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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Wine Myths Debunked

In this episode, we tap Lauren Buzzeo, tasting director and senior editor, to answer your burning wine questions and debunk the most common myths. Plus, Digital Managing Editor Marina Vataj hits the streets of New York City to find out just how much wine lovers really know about their favorite drink. The results will surprise you.

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Read the full transcript of “Wine Myths Debunked”:

Marina Vataj: I’m Marina Vataj, Digital Managing Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. In this week’s episode, we ask Lauren Buzzeo, Tasting Director and Senior Editor, to debunk the most common wine myths. I also hit the streets of New York City to find out how much wine lovers really know. Turns out there a lot of misconceptions and myths out there. Let’s get to the bottom of it.

Lauren Buzzeo, Tasting Director and Senior Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. We are going to ask you, the expert, all our wine questions. You cool with that?

Lauren Buzzeo: Yikes.

MV: It’s gonna be easy. All right, so one of the most common myths about wine is: That expensive wines are better wines. Tell us first of all, is this true or false?

LB: I mean, you can’t really make a blanket statement to say that just because a wine is more expensive, or above a certain price threshold, that it will be of better quality than something that is significantly less. Now, there are reasons why wines may be more expensive than other wines. As an example, some of the greatest German wines are harvested from vineyards that are planted on very steep slopes. And therefore the man power and the machinery, or lack of machinery that’s required to actually get those wines, get those grapes pulled and get those wines made in the cellar, is much more substantial than something that’s say, can be harvested by machine no problem. Nice flat land. As a result of that, you’re going to see little bit higher prices from wines from those areas. So there’s a lot of different factors that might contribute to why a wine might be more expensive, but again, that’s not to say that because it is, it’s going to be of better quality.

As we know, we taste over 22,000 wines every year, and certainly we taste plenty of wines that we designate as best buys. Those are wines that achieve a certain quality to price ratio, that can be a $15 Pinot Noir from central coast of California, that could be 91 points. And certainly that could be comparable to a established delicious red burgundy that could theoretically be 3, 4, 5 times the price. But in terms of rating and quality, they’re on the same level.

So it’s not a given that just because you’re going to spend more on a bottle, that it’s going to be better. Which is why what we do, it’s so important for us when we’re rating and reviewing wines that we taste everything blind. We do not know pricing when we’re reviewing wines, because we really don’t want that to be a factor.

MV: Right. That’s really great. I’m happy to hear that you do not have to spend a lot to get a good bottle of wine, especially when you don’t always want to.

LB: Definitely.

MV: So, that’s one myth you guys can just put away for the new year. Get a great bottle, like she said.

LB: Save your dollars and just buy more.

MV: Sign me up for that.

Okay, so, the next big wine myth: White wines with fish, and red wines with meat. Now, I tend to be a little bit more adventurous with my pairings. I tend to think opposites attract.

LB: Of course, you work here. Of course, you’re more adventurous.

MV: Exactly. But I do think there are some … there’s a smidgen of truth to that perhaps, but tell me, what do you think?

LB: I’m not going to disagree with you. When I am having fish I definitely tend towards white wines, and if I’m having a big bold steak, I’m definitely looking for a hearty red that has a bit more structure, tannins, weight concentration. But as you were saying, that’s not to say that you need to treat them exclusively. There are certainly preparations of say, heartier fish like a salmon, that really goes beautifully with an earthy Pinot Noir, or even some shrimp preparations can go great with a juicy Barbera. So there are definitely ways to think outside of the box, that you don’t need to be restricted to one wine type over another. And that goes with meat as well. If you’re maybe have a Osso Bucco that’s prepared with some citrus zest and trying to bring out some more acidity and liveliness, you might want to try pairing it with a white with a bit more verve, than a really tannic robust red that’s gonna just drown out that liveliness that you’re going for. So there’s definitely ways that you can play around that old tired rule.

MV: And you just happen to debunk another myth, which is: That Rose is not just for summer. While we’re on the subject of pairing, there are two pairing rules that I was taught, and obviously I’ve evolved out of, but I use as a reference. One of them is: What grows together, goes together. And then the second example, and that is: When I have Thai food, I always have a Riesling. So what do think about those two tips for pairings?

