Seven Misconceptions About Wine

Wine is not about forcing yourself to like something. Wine is about enjoying something you DO like!

 min. read
June 10, 2021
Seven Misconceptions About Wine

Helping you love wine even more!

Welcome to my blog! As a writer, I want to provide articles that are fun to read, informative, and helpful to you, my reader! Posts will follow a similar format and touch on things I am either knowledgeable about or am currently learning and want to share. Today, we are discussing wine!

I am a Certified Sommelier. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, a sommelier (pronounced suh-mull-YAY) is a wine steward. What the heck does that even mean? I’ve heard the position described as a wine connoisseur…and while this is true, so are you, to be frank. If you like to enjoy wine, by definition, you are a connoisseur of wine. The historical position derived from the person who would taste-test wine before serving it at parties to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. Since that is not too much of an issue nowadays, a sommelier has evolved into a person who knows a lot about wine and wants to help promote it to the world!

I have had several positions in the service industry where my wine knowledge has come in handy to help people learn about and appreciate wine. And in my tenure, I discovered there are many unknowns and misconceptions about wine. In an effort to help you the next time you’re two glasses in…or, more specifically, before you order the wine altogether…let me fill you in on the truths of some common myths and misnomers…

1) Fruity wine is not synonymous with sweet wine.

This has to be the number-one common misconception I have heard about wine. Fruity and sweet are not the same. While a sweet wine will likely be fruity, a fruity wine will not always be sweet. Sweet is actually an element experienced by your tongue…along with bitter, sour, salty, and a whole host of others. Fruity is a flavor profile created in the nasal cavity…assisted by our tongues, yes…but our olfactory bulb is mostly responsible for developing the complexity of flavors we pick up when eating and drinking. This is why, when someone’s nose gets plugged through sickness or otherwise, that person cannot taste. To be more-specific, they cannot taste flavor profiles. Give that same person a Sour Patch Kid, I guarantee their eyes will water up! The same can be said about wine.

The next time you are questioning whether a wine is Fruity or Sweet, plug your nose and take a sip. If you taste sweet on your tongue, the wine is sweet. If you cannot taste anything, the wine is fruity.

2) Zinfandel is probably not a sweet wine.

When I worked in a wine store many years ago, the following conversation happened quite often:

Me: “Would you like to try this new Zinfandel we just received? It is delicious!”
Customer: “No, thank you… I don’t like sweet wines.”

Ahh, White Zinfandel! If there was ever an American invention that completely decimated the integrity of a true powerhouse grape, this is it.

To start off, Zinfandel is a red grape. There is no such thing as a White Zinfandel grape. White Zinfandel is a style of sweet wine made from Zinfandel grapes. The pink color comes from leaving the skins in contact with the juice for a very brief time. The reason White Zinfandel is so sweet is that the Zinfandel grape has one of the highest-contents of sugar in it. Along with CO2, alcohol is nothing more than the byproduct of converting carbohydrates (sugar, in wine’s case) into alcohol through fermentation…and since Zin has such a high sugar content to begin with, it can ferment to an acceptable alcohol level while remaining very sweet…which is the main reason why Zinfandel is used to make White Zinfandel wine.

Zinfandel…true Zinfandel wine…is one of the most-dry, full-bodied reds available. Because its grapes start off with so much sugar, it is also a wine with one of the highest alcohol contents…weighing in around 16-18%. To most people’s surprise, it is also, traditionally, a very fruity wine (see last point)…which makes it a popular choice for many palettes!

3) A more-expensive bottle of wine may or may not taste better.

Unfortunately, wine pricing is SO subjective and there is an abundance of factors that go into the bottle cost you see in the store. True, yes, the cost can be objectively attributed to the actual quality of the wine itself; the grapes, the winemaking process, the rarity of the bottle, etc. Good things cost good money. But there are other things that can affect the price as well, such as tariffs, taxes, weather conditions, and a whole host of other logistical items. Unfortunately, a wine’s price can also be attributed to marketing…

Did you know a Louis Vuitton bag only costs, on average, $200 to make? Even at a standard retail markup of 50%, that bag should only cost $400 in the store. But would you look at LV as uber-luxury if one of their bags cost the same as, say, a Coach purse? No…and Louis Vuitton knows that. So, they take that $200 bag and sell it for $1,500…to give the illusion of luxury. You’re probably not staring at a $1500 bottle of wine in the store, but you may be looking at a $20 bottle and a $40 bottle…and you may also be thinking that the $40 bottle is better than the $20 bottle because it costs twice as much. …and it may be. It may also not be. Using our example, the bottle could be marked up to give the illusion it is a “good” bottle…which will make you sway towards purchasing it when looking for a “good” bottle.

As a rule, I would wager most people cannot blindly tell the difference between a $30 bottle and a $40 bottle. In my experience, the price points where quality is noticed are found after crossing $12, $15, $20, $50, $70, $100, and then $150 and above. Wines that fall in-between those numbers will usually be of similar-quality. There are some $20 bottles I’ve had that taste much better than a $60 bottle. So rely on your individual tasting experience to decide. But watch out for marketing techniques used to get you to buy that more-expensive bottle, like…

4) Wine ratings are not definitive. Take them with a grain of salt.

