Drinking wine can be an intimidating experience. Everyone has an opinion, but it’s when opinions become ‘rules’ that things get tricky. Suffolk wine expert Martin Higginson has some advice for the uninitiated.
1. Expensive wine is best
Richebourg Grand Cru from Burgundy averaged £9,800 a bottle at auction in 2015 – and I‘m sure it’s delicious, but is it 675 times better than a Domaine d’Aigues Belles Syrah blend from the humble Pays d’Oc that was the star at a recent tasting at Thos Peatlings in Bury (at £14.99)? I think not. Once you get over £30/bottle then it’s the laws of supply and demand, marketing, and ‘desirability’ that dictate price more than quality (unless you’re in a restaurant). But I’m willing to be proved wrong by some rich benefactor!
2. Opening the bottle lets the wine breathe
Not strictly a myth but in reality not really true. Getting oxygen into a wine – particularly a red wine, is a great way to remove the effect of tannin (that feeling you get where the top of your mouth and tongue feels furry). But the negligible surface area of the top of a bottle means it will take around 6-7 hours to have an effect. This is not really possible in a restaurant or when you need that drink after getting in from work. Better to vigorously swirl it around your glass or use a decanter – and if you haven’t got one then pour into an empty bottle then back into the original one. It will taste much ‘smoother’.
3. Screw-top wines are of low quality
Traditionalists swear by cork, and with the very best wines which appreciate ageing, that may be true. But over 90% of wines are made to be drunk young (after 1-4 years) and screw-tops are the most efficient and inexpensive way of ensuring that the wine quality, when it went into the bottle, is the same as it will be when its poured out. It’s not so romantic, but get over it – it’s the future!
4. Red wines with meat, white wines with fish
Most wine and food matching happens in the imagination of well-meaning and earnest food and wine enthusiasts. If you take the rule that you shouldn’t have a wine that overpowers the flavours of a dish and visa-versa then drink whatever you like! Try white fish with a Cabernet Sauvignon, salmon with Pinot Noir, or even steak and a dry Riesling to see what I mean.
5. Rose is women’s wine
Sales of Rose wine in the UK are at an all- time high. True, much of it is mass-produced and often tasteless, sugary and blah (I’m looking at you Zinfandel Blush)! But it’s not all “lady petrol”. Done right Rose is a fabulous wine – try some from Provence to see what I mean. I remember being in a basic ‘truck-stop’ Relais Routiers in France seeing lorry drivers drinking local Rose with their lunch. Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt grow it, Jeremy Clarkson drinks it … tell them Rose is for girls!
6. Serve red wine at room temperature and white wine ice-cold
When this ‘rule’ for red wine was established in the 19th Century, before central heating, this may well have been true. The maximum any red should be served is 20oC and most houses are warmer than this, especially in summer. Warm reds taste sickly, heavy and the alcohol is accentuated. Try chilling something like a Pinot Noir to taste it at its best. I do believe that Champagne must be drunk cold but too much chilling of other whites mean that the aromas and flavours don’t have a chance. Give them a chance to show by taking them out of the fridge 30 mins before tasting them.
7. ABC — Anything but Chardonnay!
The spectacular growth of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio has bumped Chardonnay well down the rankings. Tell that to the Burgundians! Ubiquitous New World versions with their oaky, rich, buttery flavours (not to mention the noughties ‘Footballers Wives’ character) turned many people off but go back to Burgundy and try a Chablis, Macon or if you can stretch to it, a Meursault, to see what this grape can produce.
8. Discounted wines are a bargain
We need another expose like the Tesco half- price strawberry fiasco of 2013 where they were fined £300,000 for misleading the public, to show what a rip-off this practice carried out by supermarkets and some larger wine merchants is. Simply put, the business model is to take a high margin wine which should sell for £6, sell it for a month at £12 in a few remote stores, then discount it to “half price” nationwide and watch the money roll in. Don’t fall for it, go for offers such as ‘25% off our whole wine range’ and select carefully, or visit an independent wine merchant.
9. Wine shops are intimidating places
The majority of independent traders really know their stuff and nothing makes them happier than giving advice to people about what they should try. Get out of the habit of buying the same wines all the time. A good wine merchant will guide you along a path of discovery. Bury and Suffolk has a good number to try.
10.Wine is good for you
They say wine (particularly red wine) helps you burn fat, prevents cancer and combats heart-disease (it’s all to do with Resveratrol apparently), to the extent that we have been told that it’s ‘good’ to have a glass of wine every day. But the scientific proof is very conflicting and sadly incon- sistent. And the really bad news is that the ‘glass’ of wine they are talking about is al- ways what you and I would consider a very-small glass, and whoever has just one of those?
Martin Higginson runs the Suffolk Wine Academy suffolkwineacademy.co.uk