We find ourselves at the grocery store analyzing bottles, looking for the coolest label, the oldest vintage, or some of us don’t care what-so-ever and just pick the cheapest one we can find. All of this comes down to marketing, which means everything. There are a myriad of differences in the wine world that define or signify good wine, most of which come from the vintner (winemaker) or the wineries themselves. Each winery has a different story of how they do things and why they are better than everyone else. Myths in wine have risen out of the creative marketing and the stories each winery will tell about their product, but others come straight out of the bottle. There are a series of misnomers and rather dimwitted myths out there that can lead people to the wrong conclusions about wine and wine knowledge in general.
- Legs – Or how slowly the wine slides down the glass after swirling it.
I am sure most of you have swirled a glass of wine and then stared at it watching the wine race back down the glass thinking to yourself “Oh, look at the legs on this wine! It must be amazing!” Nope, because by that logic port would always be the best wine on the planet; let me explain. Legs mean literally nothing when it comes to the quality of wine; the idea is that the more slowly the legs slide down the glass the better the wine is. Nope, not even close. In fact, legs are caused by one factor and one factor alone – the alcohol level. The slower the wine falls down the glass the higher the alcohol level and the faster the wine goes down the glass the lower the alcohol level. It’s that simple. The next time you find yourself swirling a glass of wine to watch those legs move down like a minivan on a freeway then there’s a good chance you’ve got yourself a strong one, so enjoy!
- The thickness of the bottle and the size of the Punt.
The thickness of the bottle and size of the punt can go both ways as far as quality is concerned. This is simply a wine selling technique; the idea being that the bottle having thicker and better quality glass means that wine inside is some quality grape juice. There is some truth to that, mainly because that thicker, nicer glass is expensive. You’d have to have some solid cash flow in order to drop the pretty penny needed to have bottles like that. However, you can find wine in lighter, less fancy bottles that are of better quality. I have seen $15 bottles with better glass quality than a $500 bottle. Really the only purpose the thicker glass serves is being idiot-proof, meaning your clumsy roommate can drop the bottle on the kitchen floor with less of a chance of it shattering.
Now let’s talk about the punt or the butt of the wine. The punt is the indentation at the bottom of the bottle. Punt sizes vary and are used for a myriad of reasons. Punts once upon a time indicated a better quality of wine and were used as a marketing ploy in order to make the wine seem better than it may be. However, as I stated above, there is some truth to that, but not really. Punts can be used to catch and hold sediment; however that doesn’t work when you actually go to pour the wine as the sediment will follow. Punts can also be used as an easier and more “fancy” way to hold the wine from the base as you pour, by placing your thumb inside the punt and resting the bottle on top of your fingers. But the main reason punts were created and used is purely for the stability of the bottle, allowing it to stand straight up.
- Buttery Wine – No, that’s not how it always tastes.
Buttery wine has grown immensely in popularity in the US and parts of the world. So much so that new winery brands have begun to emerge, such as Butter and Popcorn, which pay homage to the emerging style. Few of these emerging buttery brands hold a torch to the monarch of them all, Rombauer Chardonnay or as we call it in the industry “cougar juice.”
This fad has created a bit of a misconception about these buttery wines, especially chardonnay, which is that these wines are naturally creamy and buttery. Yes! Actually the technique vintners use is called “buttering the popcorn,” they take spray bottles of melted butter and spray it on grapes to create that creamy and buttery taste. Psyche! That couldn’t be further from the truth! It actually comes from a marriage of science and viticulture through a process known as malolactic fermentation. Malolactic fermentation is simply put the act of adding lactic acid to wine during secondary fermentation. Wine grapes naturally produce malic acid which produces the more acidic and dry flavors in the wine. When the lactic acid is added to the wine it works to soften the intensity (acidity and dryness) of the wine and makes it more “rounded.” The process is used predominantly in red wines as it is used to make the fruit-notes more pronounced, resulting in that “fruit-forward” characteristic that people know and love in reds. In whites it produces a more creamy or buttery characteristic, thus producing the “buttery” wines. Chardonnay isn’t the only white wine that has been known to be treated with MF; marsanne, rousanne, and chenin blanc are a few popular ones as well.
The MF process is predominately used in new world wines and can often be the reason that these wines are more fruit-forward compared to some old world wines which tend to be more acidic, dry, and earthy. More often than not this process is not advertised on the bottles, especially with red wines, if you want to find out which ones are more buttery do your research online or the old fashioned way, drink!
- The higher the price the better the wine.
Okay, let me help to save you some agony. Yes, the higher the price of wine the better it is, however, not always; so very far away from always. Now, if you were to compare a $500 bottle of wine to a $5 bottle of course there would be an obnoxious difference in quality. When it gets tricky is actually when we’re talking mid-level price range between $10 and $75 a bottle. Obviously when comparing the extremes of that price range you will notice a difference but, when comparing everything in between is where it can get a little tricky. This is the price point that most people are buying their wine at. This is also where wineries tend to work in their marketing tricks with name recognition, fancy labels, heavy glass, etc. One thing you must always understand is that there are always outliers and when you find those wonderfully priced and beautiful rarities you stick to them.
The wines typically featured in this mid-level price range are almost always made with second-tier grapes that weren’t good enough to make the cut for the more premiere good stuff. Top tier wineries are very selective about the grapes they put in their wine and not all are good enough to be chosen, so rather than throw them away the wineries sell those grapes off. The people that buy these grapes typically have their own processing and/ or bottling centers but don’t grow their own grapes. They instead buy their grapes from other wineries, then process and bottle them under their own label. This is often why they sell their wines at a cheaper price than the winery they purchased their grapes from. There is a myriad of wineries that do this, hence the immense competition at that mid-level price range.
What is important to understand is that no matter what you are getting the same quality of grape in almost every one of these bottles at that mid-level range. Don’t get me wrong there are subtle differences and some may be better than the others but why spend twice as much on a bottle of wine that only tastes a little better. Save the money. The only time you should spend the big bucks on a bottle is when it’s the last bottle of that vintage and you intend on hiding it in the back of a closet at home.
- The Point System
Please, please, please don’t let these god-forsaken point systems dictate how you buy wine. I will admit these systems can have their benefits but it depends whose rating them and how strict their standards are. Robert Parker and Wine Spectator have the best wine raters and systems in place and even they’re not always right. These wine rating systems only rate a select few wines and most of which are very, very far out of reach for most. In my humble opinion ratings are only good for research on what wines are good to age and which ones are actually worth spending your pretty penny on. However, realistically speaking, when it comes to cheaper wines it seriously doesn’t matter. This is another marketing attempt by wineries. A $12 bottle of wine should not and should never be rated 90 points and above. What wine rating system is it using and what wines is that rating system comparing it to?! I have seen $300 bottles with ratings less than 90 points, that rating system is certainly not comparing that $12 bottle to the $300 bottle.
Here is the problem; there are a lot of different rating systems, each with their own criteria and standards that dictate the scores. Some of these rating systems can be paid off by wineries in order to get the scores they want; most other rating systems only rate wines that rare and uber expensive. There are too many wines in the mid-level price range to try and make a proper rating system for. To put things into perspective, by the time a large team of raters finish tasting all the wines, another vintage will be released and a hundred new wineries will be created. Talk about a crazy uphill battle. Don’t let these rating systems fool you; I promise you that you will find wines that you like. The best part is that the wine research involves drinking lots and lots of wine.