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Common Myths about Wine: Part 2

Wine critics know which wine is best for you

Turning to critics for advice is natural. We do it all the time. In most cases, we weigh the critics’ opinions against our own experience and tastes. Yet when many wine drinkers hear that a wine received a 90-plus point rating from a wine critic, they go out of their way to get that wine. The curiosity to try a wine that scores well is understandable, but the rigid belief that such a wine is (a) necessarily a great wine and (b) a wine you’ll like is simply misguided.

The critics’ scores are nothing more than the critics’ professional opinion — and opinion, like taste, is always personal.


Wine quality is objectively measurable

If human beings were machines, maybe a person could taste a wine and, with repeated and reproducible accuracy, ascribe a quality ranking to that wine. As it is, however, the equipment we have to work with (our noses, mouths, and brains) is personal and varies in performance from one individual to the next. The experience of wine is always subjective, and the quality statement given to a wine is, therefore, always subjective.

Everything about the wine-tasting experience influences your subjective impression of a wine’s taste. For example, the weather, your mood, and the ambiance of the situation all affect your reaction to a wine. Not only that: One bottle of a wine can be subtly different from another bottle of the same wine, and the same wine in a different glass can taste different.


Wine authorities are experts

Wine is an incredibly vast subject involving biochemistry, botany, geology, chemistry, climatology, history, and culture. How can anyone be an expert in all of that?

Different aspects of wine appeal to different people. Depending on what they particularly like about wine, people tend to specialize in some of wine’s disciplines at the expense of others. Don’t expect any one person to be able to answer all your questions about wine. Just like doctors and lawyers, wine professionals specialize. They have to.


Old wines are good wines

The idea of rare old bottles of wine being auctioned off for tens of thousands of rands is fascinating enough to capture anyone’s imagination. But valuable old bottles of wine are even rarer than valuable old coins because, unlike coins, wine is perishable.

The huge majority of the world’s wines don’t have what it takes to age for decades. Most wines are meant to be enjoyed in the first one to five years of their lives. Even those wines that have the potential to develop slowly over many years will achieve their potential only if they’re properly stored.


Champagnes and Cap Classique Wines don’t age well

To the contrary, Champagne does age well! Depending on the particular year, vintage Champagne can age especially well. The trick, though, is that Champagne demands excellent storage. If kept in a cool, dark, humid place, many Champagnes can age for decades, especially in the great vintages. They lose some effervescence but take on a complexity of flavor similar to fine white Burgundy. Champagnes in magnum bottles (1.5 liters) generally age better than those in regular size (750 milliliters) bottles.