The wine industry, just like most other industries, is filled with countless myths that are made up by companies and countries to improve their wine sales. Sometimes the myths are just a different version of the truth or the truth has been tweaked slightly to make a story sound more captivating. Other times, the myths are so far away from the truth that it borders on fraudulent lies. Here is a look at some of the serious and not so serious myths that I have come across in the wonderful world of wine.
Corks are better than screwcaps
This one is a bit tricky as it of course depends on what you are talking about. Better for what? Aging a wine? In that case, yes, because the cork will let through slightly more oxygen than a screwcap over the long term. This in turn means that the wine in the corked bottle will age quicker that the one with a screwcap. But if you have wines that are destined for consumption right now, that extra exposure to oxygen is not such a good thing and it might lead to the development of undesirable smells or tastes i.e. spoilage of the wine. In that scenario screwcaps win. And in the practicality round, screwcaps are also victorious. How many times have you found yourself with a bottle of wine that is sealed with a cork, but there is no corkscrew to be found on this side of the Sahara? Too many times to count, right? And if you don’t feel like finishing that bottle of Chenin just yet, you can just close the cap and keep it in the fridge until later, whereas a bottle that had a cork will be much more exposed to oxygen if it is not sealed properly with something like a wine pump. Sure, corks are romantic and the sound it makes when it is pulled out of the bottle invokes nostalgia of candle-lit dinners with a loved one, but that image can be easily ruined without a corkscrew or if the wine smells like old feet.
More alcohol = less quality
This is a common misconception that has mostly been spread by European wine drinkers. South African wines have been criticised for years and years for having alcohol contents that are too high and being hard to drink. Before I start my defence, it is important to note that there are a few factors that influence a wine’s alcohol content. The most important of these factors are the style in which the wine was made and the climate in which the grapes were grown. Fortified wines are usually higher in alcohol because they were made by adding neutral spirits (like brandy) to wine to increase the alcohol content. However, wines that are naturally higher in alcohol have only climate to blame. Grapes that are grown in warm climatic conditions tend to ripen more rapidly and produce higher sugar levels. These very sugars are then converted to alcohol during the wine fermentation process. Therefore, wines produced from grapes from warmer climates will usually have higher alcohol contents when compared to their cool climate counterparts. Now, back to our European friends. Most wine producing regions in Europe are classified as having cool climates and even those that have warm climates don’t necessarily reach the same high temperatures or experience the same harsh conditions that we have here in South Africa. So, they are used to their soft, delicate, low-alcohol wines. And BOOM! This bold, robust South African red winds up on their dinner table and they are scared senseless. No need to fret, my fellow wine drinkers. Wines that are higher in alcohol doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to knock you off your feet. The quality of the wine, like the alcohol, is influenced by many factors. Maturation vessel (new oak vs old oak barrels, concrete or stainless steel tanks), wine style (soft and delicate or big and robust), residual sugar (sweet or dry wine) and maturation time (young or aged wine) are just some of these factors. A Cabernet produced in two different climatic regions can both end up having the same alcohol content, but their taste, aroma and mouth-feel might be different due to any number of the above-mentioned factors. So, don’t be so quick to judge a wine based on the alcohol content that is stuck on the back label- you might be pleasantly surprised by some of these “high” rollers.
France was the first country where wine was made
Sure, they have been producing wine for many more centuries when compared to us, the new kids on the block, but they most certainly weren’t the first ones in history to do so. The earliest archaeological evidence of winemaking in France is a limestone platform that was used as a wine press and dates back to 425 BC. However, evidence exists that wine was consumed in countries like China (c. 7000 BC), Georgia (c. 6000 BC), Iran (c. 5000 BC), Greece (c. 4500 BC) and Armenia (c. 4100 BC). Armenia is also home to the world’s oldest discovered winery. In 2007, a cave was found that contained a wine press, fermentation vessels, jars and drinking cups. Archaeologists also found old grape remnants like grape skins and seeds. These evolved relics also suggest that wine making technology existed some time before already.
Red wine should be served at room temperature
If we are talking about room temperature in Britain, then yes, you can serve your Cab right off the shelf. But here in our warm, South African climate it is best to chill your red wines to slightly below room temperature (around 15 – 20 °C for heavy red wines and 12 – 15 °C for lighter wines). Just pop your bottle in the fridge an hour or so before you plan on opening it and flavours and aromas will be at their optimum. Also, by cooling down a wine you might disguise some of the “off” aromas of a lesser quality wine. As for white wine, it is best served between 7 and 14 °C, while fruitier wines like Sauvignon blanc prefer the colder side of the spectrum and heavier whites that have been barrel-aged can be served slightly warmer.
Unfortunately, my time is up and I have only uncorked the big bottle of wine myths that are making their way around the industry. Hopefully I have helped you to realise that screwcaps might not be as pretty as corks, but they sure are the duct tape of the wine world. That France isn’t necessarily the best or oldest wine country in the world. And that your excellent quality, high alcohol red wine should be chilled before serving.