LB: Well, what grows together, goes together, yeah I’ve probably mentioned that because as an Italian myself, that’s just a rule that’s in our blood. It just comes out that way. You naturally, if you have something with truffles, you’re naturally thinking of the Pedemonte and the wines that go with all that delectable cuisine with those truffles. So, it’s something that, it might be old, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s tired and it’s still good one to have in your stable. So I’m not going to say let’s debunk that myth. I’m not even going to call it a myth. It is a reality. It’s a good standby to go by. But you don’t need to be restricted by that.

MV: All right so here’s another more serious myth, but I think it’s a really important one, and that is: The shape of a wine glass is irrelevant. I mean, I think I’m going to bring out the ultimate myth, which is: Champagne should be drunk in a flute glass. That I totally disagree with. I do think there is something sexy about a flute glass, and I think there is something celebratory about a flute glass, but I don’t necessarily, and in fact, I’m sure the champagne industry would agree, that is, that’s the only way to enjoy a champagne.

LB: Honestly on this one Marina, I can’t give you a true or false because I think that it’s very subjective and I think that I’m definitely going to agree with you about champagne flutes. It’s not, in my opinion, the best vessel for really enjoying and getting the best expression of what’s in your glass. However, I think there’s a very practical reason why people use champagne flutes.

I think if you’re toasting, I think if people … You’re meandering around a party or whatever, it kind of keeps it a little bit more contained. And yes, you’re right, it looks sexy, it looks festive, it’s traditional in some aspects so people know immediately you’re drinking champagne and it’s a party, and honestly, there’s a lot less spilling in champagne flutes than wine glasses.

MV: Yeah, that’s true.

LB: So, I understand the practicality of the flutes in that regard.

However, absolutely a white wine glass with a little bit more opening for the nose and a little bit bigger bowl, or a bowl at all, to contain some of those beautiful aromatics that you’re going to get in a sparkling wine, is certainly important.

So I am going to say I agree with you on the champagne. With regards to white versus red, versus Bordeaux glass, versus Pinot glass, I can’t get on board that there are so many and that it really makes a big difference.

MV: That is a huge statement though, and that is a huge debunking of this big myth.

Rules exist for reasons, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I would say overall the idea behind these different types of glassware is sort of the distribution of the wine in the glass and how it hits your sensory system. So, “How are you smelling the aromas? Where is it landing in your mouth first? How is it affecting the swirl?” I understand all those technical things, but I think as somebody who’s trying to enjoy wine and learn about wine, as a resolution or ever in life, I think it’s a lot to tackle.

I admit sometimes I have my Bordeaux in my Pinot Noir glass. And it’s just something … It really depends on how I feel.

LB: I will admit that I generally drink out of only one glass.

MV: Is it one of those all purpose glasses though or is it a-

LB: It is not branded as an all purpose glass. I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a glass that I picked up on a trip to Murano, Italy, with my family, that’s very special to me.

It’s a beautiful glass, it has great weight for me. I prefer a little bit of weight in my glass. These new glasses that are very, very light-

MV: Dainty.

LB: Are beautiful, but for me, I’m not a small gal. I feel like I need something a little bit more substantial in my hands. So my glass has a bit of weight to it, nice solid bottom, a beautiful big bowl, but not too big, so I wouldn’t go so far to say it looks like what might be branded as a burgundy glass, a red burgundy glass. I’d say it might actually be more comparable to what they would brand as a white burgundy glass, but that being said, for me it works with almost everything that I drink. That’s not to say as you were saying, that there’s technical or scientific reasons as to why these varietal specific glasses are created. I understand that there is. As you noted, the way that it hits the palette, the way that the aromas are concentrated or diffused.

So there’s definitely sound logic, and reasoning as to why certain glasses are created a certain way for different varieties, but the need to have all of those glasses and to always serve your, say, Sauvignon Blanc out of a Sauvignon Blanc glass, I don’t think it’s really fully necessary for everyone to really do.

MV: Right. Sometimes it just takes the fun out of it.

LB: Yeah.

MV: Just gotta enjoy what you enjoy.

LB: That goes back to that whole enjoying life thing.

MV: Exactly.

LB: You can’t be bogged down and having … How many varietals are out there? You can’t have a glass for everything.

MV: All right, so, this is another big one, and we may have touched on it a little bit when we talked about expensive wines, but I do think it’s worth just saying it out loud: Boutique wineries make better wines than big corporations. That’s a big myth. True or false?

