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Wine Misconceptions in India

While conducting wine appreciation programmes we realized that many people in India still believe in myths and half-truths about wine. Listed here are ten of them. Watch this space for more. Subhash Arora

Red wine is drunk at room temperature: Most people now understand that room temp. does not mean 40° C in Delhi but in the underground cellars of Europe. It is important to appreciate that light reds are to be cooled to get the best flavours and avoid nosing the evaporating alcohol at higher temps.

Full-bodied reds like Californian Cabernets, Shiraz or Bordeaux Medo`cs should be served at 18°-20° C, medium bodied Burgundy Reds, Chiantis or Merlots at 14°-16° C while light bodied Beaujolais, Valpolicellas or light Zinfandels can be cooled down even to 10° C.

All White wines need to be chilled: This is only half the story. Its true that white wines are best enjoyed chilled but not near freezing temps, like sparkling wines, Champagne, icewines which are best enjoyed between 5° – 8° C (Vintage Champagnes should be at 10° C ). Light – bodied Rieslings, Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs are best drunk at 8°-11° C while full-bodied Chardonnays are best at 10°-12° C with aged Burgundy whites even at 14° C. It is always better to err at the lower side of the temp. range, though.

Older wines are better: Over 90% wines are best drunk young and before the next harvest as they lose their freshness and fruitiness. About 5% get better beyond 3-5 years. Only 1% have a potential to get better, smoother and they reach their peak in 20, 30 or even 100 years. (Mouton- Rothschild 1945 is expected to reach its peak in 2045 though it is drinkable now, a Beaujolais Nuoveau released in November should be drunk before the spring of the following year.

This, however, also is not true that a 2003 vintage becomes ‘bad’ or ‘obsolete’ when the 2004 vintage comes out like some people, especially wine retailers mistakenly believe.

Wines should be stored in the air-conditioned room: Though certainly better than leaving them to die in a hot living-room- wines are really stressed with temperature variations, they should be stored at a constant temperature of 12°-15° C . If a wine cellar that assures proper storage is not available, it is best to store the bottles horizontally in a dark corner of the house where the temperature is the lowest. Another alternative is to store them in an old and inefficient fridge which is well past its prime and with insufficient cooling, it is adequate for storing. Avoid storage in the kitchen fridge. Smell of vegetables and fruits will eventually permeate through the cork. Long term storage will dry out the cork and may result in oxidation of wine.

Wine with slightly off-flavours can be used for cooking: The off-flavours get concentrated in the food and may actually spoil the dish. General rule is that wine that is not good for drinking is also not good for cooking. Left-over wine, properly corked and stored in the fridge can be used for cooking for a few days, though.

Bordeaux wines are the best: Although some of the world’s best wines co me from Bordeaux, some of the worst and cheap wines also are produced there. In fact a barrel of bulk wine from Bordeaux can cost less than one Euro. It is no coincidence that over 100mill liters of wine from this region is sought to be converted this year to industrial alcohol (25 times the total annual wine consumption in India).

Wine does not go well with vegetarian meals: Nothing can be farther than the truth. Many of the delicious Italian dishes are vegetarian including pastas and pizzas. Yet they taste a lot better with Italian wines. Though powerful, tannic wines like Cabernets and Shiraz may not be a proper match for vegetarian dishes, light reds and several whites, especially slightly spicy wines go very well, provided the food is not chilly hot.

Wine should breathe in the bottle before drinking: White wines do not require any breathing. Most young reds do not require it either unless they are not clean (without slight smell that goes away when wine comes in contact with air). Same goes for very old and fragile wines. But fine wines will open up on breathing for an hour or two. Cheaper, tannic wines may also become less astringent with oxygen coming in contact with wine. However, it is a fallacy that wine can breathe in an open bottle, because of very small surface area in contact with oxygen. It should be decanted into a decanter or a plain jug or kept in a proper wineglass for some time.

Imported wines are better than Indian wines: Obviously with centuries of wine making experience couple with global competition majority of international wines have an edge over Indian wines which are at an infant stage. However, with the quality of these wines going up and a continuing influx of cheap and bulk wine at the lowest price points, Indian wines can hold their own. Grover and Sula make some very palatable wines and more wine producers are entering the fray with some decent offerings.

More expensive wines are better wines: While it is true that cheaper wines cannot be fine wines due to the inherent higher cost of production of quality wines, they can also command prices due to the branding and market perception. A positive rating by a well known wine expert like Robert Parker can result in the price shooting up overnight and vice versa. One has to consider one's own budget and seek the best wine suited to his own palate, provided the palate has been developed for different wines..

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