(Second of two parts)
CONTINUING from where I left off in my last column, there are more wine myths that need to be explained and debunked. Below are four more common wine misconceptions that I want to address and straighten out.
1. Wines found in bottles with deeper indentations are of better quality. First, the right term for the indentation — or what others call dimple — at the bottom of wine bottles is “punt.” Punts were actually a function of how glassblowers made bottles in earlier times, with the seams pushed up during the molding stage to ensure that the bottles could stand upright, and that the sharper end points of the glass would be concealed inwards and not found at the bottom. Since bottles are now all made by machines, punts are more part of the traditional bottle “look” and aesthetics, rather than a function of the modern bottle-making production.
But common sense will dictate that a deeper punt uses more glass compared with a shallower or flatter punt. This means that a deeper punt bottle is costlier to make, and therefore more expensive. While the quality of the wine inside has totally nothing to do with the bottle and the punt, the cost side of the equation obviously means that a winery would only use deeper punted bottles for their better quality wines that also fetch higher prices. That is the only logic behind the idea that bottles with deeper punts connote better quality wine.
Also note that wine bottles with deeper punts are heavier too and give an optical illusion of a bigger size compared to others despite their regular 750-ml capacity.
As to the functionality of punts in a wine bottle, there are two main advantages that naturally come out: 1. Punts make wines easier for consumers to hold as a deep punt is convenient for your thumb to grip while the rest of the fingers hold the rest of the bottle during the handling and pouring of the wine. And, 2. Punts are positioned at the bottom of the bottle to catch sediments and separate these unwanted sediments from being poured out into the glass.
2. Wines that have labels that say “Reserve” or “Reserva” are always better. Again, this is overrated, and manipulated by wine marketing geniuses to an extent where they are bordering on being unscrupulous. Terms like “Reserve,”“Estate,” “Premium” and similar “quality” terms are purely proprietary. There is no legal definition for them other than those in Spain and some parts of Italy.
Even in Spain and the Tuscan region of Italy, “Reserva” or “Riserva” (Italian) only guarantee oak aging minimums, not exactly a quality assurance. Oak, of course, has always been known to improve complexity and flavors of wines, but the harvest and the resultant wine will still be the main quality factor. In the Spanish model, a wine can only be labeled as “Reserva” if the wine went through a minimum holding period of three years, of which a minimum of one full year is in an oak barrel and the rest cellar aged. So there is no 2014 vintage “Reserva” from Spain in retail stores since it is just August 2017 now. On the other hand, many Chilean or Argentine wines out in the market have the word “Reserva” on their labels, yet the vintages are either 2015 or 2016 — too young by Spanish legal definition. Though, terms like “Reserve” used by New World wineries can mean a higher level wine, there is just no regulation on how they are made better than their regular wines.
3. All cheeses go well with wine. This is a very general statement that is actually a deterrent to wine appreciation, especially if the wrong cheeses are paired with the wrong wines. Have you tried a blue cheese with a red Burgundy?
The most readily available cheese is the commercial cheddar cheese, and this type of cheese is quite safe to consume with both basic red and white wine. However if you want an epicurean experience, you have to go beyond this.
White wines are actually more compatible with cheese than reds. The acid structure of white wine makes it a better pair to saltier cheeses similar to Feta and Provolone. In fact, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc, both Loire’s white wines, are some of the best “cheese wines.”
Like wines, cheeses come from different regions, have different classifications and varietal names as well. So it is important to know the characteristics and pair accordingly. Soft, flavorful, creamy cheeses like the popular Brie and Camembert are better with red wines with good tannin structure like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. Likewise, sweeter and dessert-like wines like Sauternes, Barsac, Canadian Icewines, and the fortified sweet Ports are great with full-flavored pungent blue cheeses.
My safest cheese bets for any wines are Swiss Emmental and Spanish Manchego.
4. Red meat with red wine, white meat with white wine. That was what we were told for as long as I can remember, and while it is still a useful guide, it is not very precise. This is the case because in the past, red wines were often fuller bodied than their white wine counterparts. Since beef typifies red meat (higher weight), and fish typifies white meat (lighter weight), that adage of “red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat” in effect was based on matching the weight of food with weight of wine.
But this saying is not that accurate anymore as there are now many red wines that are light bodied, like the Beaujolais — made from the often soft Gamay grapes — that are great with chicken (white meat).
And there are plenty of full-bodied whites, especially made from the Chardonnay grapes, like those heavily oaked Californian versions and the incredible Meursault, a white Burgundy — both go well with heartier meats similar to a creamy Beef Straganoff.
So, the key is to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine, regardless of the color. After determining the weight of the food and wine, it is now time to figure out the dominant food characteristics, and offer a wine that either complements, mirrors, or gives a counterpoint to the food. If you know both your wine and food, this can be really fun and you will be rewarded with extra flavor synergy every time you dine.
I welcome more wine myths and concepts from the reading public — write to me.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux (FIJEV) since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.