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Wine 101

11/01/2011


With wine more popular than ever in Asia, it’s time for oenophile CH’NG POH TIONG to explode some myths about selecting the right vintage

1 THE MORE EXPENSIVE THE WINE, THE BETTER IT IS
Price is always an indicator of quality. But it’s never conclusive. It’s simply the law of supply and demand: the more popular a wine gets, the pricier it will become. Some wines have doubled in price in the last few years simply because seemingly every new millionaire in China, Russia and India wants them to reflect their newly acquired wealth. To conclude: expensive wines are usually of very high quality, but that same quality can often be had for half the price—in some cases, even less.

2 FRENCH WINES ARE BEST
France produces, at its very best, most of the greatest wines in the world. These include sparkling (champagne); Chardonnay (Burgundy); Sauvignon Blanc (Sancerre); Pinot Noir (Burgundy); Cabernet Sauvignon blend (Bordeaux, and the wines of the Medoc); and Merlot blend (Pomerol). That said, New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs are the envy of the Loire Valley. Great Chardonnays from New World countries such as Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand are better than mediocre white Burgundies. While we can say that France produces most of the world’s great wines, great wines are also produced in many other places.

3 THE OLDER THE WINE, THE BETTER
As with humans, not all wine gets better as it ages. Only those that are complex and have great intensity of fruit and balancing acidity will improve. For such white wines, including Rieslings, Chenin Blancs and Chardonnays, 10 to 20 more years is not too long. For the greatest reds, including Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Bordeaux, Burgundy, South Australian Shiraz, Western Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon, between 30 and 50 years might be needed.

4 NEW WORLD WINES CANNOT KEEP
When wines are great, regardless of their origin, they have no problem ageing, evolving and getting better and more complex. The end result is a multidimensional, layered, peacock spread of flavors. Ten years, for most vintages, would be the minimum. Not just the great wines, but even a simple Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet will taste better when it is between three and five years.

Image courtesy of Jacob's Creek5 WINES SEALED BY A SCREW CAP ARE INFERIOR
Popularized mainly by New Zealand and Australia producers, screw-cap wines are still thought by some as fit only for very ordinary wines. This is short-sighted. The screw cap is all around us. Perhaps the world’s most famous wine, Dom Perignon champagne, spends between six and 10 years sealed by no more than a crown cap (the same type of seal for a bottle of beer) before disgorgement.

6 CHAMPAGNE IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN SPARKLING WINE
This is almost 99 percent true. When champagne is good, there is nothing that can replace it. The combination of delicate fruitiness, elegant structure and effortless effervescence of champagne is unbeatable. But when it is dilute, watery and acidic, then a good sparkling wine would be far more enjoyable.

7 THE HIGHER THE ALCOHOL, THE BETTER THE WINE
This is definitely not true. A German Riesling with just 9 percent alcohol can be sublime. Harmony is everything when it comes to wine. As an analogy: a big or small car can be just as beautiful if the lines of its shape and size are in harmony. But the design can seem very chunky if the parts are slapped on without consideration to the overall look.

8 THE DARKER THE COLOR OF THE WINE, THE BETTER IT IS
It’s hard to tell a wine’s quality just by looking at the bottle. But, if there is a promoter hovering over you and you are making your decision based on sight, remember a darker-colored wine does not automatically mean it is superior. Color alone shouldn’t guide your decision. Taste should be your guiding factor when choosing a wine. And always choose what you enjoy drinking, not what you think you should be drinking to impress others.

9 REAL MEN DON’T DRINK ROSE
Some men might still shun the color pink. But just like quiche, rose can be delicious. And whether you are a real man or not, you should be brave enough to drink what you like and not be inhibited by stereotypes. So pass that bottle of pink champagne please.

10 WINES PRODUCED FROM A SINGLE VARIETAL ARE BETTER THAN THOSE FROM A BLEND
It all depends on the varietal. In the case of Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gruner Veltliner, Viognier, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Syrah/Shiraz, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, that preconception is almost always true. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc yield the most commanding wines when they are blended together—their sum total greater than their individual parts.

 

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