Let’s face it, wine culture can be pretty intimidating. Wine enthusiasts can create confusion and spread myths about what wine to buy, what's the best packaging and how to serve it that might turn people away from wine. To help demystify these common beliefs and recommendations about wine, we talked to three local experts to learn what's true and what's not.
Buying the wine
Picture this: you have to buy a bottle of wine, and you're not sure what to look for. One common myth that you might have heard is that allocated wines, or wines with limited availability, are always expensive wines. Truthfully, a lot of wines can be scarce depending on how they’re produced, the number of bottles being sold and the aging process. However, not all scarce wines are expensive and vice versa, says Daniel Bauer, the co-owner, operator and sommelier of Cherry Street Cellar. There are plenty of affordable wines that carry unique flavor notes. Some believe that this myth has nothing to do with wine. “I think it's marketing,” says Regina Ruppert, the managing partner of Serenity Valley Winery.
Another common misconception you might encounter is that people perceive boxed wine as being lower quality because it's cheaper. “The packaging doesn't mean as much as the total volume that that winery is trying to put out,” says Sarah Schmidt, owner and manager of Baltimore Bend Vineyard. “I don't think (wine) necessarily has to be connected to the packaging that comes in.” The reason boxed wine is cheaper is because the raw materials used for boxes cost less than what's used for glass bottles. So the next time someone calls you cheap for bringing boxed wine, tell them it stores better, lasts longer and could easily taste better.
Another common wine myth is that wine sealed with a screw cap is lower quality than wine sealed with a cork closure. Bauer says that screw caps ensure the wine doesn't go bad.
Cork closures, on the other hand, have had a long history dating back to the late 1600s when using cork became the traditional method of sealing wine. Cork stoppers replaced glass stoppers because of their ability to age wine longer with improved sealing and opening ease. Screw-cap closures are easier to open, but “a good portion of the population prefer the cork because it's more nostalgic,” Ruppert says.
Lastly, when you're picking what wine to buy, don’t be easily fooled by age. Red wines generally get better with age, whereas white wines should be young. “I think some wines are meant to be enjoyed when they're young and fresh and vibrant,” Bauer says. “Lighter skinned red wines are better, like, Beaujolais is one that comes to mind.”
Opening and serving the wine
When it comes to storing and serving wine, there are often questions about the temperature of the wine. As a general rule, chill white wine and make sure your wine is being stored cooler than room temperature. Red wine wasn’t originally meant to be chilled because it loses its flavor if it’s too cold, Schmidt says. The ideal serving temperature of wine really has to do with the cellar temperature not the room temperature. “Red wine should be more of a cellar temperature, which is going to be cooler than just sitting on your counter,” Schmidt says. “I think that all wines that are cold, really do close off, so you don't get all of the aromas and the flavors from them when they're super duper cold.”
After opening the bottle, don’t bother smelling the cork. Sniffing the cork has been a method to make sure the wine isn't bad, but it’s more effective to sniff the wine itself. “If anything, you could pour a little in the glass, and you're gonna get more from a little sample of the wine in a glass and swirl and then you can get more of the aromas than you would from the cork,” Schmidt says.
The next step, and another common question, is whether to decant the wine. Decanting is the process of pouring wine out of a glass vessel called a decanter. The process is meant to increase oxygen exposure to wine to improve the taste by releasing aromas and softening tannins. “There's lots of reasons for it,” Bauer says. “I wouldn't say that it always has to be done, though.” So, decanting won't hurt your wine, but it’s not necessary for casually drinking.
Tasting the wine
Once you've picked a wine and served it up, it's time to bring out your inner child and play with your drink! By playing, we mean swirling the wine in your mouth. “When you put (wine) in your mouth, your tongue tastes salty, sweet and acid in different places of your mouth,” Bauer says. Don’t swish too much, though. It should be just enough to get a good sense of the wine's character, a process that Schmidt describes as “bubbling the wine.”
You can also swirl the wine in your glass. This process makes wine drip down the side of the glass and create lines called legs. These, unlike swirling, do not contribute to the wine's character. “I think that what you're trying to do with a wine is really create a balance between the acid and the alcohol and the fruit of the grape,” Schmidt says. “So I think that legs are a good sign to look for, but I don't think it's a total indication.” In other words, legs have everything to do with alcohol content and nothing to do with the quality, Bauer says.
Now that you know what to avoid and what to look for as a budding wine connoisseur, go out, buy a bottle and try it out yourself!