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Common wine misconceptions

by George Balling
| December 29, 2010 8:00 PM

This time of year when folks are buying wine as gifts for friends and family we get many questions about wine - from grapes to packaging - that in many cases are simple misconceptions regarding the manufacture, flavors and origins of fermented grape juice so here are answers to some of the more common ones.

"This wine has a screw cap; it must be cheap or inferior?" While the decision to seal the bottle with a screw cap as opposed to a traditional cork seal does have its roots in economics, it is a more complex issue. Natural cork can carry a chemical called TCA that can taint the cork and the wine, which is described as the wine being corked when it occurs. The chemical is undetectable by any current process and affects about 5 percent to 10 percent of natural corks, and therefore the bottles that are sealed with them.

The decision to use a screw cap is most times the result of not wanting to lose so much wine to spoilage. Converting to screw cap from natural cork is many times a big financial commitment for any winery and is rarely an indication of an inexpensive or inferior bottle.

"It is always less expensive to get wine directly from the winery isn't it?" The good news here in North Idaho is that wine is most time less expensive here in our local market than it is at wineries, especially those located in California. A great way to see this first hand is by reading any of the wine periodicals like Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast. The prices listed in those magazines are most often the winery prices; if you compare them to wine prices in your favorite wine shop you will notice them being less expensive especially if you belong to the shop's wine club. The other advantage of joining the wine club at a shop as opposed to a winery is the chance to sample wines from a variety of producers.

This discrepancy is due to discounts garnered by distributors from buying in larger quantities and at times on a pre order basis and then passing those savings along to us retailers. We in turn mark the wine accordingly, saving the consumer some money as well. Your costs purchasing wine from distant wineries will go up even more with the shipping charges. In a market like North Idaho the consumer also benefits from getting better allocations of the most sought after wines, as there is less demand competition than in larger markets.

"Champagne and sparkling wine always gives me a headache from the sugar." This is partly a misconception, and partly the result of drinking some Champagnes and sparklers that do leave residual sugar after the secondary in-bottle fermentation. The best sparkling wines in our opinion are those that are fermented dry or nearly dry. The Champagnes that leave residual sugar in the wine and are therefore sweeter and can potentially cause headaches are most often manufactured on a larger scale to please the palate of those looking for something sweet.

If as a consumer though you prefer to try one without the sugar level consult your favorite wine professional about the best ones to try. Don't be afraid of price either as many sparklers that are fermented completely dry are available in the $10 - $20 price range.

"Wines always get better with age so I should not open a bottle for 'x' years after the vintage date." Interestingly, not all wines do get better with age and the concept of better is a very personal one. In truth all wines change with age as they are organic products but whether they are improving is how you as the owner of the bottle feel about those changes. If you try a wine you like a lot drink it now, if you buy enough to try it over time and you find it either improving or degrading, adjust your drinking patterns. Your feelings on any wine and its age worthiness is after all the most important opinion.

Here at the dinner party or most any other wine shop we are always happy to answer questions and track down a specific wine you want to try. As consumers ask the questions you have about wine, knowing truth from fiction will only help you enjoy your entire wine experience more.

If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.

George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo. www.thedinnerpartyshop.com

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