Top 5 Things to Know About Wine
Top 5 Things to Know About Wine – During the course of a normal working week I am fortunate enough to be able to taste dozens of wines and, even better, I make a living sharing my passion for wine with dozens of people who come to Yorkshire Wine School classes every week. The folk who enjoy our tastings are a varied (usually merry!) bunch: many are just starting out on their personal wine journeys, a few who have been ‘appreciating’ wine for longer than they care to recall and some who are just curious to know a little more. But despite the different people, the different wines which are presented at every tasting and the wealth of differing opinions that people have about wine, there are some questions which are guaranteed to come up again and again. People usually start these questions with phrases like ‘it’s probably a really stupid question but…’ wine is the kind of topic which people apologise for not knowing enough about. But, here’s the truth; the vast majority of people feel uncertain when confronted with a towering range of wines on the supermarket aisle and return to their regular ‘staple favourites’ or, more likely, whichever wine appears to be on the ‘best’ offer (the rationale being- if the wine is expensive then surely it can’t be too bad?).
So here are my responses to the top 5 questions which I get asked about wine- if you have ever wondered about any of these, then don’t feel embarrassed, you are in very good company!
1) Is it true that the larger the ‘dimple’ on the bottom of the bottle, the better the wine?
I probably hear this at least once a week- so let’s get something straight- the only person who decides if a wine is ‘better’ is you- if you enjoy drinking the wine then it was a ‘good’ wine to buy, in my book. The question of what, objectively, is a better or worse wine is a subject for wine professionals to squabble over. There aren’t any shortcuts to figuring out which wine is ‘better’ for you- it isn’t a one-size fits all subject. But, for the record, the size of the dimple is nothing to do with the quality of the wine; Louis Roederer’s famous prestige cuvee Champagne, Cristal, famously has a flat bottom (i.e. no dimple at all).
2) Screw top or cork: what’s the difference?
Another popular question: once upon a time screw caps were associated with cheap wines and for many people that lingering perception remains. The truth is that some of the world’s best winemakers are turning to screw caps or at least testing them out for themselves- they are taking them seriously and so should we. However, this isn’t a simple debate- on the plus side, screw caps tend to be more reliable and offer lower instances of ‘spoiling’ the wine (what we call ‘corked’ wine), although they are not all immune from other faults. On the minus side, there is still relatively little known about how wines ‘age’ or mature when they are sealed under screw cap- it is a case of more work needing to be done. An increasingly vocal environmental lobby have also highlighted that cork is a natural, biodegradable material which won’t hang around for decades in landfill sites- unlike the screw cap alternative.
3) White wine for fish and red wine for meat- right?
The world of food and wine matching is a real source of interest to people at the moment; but often just leaves people more confused as to what wine they should chose. It is a subject which could fill many column inches, but to put a few simple rules out there- most wine works reasonably well with most food (really bad matches are few and far between). So better to experiment with wines which you know you enjoy and food you already like to eat- you might just find a match which surprises you- and the process of experimenting will teach you more about your own preferences than any rules ever could.
4) What’s the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, and other sparkling wines? Is it just price?
Simple answer is no: sparkling wines are made in different ways and are subject to different regulations about the way they are aged, all of which determine the way they taste. But, I return to the point I made in question 1, it is about which wines suit your tastes. Prosecco isn’t made to taste like Champagne, it is a different drink altogether (and has much lower cost of production which accounts, in part, for its cheaper price)- but if you prefer the taste of it, then don’t let anyone tell you that just because it’s cheaper it’s somehow an inferior choice.
5) How much should I spend on a bottle of wine?
Although many people shop by price first, my advice is still that people should experiment by trying a wide range of wines to discover which style suits them best; a large price tag is no guarantee that you will enjoy a wine. But it is worth considering that, at a generous estimate, only around 12p-15p is spent on the wine itself from a bottle costing £5 in the supermarket. But, because many of the costs associated with a bottle of wine, like the price of the packaging, transport and duty are fixed, the percentage spent on wine increases as the price goes up. So, for a £10 bottle of wine, between £2.75 and £3 will go on the wine itself. That is at least 20 times as much being spent on the wine for only 2 times the end price; sometimes you have to pay a little more to get the best value.
Article by Laura Kent, Yorkshire Wine School
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