LB: I mean again, I have to say false there. You can’t put a hard and fast black and white answer on really a lot of theses myths. So I’m going to say generally, it’s not necessarily true. There are however certain, maybe certain qualities or expectations or reputations that you might have out of a boutique winery, that might be a little bit more expressive of a region or a specific vintage condition, than it might be with a larger production house or corporation that might have newer technology, different systems in place, different destemmers, or sorters, or presses, or new tanks, whatever it may be. Generally, larger production wineries will just have a more consistent style year over year.

[Scene Change]

MV: Today we’re in Union Square, New York City, to test people on their wine knowledge.

What’s in a Bordeaux blend?

Male #1: Uh, I don’t know.

Female #1: Oh, a blend? How about cabernet?

Male #2: Grape.

MV: Close. What is champagne?

Female #1: Um, bubbly?

Male #1: Bad white wine with bubbles.

Male #3: Champagne is sparkling white wine made in the Champagne region of France.

Male #2: No other sparkling wine can be called champagne unless it’s made there.

MV: How would you describe tannin?

Female #1: Tannin? I’m sorry, say it again.

Female #2: Tannin is kind of that taste that you get in your mouth that’s like [inaudible 00:12:06].

Male #2: Tannins I know are the things that give you a hangover.

MV: So when you have a very big tannic wine, and you feel like your mouth is very suddenly dry, your gums are really dry, that’s tannin.

What is the dominant grape in Chianti?

Female #1: A red one?

MV: We are going to find the wine experts in New York City.

What grapes are in Chianti?

Male #3: Sangiovese.

MV: Bingo!

What is in a typical Bordeaux blend?

Male #3: Well, it’s usually a Cab, a Cab Franc and a Merlot.

MV: Why do wines … Why are they laid on their sides as opposed to upright?

Male #3: Primarily to keep the cork wet, so you don’t get air breaching the wine and aging it prematurely or ruining it.

MV: Congratulations, you are the wine expert of the day.

[Scene change, back to studio.]

Age worthy, quality wines are sealed with a cork. This is a hard one, but I’m going to say, “Go”.

LB: It’s a hard one because in reality the verdict is still out. We’re still pretty far away from having a solid answer on this one. So, I’m not going to say yes or no. Sorry.

MV: That’s fair. That’s fair, this is a tough one guys.

LB: But I’m going to say that it’s a definitely an interesting one and it’s certainly been a hot debate for about a decade now and it will continue to again, for decades to come. Because the key here is obviously seeing how the same wine, which is what a lot of producers are doing now, they’re bottling the same wine under cork and under screw cap. And they’re laying it down and they’re cellaring it, and then they’re opening it up in intervals to come in the future to determine exactly how the aging process is different between the two closures.

MV: They haven’t had quite enough time to do all that research.

LB: Exactly, exactly. I think that it’s … The argument’s out there for one versus another. I think we’ll see what happens. Going back to the champagne glasses, there is something inherently special and romantic about popping a cork.

MV: I was just going to say the same thing.

LB: So a lot of people will really have a hard time letting go of that.

MV: Yeah. She’s talking about herself.

LB: I have no idea what you’re talking about. But I mean, on the flip side, it’s super easy to open a screw cap wine.

MV: It’s true.

LB: I mean, when you’re tailgating or whatever. Train commuting.

MV: Exactly.

Okay, so this is a good one too: All big tannic wines just need more time to age.

LB: No.

MV: Okay. Tell us all things.

LB: Generally, it’s true that tannins will mellow with time. However, you really need to have a wine that has other elements of the same concentration and balance. It’s really-

MV: It’s all about balance.

LB: It’s all about balance. It’s not a question of tannins, it’s a question of balance. If you have nothing but tannins, they might mellow, but they’re still gonna be there. They’re still going to run the show in 5, 10, 20 years. You have to have the fruit to support the tannins. You have to have the acidity to balance everything out. It’s a complete package, so you can’t just look at that one component and say, “Just because this is rough and big and tannic right now, it needs more time.” It’s not the case.

MV: So if it’s too alcoholic, and it’s too acidic, and it’s too tannic when it’s young, it’s going to be all of those things when it’s old, and time is not going to correct that.

