown of wine tastings, dinners, and events.
Wine myths are dangerous, because as long as people remain insensibly scared
of being "wrong," bad information with the air of authority can close our minds
to the unfamiliar or unexpected in a glass of wine.
Let's start with a biggie: great wine is dry.
As I've mentioned before,
America's post-Prohibition experience with nasty, sugary wine-like concoctions
has caused many wine lovers to swing 180 degrees in the other direction.
But the problem was never sweetness,
it was just that the wines themselves were
terrible. Anyone who's ever tasted supremely elegant, seductive demi-sec
(off-dry) Vouvray or majestic, steely German riesling at the
spätlese or auslese levels knows that there's nothing
second-rate about these wines. And other than
Port and the occasional
Sauternes, the great
of the world (Coteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux,
Tokaji, Moscatel de Setúbal, and many others) are treated as oddities
simply because they're sweet.
If the taste alone doesn't convince you, then consider this:
off-dry wines are
fantastic with food, whether spicy, sweet, or bone-dry. And sweet wines have
their food uses, too. Port,
after all, was once the wine to serve with steak;
"cab and cow" is a relatively modern phenomenon. Try just about any sweet white
wine with cheese (especially salty blue cheese) and you'll see what I mean.
A related misconception: all German wines are sweet. Even if it were
true (it's not: trocken wines are bone-dry, though I have yet to find
one to my taste), it misses the point of German wine, which is the
between sweetness, ripeness, and
Newcomers to German wine will usually
go for bargains
at the kabinett (least-ripe) level, and those are indeed
wines that come off as lightly sweet. But tasting a much riper auslese
wine is a whole different ball game. The
acidity does battle with
to give an overall impression of dryness. Most California
merlots, and chardonnays actually taste "sweeter" than a good auslese.
Furthermore, the better ripeness in auslese wines makes them more
flavorful than inexpensive German kabinetts.
Don't let anyone tell you that all great wine improves with
either. Some does,
and those who have a taste for
aged wine can really
rhapsodize about the stuff. But some wines are at their best young.
for example, rarely ages well . . . and even when it does, many
people prefer its youthful exuberance. Yet no one could ever argue that
zinfandel doesn't make great wines. Ditto
Condrieu and other wines made from
the wonderful sweet and
Moscato d'Asti from Italy, and refreshing
Two more myths -- bigger is better and the more expensive, the
better -- are at least partly the fault of
wine writers. "Big" wines --
those with lots of fruit,
tannin, and alcohol -- stand out in the
most often encounter new wines, and so we
often write about them to the exclusion of
more elegant and subtle wines. And
although the idea of a direct relationship between
price and quality is not
unique to wine, the spiraling prices
for wines that are deemed high-quality by
a particular journal or critic
certainly contribute to the perception.
In any case, the key for any wine lover is to recognize the essential
difference between "the best wine" and
"the best wine right now."
best wine for a given situation will be a simple, inexpensive, yet delicious
wine that harbors no pretensions of greatness . . . or a
food-friendly wine that doesn't stand out or hog the spotlight. The moment wine
lovers stop chasing trophies and start focusing on the pleasure to be found in
a bottle, we'll all be drinking better wine.
Speaking of wines that bring pleasure:
1995 Gallo of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County ($9). Yes, that's
right, Gallo. In the unlikely event that you've missed the blitzkrieg of print
and TV ads, this is the new entry-level wine from Gallo's higher-quality Sonoma
operation. (Its huge Modesto facility still makes jug wine, and both facilities
churn out many mediocre "stealth" Gallo-produced wines, like Turning Leaf and
Gossamer Bay.) This is
inky, dense, and fantastically structured, with
There's huge fruit, but the balance
is exquisite. I'll be blunt: I've never
tasted a higher-quality California cabernet at
anywhere near this price. Drink
it now, let it age,
whatever . . . it's an incredible value. (Note:
this wine's label is white with a drawing of a barrel. Don't confuse it with
Gallo Sonoma, which carries a gold label and is of much lesser quality.)
1998 Michele Chiarlo Moscato d'Asti "Nivole" ($10). Delicate spritz, and
exuberantly floral and tropical, with some orange blossom and mint. There's a
brilliant balance between
fruit, and there's even a
touch of light tannin
on the finish. Serve it chilled
just about anytime of the
day or night . . . maybe even with a breakfast of fresh fruit.
1997 Wiengut Bollig-Lehnert Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling
Spätlese ($19). Moderately sweet,
but the strikingly high acidity
makes this anything but sugary. Nectarine, pine, and red apple dominate the
flavor, but this has a long petrol and
mineral future ahead of it. Give it 5 to
10 years in the cellar, and then serve it with sausages and sauerkraut.
1995 Clos Baudoin Vouvray ($19). Deceptively soft, with honeyed peach,
sweet lemon, and chrysanthemums. Then the
mineral backbone sharpens and defines
everything, structuring the flavor into citrusy richness. A truly gorgeous
off-dry wine, to be served with fish or white meat in cream sauce.
Thor Iverson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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