Posted: Jul 08, 2019
THERE IS SO MUCH to celebrate about wine: so many great bottles, talented winemakers, remarkable wine regions, even beautiful wine glasses. There are also lesser versions of all of these things—some worse than others. As a columnist tasked with writing on the topic each week, I keep a running list of all that I love about wine, and all that I dislike as well. Right now, nothing irks me more than the seven wine “sins” enumerated here, each deadly in its own way.
1. Wine Aged in Liquor Barrels
Neophyte drinkers are cautioned to avoid mixing “the grape with the grain”—though as far as I know, no scientific evidence supports the claim that one shouldn’t follow wine with liquor, or vice versa. Still, I wish producers who age wines in used liquor barrels would heed this advice. Among big names such as E. & J. Gallo Winery, Constellation Brands, Beringer and Robert Mondavi Winery, there’s a distressing and growing trend of turning out whites and reds aged in casks once used for bourbon or other spirits.
Employing barrels that once housed Kentucky bourbon, Mondavi made a Cabernet whose tasting notes promise aromas of “blackberry cobbler, graham cracker, brown sugar.” And a spell in “charred American Oak barriques” gives the Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Red Wine Blend a “creamy mouthfeel” and notes of toasted coconut and violet—or so the winery claims. (To me it tasted a bit like the sweet sacramental wine one gets in church.)
But do these sound like something to drink or something to eat? They are confected and quite potent, too: Some pack as much as 17% alcohol. That’s about the same as a bottle of vintage Port...without the taste, the character or the history.
2. Blue Wine
There are wines with blue labels (most famously, Blue Nun), wines in blue bottles (mostly cheap German Rieslings) and, now, even wines colored blue by technical means.
Though you rarely find blue food in nature and it’s otherwise reserved for baby showers, blue has recently become an acceptable or at least a marketable vinous hue. Gik Blue, the self-proclaimed “first blue wine” in the world, debuted in Spain in 2015. A group of
Spanish twentysomethings (none of them winemakers) sources a blend of red and white grapes in Europe that they “improve through food tech,” according to the Gik website.
With such a wide array of natural shades of red, white and rosé, why does the wine world need something fake? Remarkably, Gik Blue has spawned several blue-toos, including a blue Chardonnay (macerated with the skins of red grapes) and a blue sparkling wine. I wish I could say I know how these wines taste, but I couldn’t find any of them in my local wine shop. I hope that means the blue-wine trend doesn’t have the legs its promoters hoped it would.
3. Celebrity Rosés
Once upon a time, a celebrity might launch a clothing line or perhaps a signature scent; today it’s all about hawking a signature rosé. The celebrity in question may or may not own the winery that made it. (Brangelina did before they split up; Bon Jovi, Drew Barrymore and John Legend do not.) Most of these wines are made by other people in places far from where the celebrity resides. That’s the case with the Nicole Miller Rosé from Château Auguste that hit the market in May.
The New York-based fashion designer put her name on a pink wine made in Bordeaux, not Provence, a fact Ms. Miller called “unique” in an interview soon after the wine’s debut, adding that “most rosés are made in Provence”—which might surprise the world’s many non-Provençal rosé producers.
4. Red Wine and Chocolate
I’ve only seen red wine paired with chocolate in restaurants and on winery tasting menus, where the combination is inevitably described as “romantic” or “decadent.” I can’t recall ever being offered the two together at a friend’s house. The regular wine drinkers I know—and by that I mean non-professionals—wouldn’t think to offer a Cabernet-and-chocolate course. It’s not that my friends aren’t “romantic;” they just know a dark-chocolate bonbon and a tannic red wine don’t make a workable match. The sweetness of the chocolate is stripped away by the tannins, which are, in turn, exaggerated by the candy. To me, it’s a combination not so much decadent as demented.
5. Wax Capsules on Bottles
Some of my favorite producers (e.g., Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Patrick Piuze) cover their corks with wax capsules, as winemakers have done for hundreds of years. Long ago, wax was reputedly employed to protect wine corks from cellar rodents; today it’s more likely affixed to protect corks from damage during shipping or simply because producers think it makes their bottles look fancy.
But wax capsules make wine drinking hard. Have you ever watched an untrained waiter or unfortunate friend try to get a corkscrew through a cork covered by hard wax? They create quite a mess. I know because I’ve done this myself. I end up with bits of wax on my table, counter or floor—and have seen the wax end up in the wine itself at the hands of less-than-polished waiters. If any wax-mad producers are reading this, may I ask a favor? Please stop.
6. Champagne Coupes
The Champagne coupe went out of fashion decades ago, and justly so. This shallow, round bowl on a short stem is as inelegant as it is hard to hold. And yet some wine-savvy drinkers I know recently posted a photo on Facebook of their group holding coupes full of Champagne.
The coupe is truly an artifact of another era. One popular tall tale posits Marie Antoinette’s breast as the model for the glass’s shape, but the coupe actually predates the doomed queen. In the U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s, when the coupe was cool, a lot of ersatz “Champagne” flooded the market. Perhaps the bubbly people were drinking was so bad it didn’t matter that the short stem was awkward to hold and the wide bowl made the bubbles go flat.
As wine drinkers discovered real Champagne, saucer-like coupes gave way to tall flutes and other, worthier vessels. Like many Champagne producers today, I drink bubbly from a balloon-style Burgundy glass to better appreciate its aromas.
7. ‘Wine Country’
These two words together invariably signal something expensive or bad or simply pandering. For the latter, see every “wine country” movie ever made, including the recent one by that very name directed by Amy Poehler. The filmmakers lean right into every cliché of middle-aged women behaving badly in a scenic location, including heavy drinking, of course.
To commodify the places where wine is made only devalues them. ”Wine country vacations” and “wine country tours” almost always mean the generic packaging of a place, experienced from the seat of a bus. I love actual places with names, like Sonoma or Tuscany or the North Fork of Long Island. I don’t want to visit “wine country” or buy a “wine country” tote bag or scarf.
By Lettie Teague
July 3, 2019
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