On his recent swing through Atlanta, George Foote and I sat down for lunch at the Four Seasons. We’re both wine educators, so the conversation naturally flowed to our teaching triumphs, failures and frustrations. Foote is the national wine educator for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and was in town to give a class on blended wines to Ste. Michelle’s Georgia distributor. Foote has been in the wine business for 35 years and has been an educator for more than 20.
As we swirled a couple glasses of Tignanello and the ethereal Solaia, both from Tuscan winemaker Antinori, we came up with a list of perpetual misunderstandings many students have about wine. Here’s a snippet of our exchange and Foote’s explanations.
All rieslings are sweet.
Riesling is the only noble grape variety that runs the style-gamut from dry to sweet. The long and glorious history of this grape variety has seen times where dry, medium or sweet versions have been in favor, but all styles are readily available in retail shops and restaurants. Riesling is the most versatile white wine when it comes to food-wine pairing—no oak and plenty of acidity. There is currently a wonderful Riesling Renaissance going on in the U.S. lead by wines from Washington State.
All rosés are sweet.
What I tell students is “Wow! You are missing out!” Rosés are bone dry (or are pretty close) and are some of the easiest wines to fall in love with, unless we’re talking about softly sweet white zinfandels, which, of course, are the source of confusion.
Red wine and chocolate go great together.
If I have a red wine with a sweet dessert, I want it to be Port. The fruit in red wines, like cabernet sauvignon, are diminished when they cross paths the sweetness found in all chocolate. It’s this sweetness that creates a bitter quality in the wine, which was never the goal of the winemaker. Ports are already sweet and pose no conflict with chocolate
Red wines should be served at room temperature.
If you’re living in a medieval castle in Umbria or Loire Valley, then your room temperature may be right. However, in the modern world, most houses, even for the most frugal, are warmer. Reds do very nicely at 60 degrees…as a matter of fact, whites do very nicely at 60 degrees, too!
Glassware does not matter.
Modern glassware is designed to enhance the wine experience and does not have to be particularly expensive. A solid, well-made glass most certainly heightens one’s appreciation of wine. Can you enjoy a Picasso on the wall of a rundown tenement house? Sure, but there’s no doubt that taking in the beauty and mastery is a whole lot easier in a clean, well-lit gallery. There’s no need to purchase multiple types of glasses. A good white wine and a good red wine glass will do.
My special bottle of wine is worth a lot of money.
Your cherished gift or inherited wine may be worth a lot to you, but finding the right buyer, certifying the particulars of storage and provenance may be difficult. The effort and risk most often do not merit a substantial reward when we’re talking about a few random bottles of wine.
Domestic wines give me headaches; European wines don’t.
People do have allergies and sensitivities to things in wine like tannins, histamines and sulfites in wines. European wines have these compounds, too. Many consumers point to sulfites as the source of headaches. They believe domestic producers for whatever reason add extra sulfites. European winemakers aren’t forced by their governments to put sulfite warnings on the label. These warning labels, found on all wines sold in the U.S., create a little unnecessary fear and a lot of confusion.
Inferior wines are put in screwtop bottles.
There’s more acceptance and understanding about screwcaps these days, but many folks still think only cheap wines get a screwtop. Wines worthy of our interest and consumption, priced at all levels, come in screwcap or what is known as Stelvin closure bottles. Screwcaps do exceptionally well for wines that are to be consumed immediately. Since most wines in the U.S. are consumed within 48 hours of purchase, then that’s most wine.
Sparkling wine is only for celebrations.
Yes, perfect for celebrations! But versatile enough for so much more. The trick is to find a bubbly you enjoy with any food. This can be reduced-fat Cheez-Its, brunch or caviar. Sparkling wines can be carried throughout the appropriate meal, or used as the intermezzo between courses. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a glass slipper around for those right moments with the right someone.
Gil Kulers is a certified wine educator and a consultant for a metro-Atlanta wine shop. You can reach him at email@example.com.
— Gil Kulers, AJC Drink blog