I remember being fascinated by mythology as a kid, especially "The Iliad and the Odyssey." I would dream I was Odysseus, tied to the mast of his ship, his ears left uncovered to hear the dreaded Siren’s song. Then, after felling the giant one-eyed Cyclops, I returned home to reclaim my wife and lands from usurping rivals. Arriving in their midst disguised, I revealed my identity by pulling back the string on the giant bow, firing the arrow that only Odysseus could fire. But eventually I woke up and realized it was only a myth, a dream, and I reluctantly snapped back to reality.
If left unchallenged, myths can become very powerful legends. The world of wine is filled with such tales, their roots firmly planted. As a wine educator, I constantly strive to debunk these ideas that have become so set in the minds of consumers. Let's go about clarifying a few myths today:
1) Serving wine at room temperature. What is room temperature? Can't one room have a different temperature than another? I would think that the temperature of a room in Helsinki, for example, would be different than one in Puerto Vallarta. The point is that red wines taste better when served at the correct temperature. The optimum would be about 60-65 degrees, give or take a few. I always place a warm bottle of red in the fridge for a half-hour prior to my meal. When served cool, reds become more focused and showcase their fruit, which tends to be muted and flat when warm. The room in which the wine is poured is immaterial.
2) Cork sniffing. When one picks up a cork and smells it, what odors are prevalent? Generally, the predominant aroma from a cork is, well, cork. Take it from someone who has seen a few, the way a cork looks or smells sheds very little light on how the ensuing wine will taste. I've had corks crumble to dust around the corkscrew, yet the wine was spectacular. Conversely, absolutely pristine corks have been followed by liquid that would have been better poured from an Amdro bottle. Eventually most corks will be replaced with plastic enclosures or screwcaps anyway. Guess what they smell like?
3) Price dictates quality. Many years ago, some revered sage pointed a soiled index finger to the sky and said, "The best wines will be the most expensive wines." And the prophetic utterance was hammered into stone. Well, let me tell you how it is today: Never before has this statement been less valid. Prices of new releases from wineries with little or no track records have seen astromical rises over the last 15 years, driven by comments from the adoring wine media. The high prices of these cult favorites have caused an imbalance, forging a "false market." Some competing wineries have felt compelled to raise their prices also, lest they be considered inferior. Truth be told, there are more delicious bottles priced $12-25 being made today than at any other point in vinous history. The people reaping the benefits of these fine values are those who are adventurous, and willing to try wines beyond their present scope.
4) Vintage dates are very important. There is a simple adage I have always followed when addressing this: In off vintages, good winemakers made good wine; in top vintages, good winemakers make exceptional wine. Bad winemakers made bad wine, pretty much all the time. The next time you are out wine shopping, try to put less emphasis on which vintage it was made in and more on who made it. The most important piece of information on a label is the name of the producer.
Don't believe everything you read or are told about wine. Take the time to do some homework, then you can replace mythology with informed lucidity. And you can take the comments of wines geeks like me with a grain of salt.