I love heavy-bodied, dry, fruity reds. I love them! As a general rule, I prefer New World-style wines. That is my palette. That is what I enjoy drinking. …so when a wine critic gives 95 points to a red from Burgundy, France, I can tell you now that I will more-than-likely prefer, for example, a lesser-“rated” wine from California. I’d try the Burgundy… I mean, why not? But…if I’m looking for a bottle to open up on a Friday night and sip on my patio with my wife, those 95 points are meaningless to me…because that bottle of wine is not my preferred style.

Wine is meant to be drank. It is meant to be enjoyed. Period. So, you should drink what you like! Don’t drink something because someone else tells you you need to drink it. I mean, you can…but don’t force yourself to like it if you don’t. I gave White Zinfandel a pretty bad pop on the face a few paragraphs ago…but I am writing this from my perspective. I don’t care for sweet wines. But if you love sweet wines, then you drink sweet wines! Drink them all day! Drink them everywhere you go! Because you enjoy them. Wine is not about forcing yourself to like something. Wine is about enjoying what you DO like. If you don’t like mushrooms, you wouldn’t order mushrooms on a pizza. Simple as that…and nobody would care! It’s your pizza! So if you don’t like a buttery Chardonnay, per se, don’t drink them! …and don’t feel guilty or bad when someone raises their nose at you for drinking, say, a sweet Rose instead! It’s your glass! Pour what you want!

Unfortunately, wine ratings are common-place and not going anywhere. Back to the marketing strategies from the last section…if a winery got 98 points in some competition, you can bet they will be plastering that all over their bottles and also factoring it into their per-bottle price. But as we know, wine ratings are so subjective. To help counter that subjectivity, there are wonderful apps out there like Vivino that take some mystery out of buying new wines…and I like them because the recommendations they give cater to the USER…to the USER’S likes…not to some snobby wine person who lives half-way around the world. I’m not telling you to NOT try new wines…you need to discover what you like and don’t like. I’m telling you, once you find something you like, do not be afraid to drink it. Alternately, do not be afraid to NOT drink something you dislike. Wine is an experience. Make the most of it.

5) You can drink any wine with any food.

I often have people ask me what bottle they should serve with any given entrée. Not to sound uneager to help, but I usually answer with, “What bottle do you want to serve?” Yes, it is true there are certain wines that “pair” well with certain foods. But when was the last time you finished a meal and were repulsed by how much the wine ruined it? At the end of the day, we should be drinking what we like, anyway! …not what someone tells us we should, right? So, to be more-specific, yes, there are suggestions for pairing food and wine, but if you want to have Port with cereal, then you drink Port with cereal. Actually, now that I’m writing this, I can imagine some sugared cereals may actually go quite well with Port. I digress... The point I'm trying to make is, drink what you want to drink with your food. But if you would like to adhere to “scientifically” chosen pairings, and not some random musings by me, here is what you need to know.

6) Screw tops are not synonymous with bad wines.

I’m going to put this out there right away…because the hating on screw caps needs to stop. Attention: A screw cap is actually a scientifically better way to seal a bottle of wine than a cork. There. I said it. Well, let me clarify…a screw cap is a significantly better way to seal a bottle of wine that should be enjoyed within a year or two of bottling than one that would benefit from significant aging.

Why? Oxygen. Oxygen, in too much quantity, is bad for wine. A wine that needs many years of aging before it matures requires a small amount of Oxygen to make sure the tannins mellow and the wine matures. Since cork is not 100% airtight, since it expands and contracts, it lets in the perfect, tiny amount of air to help the wine mature. Not too much. But wine that should be consumed within a year or two after its vintage was not designed to age. It is already where it needs to be for you to enjoy it now. Any excess Oxygen introduced to the inside of the bottle may be detrimental to the wine’s integrity. So…for wineries that make wine to be enjoyed sooner rather than later, a screw cap is the best way to ensure you get to enjoy that wine at its best.

Sadly, a lot of bad wine is also made with screw caps. I’m sorry to say this tip is not a blanket rule…and that is why a screw cap gives the perception of an inferior wine. But, recognizing the benefits for their particular types of wine, many wineries THAT MAKE GREAT WINE are adopting all-screw-cap bottling methods and helping to squash this misconception. Australia and South America are leading the way! …and A LOT of their wines are delicious! So, the next time you want to bring a bottle to a party, gift something, or open one for yourself, remember if you like it, it doesn’t matter HOW it is bottled.

As a side note, screw cap bottles should NOT be stored on their sides as this could actually introduce air into the bottle. If you have a screw cap that you’re not drinking immediately, store it vertically with the rest of your wine until you’re ready for it.

7) Burgundy is not just another name for red wine.

A white Burgundy is not an oxymoron.

Burgundy, while commonly thought of as a burnt-reddish color, is also a region in France that makes both red and white wines. It is not always a red wine. Granted, the red wines coming out of Burgundy, France inspired the name of the color…but fortunately for us, some outstanding white wines come out of Burgundy as well.

The next time you see or order a red Burgundy, you will most likely be getting a Pinot Noir. And a white Burgundy is a Chardonnay. There may be other grape varietals blended in with them, but these two are the most-common grapes grown in the Burgundy Appellation…and are legally what need to be in a red or white wine to call it a Burgundy.