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The Trouble with Preconceptions about Wine

Why is it that many wine drinkers feel they have to give their opinion about a wine, a region or country which, most of the time, is based on preconceptions that are either not accurate or completely wrong? If I had a €1 for every time someone has made a sweeping all encompassing comment about a country, grape or region, I would be able to buy some really nice wines!

Whether it be in my wine shop in Valencia or when giving a tasting I often hear comments such as ’All French wines are …..’ or ‘All Rieslings are …’ or ‘All Spanish white wines are…..’, ‘Spanish Champagne is …..’ ‘German wines are always sweet’ or ’Rioja is better than Ribera’.

When giving a course or a tasting we nearly always have blend tastings to compare and contrast without any preconceived ideas of what the wine should taste like, in this way we learn to appreciate the similarities and differences.

Take the comment “All French wines are very strong and expensive”. There are some French wines that are very full bodied and expensive, but it is absurd to suggest that all French wines are like that. To discover the vast choice of French wines takes time and along the way you may taste some poor wines. However, you should not draw a conclusion on a region or country based on one bad experience. It is fascinating how they vary from region to region, with a wide range of qualities and styles from the most exquisite elegant and expensive wines in the world to basic jug wine while in between you can find pretty much everything else. If you have ever had a chilled Pouilly Fumé with seafood the reaction will probably be one of delight.

Another comment I often hear is ‘Rieslings are sweet and I don’t like sweet wines’. It is true that tasting a cheap, commercial Riesling often with a high level of residual sugar is not a good experience. So avoid very cheap wines. Riesling is a grape that thrives in cooler climates, especially in its home in Germany but also Alsace, Australia and New Zealand. With a little but if of homework, you will find Riesling that will really surprise you. Most Rieslings are dry, with a really nice variety of aromas and flavours from floral, citrus, honey, even petrol. The naturally sweet wines can be stunning. Look out for the term ‘auslese’ on a German wine label.

I recently suggested a Godello from Ribeiro for a French customer who said to me, ’Spain is not good for white wine’. Really, is that so? There are some stunningly good Spanish white. Had he tried a good Albariño, Godello or a dry Moscatel? No he hadn’t, but I gave him some suggestions of wines to try so that in the future he would not make such comments.

Here in Spain when asking for a glass of wine in a bar or when I go out to a restaurant with friends most of the time a most of the time you will be offered two options, a Rioja or Ribera. For many the preconception with wine it is best to play it safe. There is nothing wrong with doing this, however, depending on the establishment there are many well informed sommeliers to make suggestions of different wines to try. So don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations rather than always playing safe.

If you have some preconceptions that influence how you choose a wine, bear in mind that they are likely to be wrong. Each time you taste a new wine let the wine do the talking. What is important is to find the styles of wines you enjoy, that involves starting with no preconceived ideas.

Mark O’Neill DipWSET is the owner of The Wine Place, Valencia

Written by

I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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