Readers have been asking for advice on wine drinking standards. As you acquire a more refined taste, and preference, for certain wines, there are accepted axioms floating around the “Bacchusphere” that become confusing.
Many are still relevant, but others have taken on the cloak of myths and have no practical relevancy. Differentiating between fact and fiction is sometimes difficult – especially when expressed by wine “experts.”
Myths or facts? Here are three wine “truths” that have been questioned by readers and others I’ve met in my travels. I’ve selected these topics at random and present them in no particular order of importance or relevancy.
- A bottle of wine must breathe before it is poured.
In fact, this does nothing for the wine. Leaving an opened bottle of wine on the table simply delays your drinking of the wine. The truth is that certain red wines do need time to breathe but pulling the cork and letting the bottle sit is analogous to a reference I once heard that it is like sitting in a stuffy airplane and expecting the air to become fresh simply by opening the cockpit door. In the months or years of being confined in the bottle, wine continually evolves as a living, breathing organism. It needs to breathe, but it needs help.
To enjoy the pent-up aromas and flavors of red wine, try one of these: 1) decant the bottle 30 to 60 minutes before serving; the interaction of the wine with oxygen speeds the evolution of the wine. 2) Don’t have an hour to wait? Pour a third of glass of wine and vigorously swirl the glass in circular motions, allowing oxygen to interact with the wine. 3) Purchase a wine aerator and pour the wine through this amazingly efficient device. It is more effective than swirling and more timesaving than a decanter. I have tested an aerator several hundred (thousand) times and it has never failed to enhance the wine at hand.
- Sniffing a cork tells you something about the quality of the wine.
This centuries-old tradition is an early-warning exercise. But it is a simple visual test, not a “smell” test. It rarely tells you anything about the essence of the wine in the bottle. If the cork is cracked or moldy or has tracks of wine along its sides, there may be a problem, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is corked or otherwise adulterated.
This is determined by the next step you should follow: sniff the wine. Pour a bit into a glass, swirl it around and insert your nose into the glass. If the wine smells tainted (a wet newspaper odor) or oxygenated (off-putting aromas), you may have a bad bottle. Send it back. If it’s not spoiled but doesn’t quite live up to your lofty aromatic expectations, too bad. Typically, once the bottle is opened, you’ve purchased it.
- All these wines with screwtops!
They can’t be good for wine. Wrong. I am a strong advocate of screwtops. Why? There’s no chance of a tainted bottle and the seal is tighter than a cork. Added bonus: you don’t have to wrestle with a bottle opener and risk embarrassing yourself in front of family and friends. Unless you’re planning to store a bottle of wine for several decades, consider screwtops your friend.
Another bottle closure, the plastic cork, is sound in concept. But in practical terms this has to be one of the worst alternatives to cork ever devised. They can be impossible to penetrate with a corkscrew and form an airtight seal in the neck of the bottle. Extracting one has transformed me into a contortionist too often for comfort.
Look for future columns dedicated to mythbusters on subjects as diverse as numeric wine ratings, the proper temperature for serving wines and the confusing state of grape names around the world. I look forward to answering your individual questions via e-mail.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.