The Oenophiliac

Bringing you stories from the world of wine and beer.

How To Overcome Your Wine Ignorance – My post in today’s Sabotage Times 10/6/12

Do you know you’re Chardonnays from Chenin Blancs? Or what gives a wine it’s colour? Find out everything you ever wanted to know about wine below.

What is it about wine that average Joe public are happy to be ignorant about? I’m sure people don’t follow the same philosophy when it comes to buying clothes or cars. In my experience consumers go out of their way to have some understanding of these. Why not wine?

Can you imagine me telling Jeremy Clarkson that a car is just a car?

So you walk into your local wine store, approach the assistant and ask “Do you have a Malbec?”

The assistant replies “Which country?”

After a puzzled look, you stare back and state “Argentina of course!”

This is a very simple example of a conversation I’ve had hundreds of times over the years. Two problems I see with this dialogue are, firstly, requesting a Malbec as if there is only one type, secondly, the thought that Argentina is the only country that produces Malbec. I’m going to kill two birds with one stone here. Malbec originates from South West France. It was one of the original grapes used in Bordeaux, and is still permitted as part of the blend. Nowadays you will primarily find it as the backbone of wines from Cahor, France. Argentina may have adopted Malbec but, as well as France, it is also produced around the world, Australia and Chile being two notable producers.

So what other pieces of everyday wine thinking stems from ignorant bliss?

A quick tip, if you read a wine label that states it’s from a cool climate region, buy it. Just take my word for it and buy it. Come back and tell me what you think.

The first is an obvious choice, Chardonnay. This variety comes from Burgundy in France. It’s also the only grape used in Chablis. No other variety is permitted. Chardonnay does have a long association with oak barrels, something that the UK public doesn’t appreciate or get, in particular Australian wines from a decade ago. These styles have been disappearing from our shelves. So don’t be put off by Chardonnay. Reconnect yourself to the clean fresh styles coming out of new world countries like Australia, Chile, New Zealand. A quick tip, if you read a wine label that states it’s from a cool climate region, buy it. Just take my word for it and buy it. Come back and tell me what you think.

Another grape misconception is that of Pinot Grigio. Pinot Gris, to give you its proper name, doesn’t come from Italy. Its origins are from Alsace, France. The grapes grown here, like Gewürztraminer and Riesling, are known as aromatics. They are big on the palate as well as the nose. This minor description doesn’t really fit the everyday consumer’s notion of Pinot Grigio. The normal thinking is very light, lacking in fruit and body, or as I describe them, Evian with alcohol. This is a generic style that seems to dominate supermarket shelves. These wines are mass produced, totally lacking any real substance or style. So dig around and you can find some great Pinot Grigio. Just avoid the mass produced crap!

Ever heard the somewhat obvious solution to what makes red wine red? Everyone’s immediate answer would be that it comes from red grapes. True but the colour of juice from virtually all grape varieties is clear. A wines colour is determined by the amount of contact that the juice has had with the grape skins. Two examples, In the EU, Rosé wines are produced by leaving the clear juice in contact with the skins for a relatively short period of time. The length could be anything from 8-24 hours, maybe longer. The other example is that of Champagne, the most famous white sparkling wine producing region in the world. Most commercially made Champagnes are produced using up to three grape varieties. Chardonnay, which we know is white, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, both of which are reds. In short, the colour of a wine comes from the skins and not the juice. Take the skins away and you are left with a white wine.

I felt the need to tell him to sod off and actually bone up on the subject.

In the US, California to be exact, they like to think that Zinfandel is ‘their’ grape variety. The theory behind this is more in line with what I scribbled up the top regarding Malbec. Zinfandel has had more commercial value as an American wine but the truth is the origins of this variety come from Croatia. In Europe you will find Zinfandel under its Italian name of Primitivo. One year a German chap tried to tell me I was wrong. He felt the need tell to me he was an expert on the subject. I felt the need to tell him to sod off and actually bone up on the subject. My sense of ‘customer service’ got the better of me. I walked away before he could finish talking to me.

Here’s a misrepresentation which I read the other day. Whilst reading a wine review on someone’s blog I noticed they had made a reference to wines, high in alcohol, are all full bodied. Utter nonsense! Wines with a huge dollop of alcohol will give heat to the wine but they do not govern a wines weight, full, medium or light body. The weight of a wine is a mix of depth of fruit flavours, acidity and, in reds, tannins. When drinking most reds, tannins are indicated by the furry feeling you get around the gums. I’ve drank wines with alcohol levels approaching 15% and they have been relatively easy drinking wines.

One of the problems I’ve found with consumers is the ability to distinguish the difference between fruity and sweet wines. Because a wine may taste fruity it doesn’t make it a sweet. When you taste something sweet, be it food or beverage, the level of sweetness carries thorough from the tip of your tongue to when you swallow. Fruity wines may initially taste sweet on the front of your palate but when you swallow you will find a dry finish. The back of your palate or throat will simply dry up.

Moёt is probably the most recognised Champagne in the world and yet very few people pronounce it correctly. The name is Dutch, marked by the diaeresis (two dots) above the ‘e’. This makes the ‘T’ at the end of Moёt audible. Unlike the common pronunciation of ‘Mo-ay’ it really should be ‘Mo-et’.

Story by Me

Featured in the Life Section –  Sabotage Times



2 comments on “How To Overcome Your Wine Ignorance – My post in today’s Sabotage Times 10/6/12

  1. Wine Everyday
    June 10, 2012

    Great article about wine ignorance. My favorite is when folks think ‘white zinfandel’ comes from pink zinfandel grapes! I have to hold in my laughter!

    My thoughts on why most people cant tell the difference between fruity & sweet wines because they don’t (or won’t) concentrate on TASTING it.. they just swallow it so fast they don’t take time to appreciate it….

    Another sign of wine ignorance is when folks find out I am ‘into wine’, their 1st question is “Oh, do you like Red or White?” ~ As if you must be from one camp or another.



    • Magics Wine Guide and Reviews for Newbies.
      June 10, 2012

      Thank you for your comment.
      I’ve lost count as to how many misguided comments I’ve had over the years. Some make me laugh, others just plain irritate me.
      Similar view point to your ‘red or white’ poser is, what is your favourite wine? Answer – ‘I don’t have one. I work in an environment where I have to be objective. There are styles that I prefer to others but apart from that it’s an open book.’
      Agree, when it comes to tasting, the general public aren’t taught to taste. They crack open a bottle and destroy with immense gusto. No need for glasses, that just means more washing up, put bottle to lips and chug.



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