Wine scares people off. It can make people feel stupid, or at least very self-conscious. And the perceived lack of wine knowledge is a prime cause of people avoiding something they enjoy when in public. I hate how many in the wine world reinforce the sense that wine appreciation is something for the chosen few. Wine is supposed to be fun. So, in that spirit let me dismiss a number of “rules” that make people feel self-conscious and shouldn’t. Many a movie and TV program poke fun at the ritual of ordering wine at a restaurant (though none as well as Steve Martin’s “The Jerk”) and reinforce the myth that wine is something to be studied before you can enjoy. Nonsense.
1. Red wine for meat and white wine for poultry and fish. There is nothing magic about white wine with fish. Fish is often very delicate, so there are some red wines that can overpower subtle flavours. But light bodied, red wines can be great with fish. Try a Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Zweigelt, or a Lambrusco. Meats are commonly paired with red wines but there are many whites that can hold up to the bolder flavours. I enjoy bolder whites with red meat from time to time — especially a white Rioja or white from the Rhône. Bottom line, if you’re enjoying your meal , you’ve found the right pairing.
2. Rating points = quality. The wine world obsesses over ratings. 95 point this and 88 point that. Of course the 95 point wine is better! Nope. At least not necessarily. A high rating means the person rating it liked it and maybe you will too. But your palate is not the same as the wine reviewer’s. Bottom line, high ratings give a winemaker a great marketing tool. I have nothing against the ratings but don’t be afraid to try a wine with no ratings and, if you don’t like a well-rated wine, it isn’t that you don’t “get” something. Rather, your palate just doesn’t match the reviewer’s.
3. Never hold the bowl of a wine glass. The idea is your body temperature will warm the wine and diminish the flavour. I say, hold the glass however you like. I typically drink wine from a stemless glass and have never once found my wine to be spoiled by my hot little mitts.
4. Inspect the cork carefully when buying a wine in a restaurant. Sometimes the waiter will hand you the cork, expectantly. If he does, he learned that from a movie. Sniff the cork if you want, but it isn’t necessary. Of course, if a waiter hands over a cork that looks like it is falling apart, taste the wine carefully. But otherwise, don’t worry about it.
5. Screw top wines are inferior to corks. If you’re buying a wine that is meant to age, most screw tops are problematic, as the ageing wine needs some aeration to mature. But a wine made in the past five years is fine with a screw top and actually may be better. There are scientists working on developing a screwtop that can facilitate ageing. I’ve yet to see one in the wild, but wine people talk about it so there may be a day when all wines have screwtops. Today, many really good wines come with a screwtop, and you shouldn’t think poorly of them unless you are planning on ageing the wine for a long time.
6. White wine must be served really cold. Most people would taste more of the flavours in white wine if it were served at a warmer temperature. I take my white wines out of the refrigerator (set to 38 Fahrenheit) 30 minutes before I pour the wine. When I remember. Too cold and you won’t taste much. So, if you find yourself with a white you don’t like, chill it and it will lose much of its taste. But really, why drink a wine you don’t like? As an aside, many red wines are served warmer than their optimal temperature. They would taste better if they were slightly chilled. Put your red in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before you pour and see if you prefer that. If you forget, no big deal.
7. Older vintages taste better. Older wines do change in flavour due to age. Many of the most revered wines require ageing to develop. If you drank a glass of classic high-end Bordeaux from a recent vintage it would be very harsh and difficult. I love a good aged wine, but very few wines are made to age. The majority of wine made and sold today is made to drink within the first three years and doesn’t improve with time. As a general rule, if you’re spending less than $US25, you should not be waiting years to drink (yes there are exceptions but it is a good rule.) Even better, many wines made to age will provide an estimate on when to drink on their label.
There are things you can do to get more out of your wine and I detailed many of them here. But all of this is very, very optional. The sooner we stop worrying about drinking wine correctly, the sooner we can enjoy it.