America: Welcome to the 21st century! -a time that is most exciting not for its technologies or music or politics, but for its beverage culture! We in the U.S. have finally woken up to and embraced the diverse world of wine, now consuming the undisputed king of beverages at pace with older nations who’ve had beloved relationships with it for centuries or longer. It could also be said that NYC, being the cultural epicenter of our nation, has had a head start in this new respect; it’s the Kingdom of Sommeliers, the dominion of tiny wine importers, and home to more quirky, funky wine shops than the stuffy 20th-century wine aficionado would’ve had the time to scoff at.
While the rest of our nation crawls through its infancy regarding true wine knowledge, even we New Yorkers are in our adolescence. And it’s no wonder; with such a vast category as wine suddenly emerging as part of our daily lives, there’s going to be a learning curve that just seems to keep “curving”. As with anything new and diverse, born are countless myths and misconceptions that will lead us meandering in a hundred directions before we arrive at the truth. My intent, as a 13-year wine retail trade veteran, is to inject some of that aforementioned truth into this juicy topic, starting with a blog series of the most common misunderstandings I’ve encountered through the years. Keep in mind that I use the word “truth” gently here, for, wine enjoyment is always a subjective pursuit.
We’re smack in the middle of rosé drinking season, so this is a great place to start the series. When I was beginning to explore wine, rosé was one of the last categories I investigated. If the stigma of White Zinfandel (well-warranted) hadn’t frightened me off, then the mistaken notion that blending red and white wine equaled pink did the trick. It wasn’t until I entered the wine trade 5 years later that I discovered the real technique by which modern rosé is made: From red grapes, with rare exception. Consider Pinot Noir harvested in the Sancerre region, for instance. After the grapes are pressed, the juice that emerges is colorless until it begins to interact with the crushed grape skins. Allow this skin contact to persist for a few days, and the juice begins to acquire a vivid pink hue. Let it continue longer and it will be full-on red. All this pigmentation and it’s not even wine yet (that happens later, after alcoholic fermentation). Think of this the next time someone offers you a refreshing glass of Provencal or Tavel Rosé, and you’ll be able to examine these compelling wines with a new set of eyes.
Myth: Riesling is Always Sweet
As is the case with rosé wines (thanks again to White Zin), the word Riesling sometimes triggers contempt in many wine lovers who are averse to sweetness. Although many of the finest and most elite bottlings of Riesling in the world do have considerable residual sugar, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Riesling does not automatically equal sweet. Riesling, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, is a noble white grape variety which can be transformed into wines that run the spectrum from bone-dry to sticky & dessert-like. Plain and simple: if you’re avoiding Riesling because of the misconception, you’re missing out on some of the most serious wines the world has to offer. Gettin’ curious? Explore Rieslings from areas like Alsace, Austria, Western Australia, and our very own backyard….The Finger Lakes. And my general rule for determining the dryness of a Riesling: Check the alcohol content. If it’s above 12%, make your move.
Keep an eye out for the next installments of Wine “Myth-Conceptions”. There are plenty more to come.