LB: Yeah, balance usually doesn’t come more with time. Mellowing, harmonization, evolution, but if something is way out of balance, it’s likely not going to change with more time.

MV: You can’t age white wines.

LB: That’s the worst.

MV: Isn’t that the worst?

LB: I don’t know where this came from.

MV: I hate … I mean, I want to hear more about … Burgundy, but also Champagne. Coming back to Champagne. I love an aged Champagne. And I have a few bottles that I’ve gifted myself that are just … I don’t want to open them. I’m slightly terrified some of them may be too old, but I’m like, “I just want to see what happens.” So white wine can age. Let’s just put that out there.

LB: Absolutely.

MV: So give us hints, tell us what.

LB: Well, I mean, really a lot more than people probably think. I think generally as a culture, for whatever reason we’re kind of obsessed with things being too young. Drinking white wines too young.

There is a lot of wines that could really benefit from at least a year to two, of just some settling, maturation, and just mellowing. It’s funny, if you go into a retail shop and you see as an example, a 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, next to a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa … Let alone the treatment of how the wine was matured, whether or not one was oak-aged versus one was not, the caliber, reputation of the winery, any different factors. Put those even aside and 9 times out of 10, if someone walks into the store, they’re going to pick up the 2015 over the 2014 because they have in their mind that they need to buy the fresher white. And it’s just so crazy to me.

MV: Right, because it can be more fresh in different ways.

LB: Yeah, well and it’s not just about fresh. It’s not all fresh, fresh, fresh.

MV: With [Cova 00:17:52] white wines, I think that are aged, is that they actually can get super complex in ways that if you open them one year too soon, you don’t have that experience.

LB: So that’s exactly the thing. You drink them too young and you’re really doing a disservice to some of the other layers, and nuances, and flavors, that could really come out with, again, just a little bit of time to just come together and mellow. Yeah, obviously you mentioned burgundy, of course you can age. Wines from the [Gerage 18:20], Champagne, some beautiful Suave classicos really can stand the test of time. There’s countless options for white wines that could really mature beautifully given 2, 5, even 10 years in the cellar.

MV: That’s amazing. And now Riesling. German Riesling is another of those wines.

LB: Forget about it. Those are like endless cellar. [crosstalk 00:18:42]

MV: That’s like again, a classic example. Something that you’re almost doing yourself a disservice by opening it right away.

LB: Yes, but I will say again it comes down a lot to personal preference.

MV: That’s true. There’s a lot of freedoms in wine, that’s the point.

LB: Absolutely. Whatever works for you, that’s like … Talking about wine myths, let’s just debunk right here. Anybody that says, “Well but this is what I think about a wine, but I’m not an expert”. Guess what? Nobody’s an expert on anybody else. Okay? Everyone’s got their own palette, their own opinions, their own preferences, and everyone should feel free to feel confident and express those preferences.

MV: Right.

Vintage. What is the deal with vintage? Okay, so a lot of people are like, “Oh you know, they had a terrible vintage in Bordeaux. I shouldn’t buy the vintage here. Oh, that was a bad year in California.” I think a lot of people don’t understand even what vintage means. What does vintage represent for a winery?

LB: The vintage represents the year that the grapes were harvested to make the wine.

MV: Exactly. So, what you’re saying is, really, “The climactic conditions of that year impact what the wine could result in.”

LB: Correct. And that’s the key word that you just said, “Could result in”. It’s not a given, it’s not a definite, a lot depends on different … again, vineyard techniques, practices that wine makers employ and vineyard managers. There’s a lot more at wine makers’ disposal now, and vineyard managers’ disposal now. There’s a lot more tools and technologies that can really turn a bad vintage into an acceptable, and or good, one. So I think back in the day, whenever that might be to you, I think previously vintage mattered a lot more than it does today.

MV: That’s a good point.

LB: And I think today, because of that, you’re not really hearing too much about, “Well that was a bad vintage.” In fact, it’s more the contrary, where it seems almost year after year you’re hearing, “That was a great vintage”, or “That was a good vintage.” You’re hearing a lot less of, “That was a bad vintage.” It’s taking really harsh, dire weather situations for people to say, “It’s a bad vintage.” And that’s even for accounting for climate change, and changing conditions that a lot of locations are experiencing. They’re adapting to it, they’re figuring it out. But again, with the advancements in technology, it’s a different game today than it was certainly 20, 30, and even 10 years ago.

