When it comes to wine tasting, certain ‘rules’ exist that are not particularly helpful and can be downright confusing. We get to the bottom of five of these myths to help demystify the quest for the ideal wine experience.
The older the wine, the better.
There are many different methods of winemaking, some of which produce wines that are designed for aging, while others are meant to be consumed immediately. The latter do not have the flavour complexity and tannic structures that allow for long-term aging, and are often thought inferior. Usually these are table wines, but they can also be varietals of a specific style that is enjoyed for its freshness. Beaujolais nouveau, a light, floral French red made with gamay grapes, and Vinho Verde, a grassy, fresh Portuguese white named for its crisp “green” tint, are perfect examples.
Even bottles that are made for aging have a life cycle that causes them to peak and decline until they are no longer suitable to drink. Therefore, older is not always better.
Good wines should have great ‘legs’.
The ‘legs’ (or ‘tears’) left on the sides of a wine glass after swirling do not actually provide much information about quality. They do tell us, however, how viscous the wine is, which may be the origin of this myth, but as body does not always correlate with excellence, legs are not necessarily an indication of a good pour.
Bonus fact: defined tears on a glass can also indicate high sugar or alcohol content.
Sediment is good / bad.
There is a lot of speculation surrounding sediment in wines and its indication of quality, especially in aged bottles. Some say that a good aged red must have sediment, while others are put off by the odd bits floating in their glass. However, sediment is simply the solid particles of grape or protein and mineral residue that have bound together over the process of winemaking or aging. In the case of unfiltered wines, these particles were simply never removed. While an unfiltered wine, or one with lots of sediment, tends to indicate more tannin and bigger body in the original bottle, it is not sure-fire evidence of quality or fault.
The cork is a good indicator of a wine’s aroma.
There is a myth amongst novice wine drinkers that you should smell the cork after opening a bottle (to be fair, they probably saw a sommelier doing this first). Some assume that this is to see how aromatic the wine is, and therefore whether it is of good quality, but this is inaccurate. Sommeliers usually check the cork to see if it is hard and dry, crumbly or completely soaked in wine. A dry, hard cork fails to do its job of limiting oxygen from entering the bottle, while a crumbly cork may mean that it has rotted. A cork which has soaked all the way through can also mean that excess oxygen has come into contact with the wine. All of these situations imply a tainted wine, which can be further confirmed by smelling the cork for “wetness” or rot.
Everyone enjoys a quality, expensive wine.
While wine prices are predominantly based on quality, commercial factors play a part as well, such as production quantity, brand, origin and consumer trends. Grower champagnes, for example, are often priced lower than their mega-brand counterparts even though they are of higher quality, simply because they are less recognised.
The belief that pricier equals better completely negates personal taste. Even when a wine is unanimously graded top-quality by seasoned critics, an average consumer may still not find value in the bottle if they do not enjoy or understand that style of wine. An exceptional Californian chardonnay, for example, may be wasted on someone who prefers a fine French Chablis.