|Wine Facts and FAQs|
What follows are my responses to some of the wine questions I've been asked recently. I can't say they're frequently asked, but they really have been asked at least once. Feel free to address questions to me. I'll find answers to them and, if I think they're of general interest, I'll post them here.
Question - I recently saw an article reporting an experiment that showed wine experts in Bordeaux couldn't tell a white wine from a red. They also thought highly of a wine when it was in a bottle with the label of a famous winery but thought the same wine was poor when it was served to them in a bottle from an unknown winery. Are wine experts frauds?
Answer - Several people sent me clippings of this report from The Times of London. It stated that 54 of Bordeaux's "eminent wine experts" (they're not identified) thought white wine coloured red was in fact red wine, and described it as having red wine aromas and tastes. Then they were given a wine twice: once in a cru classe bottle and once in a vin de table bottle. Forty said it was good when they thought it was a cru classe, but only 12 said it was good when they thought it was a vin de table. The Times journalist thought the experiment had turned the tables on the experts, and declared that they "know no more than the rest of us."
Well, yes and no. One thing most knowledgable wine people recognize is that they are influenced when they know what they're tasting. A common saying is that a glimpse of the label is worth 20 years' tasting experience. It's understandable that when you see a label or know the varietals in a wine, you immediately form a taste image of it—you can imagine what you're about to smell, taste, and feel. You can be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised, of course, but the preconception is always there, whether you're aware of it or not.
I suspect it's the same with everything. If you could comparatively wear two pairs of running shoes, one priced at $200 and one at $20, you'd probably think the $200 pair was more comfortable. If you could comparatively drive two identical cars, one with a BMW decal, the other with a Hyundai decal, you might well think the "BMW" was quieter and handled better. If wine tasters are influenced in the same way, it doesn't make them frauds. It makes them sort of normal.
The point is that reputable wine tasting and judging is done blind, so that the tasters have no idea which wine they're tasting. As for wine experts knowing more or less than "the rest of us," the knowledgable wine people I know are very humble about their knowledge. I don't know one who would be happy to be called an "expert," because they know what a vast and ever- changing subject wine is. But they do understand the principles of tasting and wine making, and they can evaluate qualities like the balance and the probable durability of wine. Does this mean that there are no poor performers among wine professionals? Of course not. Again, it's like any other profession.
Question - I know you can send a bad bottle of wine back in a restaurant. But what do you do if friends come around and bring you a bottle of their homemade wine that tastes awful?
Answer - Send your friends back.
Question - A lot of Australian wines have a "Bin" number on them. Does it mean anything? Are wines with higher Bin numbers better than others?
Answer - Bin numbers are another form of branding wine, and have nothing to do with quality. They're most common on Australian wines, but I've seen them from New Zealand and from an East European producer (whose name I've forgotten).
The origins are very straightforward. Australian wineries used to store their wines in numbered compartments called 'bins' and they just started to name the wines after them. Later they simply devised numbers for their wines. Some wineries code them to refer to grape varietals, but others make them up. One wine maker told me that when they were looking for a bin number for his latest wine, they couldn't remember how the code worked. After a while, someone asked him, "When's your birthday?" "13th of August," he replied. "OK, we'll call it Bin 138." And it was.
Lindeman brands many of its wines with Bin numbers. Bin 65 is its best-selling Chardonnay and Bins 444 and 555 are very popular. But don't expect to see a Bin 666—the diabolical connection might put too many people off!
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