MV: Is it fair to say that not every region has to worry about vintage if they have, sort of a predictable weather pattern year after year?

LB: Yes. There are definitely some regions where the weather conditions are certainly more consistent and regular than others.

MV: So vintages matters less in those areas generally.

LB: Correct. Yeah. I’d say, I review the wines for [inaudible 00:21:53] and generally their conditions are fairly consistent year over year.

MV: And what would you say are one or two major regions where vintage does matter? Or has mattered?

LB: Yeah, well certainly a few years ago, we had a very cool conditions in California, and that really had a drastic effect, but again, not necessarily negative, just different. But that definitely had an effect on the wines from that vintage.

MV: There you go. Good to know.

So here’s another one that came in that I think a lot of people want to hear an expert talk about. Which is, are all Napa whites oakey? Now a lot of people think Napa whites equals oakey. So when I am at a dinner party, and people are like, “Oh, is that a Napa? Oh, I love it. I love the oak”. Is that the case? True or false, and what are some things we could look forward to from Napa in white in general?

LB: All right, well to start off I’m going to say false.

MV: False. That’s a good sign.

LB: I would not say that all Napa whites are oakey. I think that this probably largely came in more as even … set aside Napa, just like a California generalization.

MV: I think that’s true, yeah.

LB: I think a lot of people … Hey, I even did it I think a few minutes ago, I said, “An oakey California Chard.”

MV: You did.

LB: I think that there was definitely a time where that was the go-to style for California, specifically Chardonnay, was to be this really big oakey, rich, buttery, popcorn …

MV: She sounds so excited. In your face, sort of in your face.

LB: It was a little bit of an overdone style in my opinion. Those wines, I understand that some people love them, they’re a little too much for me.

MV: Yeah, me too, me too.

LB: So, again, there was a time where that was definitely the prevalent style coming out of California that people thought if they were buying a Chardonnay that it was definitely going to be buttered, corny toast. I think that there’s been a movement since, certainly in the past 5, 10 years, let’s go with 5. To move away from that ABC movement, the Anything-But-Chardonnay movement, people sort of pushed back against those overdone white and over oaked white wines.

So I think now today, you’re seeing wine makers use oak, especially in California, a little bit more judiciously, a little bit more cognizant that more oak does not necessarily mean better, or longer aging on oak does not mean better.

MV: Or even more flavor.

LB: Right. And allowing some of the natural components of the grape, and the other elements, the acidity, to really come through, is definitely key. So, certainly a lot of the Sauvignon Blancs out of California, there are some that are oaked but you will certainly find plenty that are not. But in addition they’re playing with other varieties and a little bit … Again, more cognizant that it’s not really the thing that they should be known for.

MV: Right. That’s great. And also regions can change their style over time and style evolves and techniques evolve, and now you can also find bottles that say, “unoaked”.

LB: Absolutely.

MV: So if you’re looking for a Chardonnay that’s not oaked, from California, they exist.

LB: But I just want to throw out there, because this is another one I hear a lot: “I don’t like oaked Chardonnay”.

MV: That’s also another myth. Have you tried Burgundy?

LB: I can’t tell you how many people have said that to me, then I’ve asked them if they’ve tried specific wines and they’re like, “Oh, that’s not that”. I’m like, “Yes, it is.”

MV: Okay, so now I’m going to give the floor to you.

Is there anything that I haven’t tackled that you just really want to use this time to tell people?

LB: I guess I’m just going to go back to what we sort of started with, which is you and I, me and whoever, everyone out there, can talk endlessly about what they do or don’t believe is right or wrong. The important thing is to pay attention to your own instincts, and your own preferences, and just go with your gut. If you like something, if you don’t like something, no one can tell you to like it. It’s all subjective, it’s all personal, and you should never ever be ashamed or feel wrong for liking or not liking something that someone else does or doesn’t.

So, I’m just going to say to every wine lover out there, be you, do you, enjoy life, enjoy wine.

MV: It’s a wine lesson and a life lesson. Happy new year. Thank you so much for taking this time Lauren, and teaching us so many wonderful things.

LB: Thank you Ms Vataj.

MV: I can’t wait for next year’s resolution.

LB: Cheers!

MV: Cheers!

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