Every generation seems to spawn its own set of wine myths. When I started to learn about the grape, I was told that California wasn’t worth paying attention to, and that you could smell the cork to tell if the wine was bad. I’ve since learned that these were myths. We also understand that room temperature is a few degrees cooler than most are today, and that when a wine shows terroir it doesn’t mean that it tastes earthy.
Today’s myths may be more subtle, but they get in the way all the same. Here are six that make me frown.
Syrahs Don’t Sell Because They're Big and Clumsy
I continue to be confounded by the general lack of enthusiasm for wines made from the Syrah grape. Whatever it is, it’s not that they’re all fruit bombs, although that seems to be what some believe. I’ve had Syrahs from Washington that artfully weave in flavors of black olive and roasted meat, some from California that beguile with polish and, yes, finesse, and Shiraz from cooler Australia regions bright with acidity and distinct peppery character. In short, Syrah can be as expressive as PInot Noir, and more consistently good. I have taken advantage of some great Syrah bargains thanks to the myth of Syrah’s overbearing nature. The wines have aged beautifully too.
California Pinot Noir Has No Finesse
This one won’t go away, even though the trend in California has been toward less density and weight, more transparency and elegance. Yes, California’s Pinots tend to show riper flavors than your typical Burgundy. But that’s not a bad thing, not so long as regions such as the “real” Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley, not to mention mountain vineyards scattered along the whole Coast Range, can bottle wine that dances on the palate.
Oregon Is Only Good for Pinot Noir
This is just one example of a sort of myopia that happens because the wine world has become so complex we reflexively try to simplify it. Oregon makes Pinot Noir with elegance and depth of flavor, to be sure. They’re so good that we link the state and grape automatically in our minds, in the same way that Sauvignon Blanc comes to mind whenever someone says New Zealand, even though we know the country also produces lovely Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. But someday the world will discover that Oregon brings its signature finesse to Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and even Syrah.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs All Taste Alike
I dare anyone to taste the juicy passion fruit character of Brancott from Marlborough, the celery and mint of Vavasour from Awatere Valley and the lime zest and lemon blossom of Palliser from Martinborough and still believe this myth. It’s true that New Zealand winegrowers like their Sauvignon to be crisp in texture and vivid with citrus, herbal and tropical fruit flavors. Knowing that you’re going to get what you expect is part of the reason the wines have become so popular, but they’re hardly all the same, any more than it’s correct to say all Sancerres taste alike.
Big, Rich Wines Can’t Have Finesse
A wine has finesse when it has balance, grace and beauty. These days, a rather loud minority would have us believe that a wine must be light in texture to qualify. But big, rich wines can have balance, if none of its constituent elements outshine the others, and all of its complex flavors meld gracefully. Put another way, finesse happens when the end result delights us by delivering the unexpected. It can be when a light-colored, light-bodied wine finishes with unanticipated depth of flavor. But it also can happen when a rich, full-bodied wine glides over the palate and reins in any excesses. When a wine does that for me, I call it finesse.
Food Requires Acidic Wines That Are Low in Alcohol
The “lighter wines are best” crowd would have us believe this myth. Fact is, any sweet flavors in the food make acidic wines taste sour, as anyone who has tried to drink a racy Grüner Veltliner with lightly sweet Chinese food will agree. Or dry Champagne with cheesecake. Not for me. In truth, acidic wines that are low in alcohol are best with fatty but bland food. Think halibut with beurre blanc. Without the beurre blanc, better with something softer in texture; I like an Italian white wuch as Greco di Tufo or Friulano, neither of which should taste sharp. Acidic red wines with low alcohol pale next to a hearty steak. Give me a majestic Syrah, or at least a serious Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux. Or maybe one of those Pinot Noirs that actually have some ripe fruit to them.
What other wine myths out there should be put to bed?
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento , CA — March 15, 2012 11:54pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — March 16, 2012 1:59pm ET
Morewine Bishar — Del Mar, California — March 16, 2012 2:34pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — March 16, 2012 3:36pm ET
Robert White — Novato, CA — March 16, 2012 6:36pm ET
Richard Hutchinson — Chicago, Illinois — March 17, 2012 10:38am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — March 17, 2012 3:40pm ET
Homer Cox — Warrenton, VA — March 17, 2012 5:35pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — March 18, 2012 3:41am ET
Homer Cox — Warrenton, VA — March 18, 2012 9:19am ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — March 18, 2012 7:53pm ET
David Peters — Mission Viejo, CA — March 19, 2012 2:27am ET
Trevor Morris — Laguna Hills, CA — March 22, 2012 5:38pm ET
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