After my new year’s “wine resolutions”, this is what I like to blog on next each year. As a “wine dweeb” who has been reading, writing about – and drinking – wine for almost 30 years now, I have discovered a number of words and phrases that should immediately make one suspicious if they are being used to describe a wine somebody wants you to buy!
1. It’s a “food wine”
This is the main one to watch for, year in, year out. The bottom line is – a wine better taste good on its own. Yes, there are some food/wine pairings that make the food and/or the wine taste better, but if you need food to make a wine taste better…then it is probably not a very good wine to begin with! So if you hear this one, stay away…far away!
2. It just needs a little time in the cellar to develop…
This is another one to beware of. Yes, there are some wines that will age and become better over time. But it is the vast minority! Over 99% of wines are made to drink right away, and should be consumed within a year. Often this comment is made to cover up the fact a wine – particularly a red wine— doesn’t have enough fruit in it, or is under-ripe. Time won’t solve either of these problems. My advice? Taste it…if you don’t like it now, chances are you aren’t going to like it much more in 3, 5, 10 or even 50 years!
3. Fruit-filled, ripe and alcoholic wines are not sophisticated
This one really bugs me! First of all, wine is made from grapes, which are fruit; it is therefore logical that it should taste like fruit (rather than wood)? Second, if we eat our fruit and vegetables when they are ripe, why wouldn’t we want our wines the same way? Who wants to drink something that tastes green (like a sour apple or rock hard pear)? Anyone who has tasted a ripe California Cabernet, bursting with blackcurrants, knows just how wine should taste. And finally, the alcohol thing…the fact is, the riper the grapes, the more sugar, the more alcohol, plain and simple. As long as the wine isn’t unbalanced because of the alcohol level, it just means you can’t drink as much of it. But you aren’t supposed to be drinking it to get drunk anyway, right?
4. It’s the vintage of the century!
Every year, it seems, somebody is touting the most recent vintage from some country or region as “the best ever”. The fact is, that just can’t be the case every year!
Yes, in most countries/regions, vintage variation is extremely important. But even in a so-called “great year”, winemakers still have to make a wine great! It is almost impossible to generalize across a vintage and expect everything to be great. More often than not, this is an excuse to raise prices across the board. My advice here is two-fold. First, try the cheapest wines first. If it is truly a good vintage, you will taste the difference in a $12 wine for sure. Then, for more expensive wines you have purchased in the past, take a look at how much the price has gone up. If it isn’t a lot – say, a few percent – it’s probably worth it. But more than that? Probably note. And for the highest end wines? I would stay away from them. They will have probably gone up the most in price, and is that really worth it?
5. It’s a 90 point wine, so it must be great!
Finally, beware the wine reviewer (says the wine reviewer)! Seriously, though…wine reviews, and ratings, are totally subjective. Too begin with, it is way more important to read the description in the review – what kind of fruit is there? what other flavours and smells? – than the rating itself. Also, if you are going to trust a wine rating/reviewer, get to know his or her style first. Robert Parker, the Wine Advocate, is a guy I know likes wine with lots of fruit in it…and so do I. I have been taking his advice for years and very rarely have I been disappointed. So if I see him raving over a wine, the chances are I will like it. Some of the other reviewers or wine magazines…not so much. Oh, and by the way…make sure the wine that is supposed to be a “90” is actually the right vintage. I don’t know how many times I see shelf talkers in wine/liquor stores promoting one vintage, only to have a different one for sale!
So there you go…five things to watch out for as you start your wine year!