Three things everyone KNOWS about wines, but ARE NOT true.
The first: “Wine improves with time”.
It’s not true. “The older the better” is an incorrect sweeping statement. Globally, it’s the most widespread error.
This false belief comes from how wine is made. Wine needs around one to five years after it’s born before it can be offered in a bottle to consumers. Science and experience have shown that after 10 years, only a small fraction of world production improves.
How is this fraction recognized? It’s simple: By its cost. To produce and mature wines that can live a long time, a large, difficult, selective investment is needed.
That’s why only the wines that originate in small, enclosed vineyards can live for many years in special conditions, and have a high price. They’re cultivated in some regions in the world that have unique or similar characteristics, never throughout an entire country.
Like racers or swimmers, life quality of a bottle will be short, middling or long according to the athlete and his attributes. There are wines to be consumed fast (one to two years), middling distance (three to five years, maybe seven or eight) or marathons (ten or more years, up to 29).
Why 29 years as the limit? Because if the bottle’s cork is not substituted with a new one, after thirty years, you’ll lose it. The cork stops acting as a plug, protecting the bottle from the oxygen in the air and then the wine turns into vinegar.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, what determines the quality of wine is NOT time.
There are other factors. We can group them into three for your understanding, they are: 1st. factor: Classic quality of the Variety of the grape.
For example, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sirah, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Zinfandell, to mention only ten varieties of the most used grapes for producing red wines (these are the wines that live longer).
Basically, there are two types of grapes: Those for wine, and those for the table. There are more than 1.000 suitable grapes for producing wine. Happily for the consumer, those that enjoy world notoriety due to their results, today exceed 32; 18 are red and 14 white.
2nd factor: Perfection and characteristic of “Añada”.
“Añada” is the birth date of the wine; it’s the year - stated by law on the front label of the bottle - in which were harvested the grapes of the wine inside the bottle. The age of the wine is determined starting from that date.
But all “vintages” are not equal; there are good, regular or bad ones, and they don’t follow a mathematical nor periodic rule. Good years are random, even more so now with off-season droughts, rainfall and storms, heat or cold waves, fires and floods, typical of what has been called “Climate Change”.
3rd. factor: the Terroir, a French term being increasingly used internationally, employed in viniculture to point out the specific, outstanding worth of some vineyards.
Terroir implies soil, and climate, height, topography, subsoil, amount of water retention and amount of sun a geographic area of the vineyards receives during one year. Likewise, specific environmental and historic characteristics that make it different, special vis-à-vis the other, including the neighbor’s vineyard in front, or the one on the other side of the road.
To summarize: the passing of time, five years or more, does not improve all wine, only a small, limited amount of the world production.
Maturity, not ageing can improve costly bottles made in special conditions, not in any part of the world, but in enclosed vineyards where a small amount of selective, superior quality Premium wine can be produced.
Theoretically, wine is made to be consumed, not to be saved. It’s an agricultural and economy activity of food; it isn’t philately or numismatics.
Young wines and almost all the popular white ones are ready to be consumed after a year of being produced. Its optimal moment is over at two or three years. They make up the bulk of daily worldwide consumption. Following, we’ll elaborate on all styles of wine and the time.
Second false belief: Red wine is consumed at room temperature
Temperature changes, modifies wine; it enhances or destroys its enjoyment.
Serving wine too cold or too hot are two globally extended errors. The latter is worsened by a legend from the Eighteenth Century: The belief that room temperature is ideal for red wine.
“Room temperature” depends on the room; it differs in all countries, regions, cities, towns and villages. Today, modern temperature is controlled regarding street temperature. What was common in the castles of Bordeaux in the Eighteenth Century doesn’t work for the world of wine in the Twenty First Century.
Red wines with body and Oporto wines are served cool, between 60o and 65o F. This keeps the powerful Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandell tannins, for example, from registering aromatic, bitter traces.
The top limit for light wines should be considered at 60oF. Above 65oF, experience and enology show that the tannins of red wine turn harsh and caustic.
Each type of wine has an optimal taste at a different temperature. With the aid of a wine thermometer and three friends, try it out and you’ll see for yourself.
Third: Red wine is for meat, and White for fish
Applied as a divine truth, engraved in stone, this concept limits the classic consumer as well as the inquisitive one. It grew from the table habits and customs of the past when diversity in Red wines was scarce, and health and eating criteria were different.
The notion of health and ease of modern society, not only modified modern cooking, it also modified the structure and diversity of wine.
The new brood of enologists loves to try out courtships and marriages between grapes that sometimes kiss hastily, or with a long embrace in American and French casks. This allows them to test, experiment, abandon routine and bring wine close to the kitchen.
Wine lets itself be taken, especially modern wine. It lets itself be taken away from the guiding principles that pervaded until the eighties in order to acquire subtlety and distinction.
This happened to Cabernet Sauvignon, which used to be alone, or only went out with Merlot. This happened with Zinfandell, Tempranillo, Sirah and the classic reds, not to Pinot Noir, it was always a light red, loaded with subtlety when its good.
What should a consumer do? Try, we dare say, “try everything”. This way you’ll find new paths, you’ll discover new harmonies with the kitchen, and here’s a very attractive thing: the wineries are now producing new Reds for sharing and seducing.
Those in favor of disruptions want reds with all types of fish. The Japanese, who eat mostly food from the sea, claim that it doesn’t work. The University of Tokyo and its researchers agree with this, but that’s another story we’ll soon tell you here.
by Alberto Soria, writer / Journalist specialized in Gastronomy, wines and liquors / University Professor.