'Variety is the spice of life' rings true in collecting wines

PHOTO: Reuters

When one first starts buying wine, particularly when building up a personal collection, one quickly learns that the two principal considerations - apart from price, of course - are names of desirable and favourite wines and vintage evaluations.

Listing one's favourite wines is easier, compiled from one's drinking experience. Vintage evaluations are learnt from browsing wine pages on the Internet, and ratings from drinking sessions and discussions with fellow wine lovers.

That is today. But 30 years ago, there was no Internet. And there were few reasonably experienced wine drinkers, let alone wine lovers, in one's community - Singapore.

There was only the Decanter magazine, thank goodness, and opportunely at the time in 1983, Robert Parker burst onto the scene with his Robert Parker Wine Advocate wine magazine.

The latter, in particular, with its 100-point scoring of wine quality, was a godsend and avidly devoured.

Read also: Wine opens and frees the mind

Since then, one has got a little more knowledgeable, a little wiser and more critical about accepting printed evaluations and scoring as gospel truth.

One learns to reach out to wider sources instead of only one or two sources. 

And you learn which source is the more neutral in terms of personal recommendations, and what the biases of individual sources are.

And if you read French - which one does not, sadly - there are French wine magazines and Internet sources to access.

Back to vintages. How does one - as critically as possible within one's own experience - evaluate the various assessments and scores?

One learns soon enough whose ratings and wine notes are the more knowledgeable and reliable, and which to read with a more critical evaluation.

One learns just as quickly too, that English wine writers tend to be a little more cautious and conservative than others, and that one can rely on one's own experience.

And also that loudly wine-press acclaimed vintages need to be read and assessed a little more critically.

Wine myths to stop believing

  • Fact: Surprise! Wines can actually expire.

    Not all wines can age gracefully, and many soon turn stale after a year or two. Only about one per cent of all wines improve with long-term cellaring of five to 10 years.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Wine prices are not only influenced by quality. Image - along with market conditions, demand and even currency fluctuations - influence the price.

    Less familiar wines from more unfashionable regions and producers can also offer surprisingly good, value-for-money wines.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Don't judge a wine by its bottle.

    A heavier bottle certainly indicates that the winery has made a substantial investment in the packaging, but that doesn't mean that the wine itself is exceptional.

    And just remember: the cost of shipping heavier packing also costs more, which is factored into its final retail price.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: You don't have to confine your wine to only Western cuisine - you can drink it with Asian food too if you choose something suitable.

    Chinese food pairs perfectly with wines that have high acidity, lower alcohol and relatively understated flavours and aromas. The next time you dig into your stir-fry, try Riesling if you prefer white wine or Pinot Noir if you like red.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Cork has been preferred choice as it allows small amounts of oxygen into the wine to help aid its evolution - an important aspect for reds.

    But this doesn't mean that wines can't mature well with screw-on caps.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Beer, wine, and liquors all confer the same health benefits.

    Research has revealed that it's not antioxidants that protect against heart disease, but alcohol, which raises levels of HDL - also known as good cholesterol. This helps to reduce plaque formation and clots in the arteries to lower the risk of heart diseases.

    But of course, this isn't a free pass to load up on booze. Drink in moderation!

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: While this is commonly believed, the reality is that not all cheeses pair well with wine. Heavy textured and strong-tasting cheeses overpower the tongue's ability to fully enjoy the richness and balance of a good wine.

    Pair your tipple with a softer, milder cheese like Brie.

    Photo: Pixabay

  • Fact: Uncorking a bottle does not sufficiently aerate wine as the narrow bottleneck restricts airflow.

    Pouring the wine through a decanter into your glass is a more effective way to let it breathe.

    You can also gently jiggle the bottle after opening it to fully aerate your wine and release its flavour and aroma.

    Photo: Pixabay

And of course it is also normal (and natural) to focus one's attention on the widely acclaimed vintages and scores, in particular the 100-pointers.

But soon enough, one learns to apply a little more critical view of these - which are more neutral and more balanced, and which are biased by personal preferences.

One thing that one has learnt is to take the reviews and scores of the so-called "off" vintages with a good pinch of salt.

And the best way to learn is by drinking your favourite wines from these "off" vintages.

And buying them, especially en primeur when the opening prices are generally much more acceptable.

This article was first published on Feb 17 , 2017. Get The Business Times for more stories.