If you open a bottle of Riesling, you should expect something sticky-sweet, right? And all rosé is pretty much the same, yes?
Not necessarily, says this team of wine experts. In this episode, Wine Enthusiast Managing Editor Lauren Buzzeo speaks to professional wine tasters about the most pervasive misconceptions about buying and drinking wine.
The second installment in a series that debunks wine myths, this episode covers whether sniffing a cork accomplishes anything at all, if natural wine is healthier for you, and whether single-vineyard wines are better than multi-site or -appellation blends.
Guests in this episode include Wine Enthusiast Contributing Editors Christina Pickard and Sean Sullivan, as well as Tasting Director Alexander Peartree, who oversees the Tasting Department that reviews around 25,000 wines every year.
For additional reading on the wines and topics covered in this episode, check out the following links:
Check out the latest rosé ratings and reviews from Wine Enthusiast.
Learn more about cork taint from Sean Sullivan.
To discover more truths about natural wine, check out this guide from Christina Pickard.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Speakers: Lauren Buzzeo, Alex Peartree, Christina Pickard, Sean Sullivan
Lauren Buzzeo 00:09
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, I’ll talk with a few of our talented wine reviewers and editors to debunk some of our favorite, or not so favorite, wine myths. Did you know that all Riesling is not sweet? Or that natural wine isn’t necessarily better for you? How about that sniffing your cork isn’t just wine snob BS? That’s right. We’ll tell you why as we dive into these topics as well as other burning questions and common wine myths that we want to set the record straight for. We’ll also provide suggestions for regions and bottlings to seek out and try today to broaden your wide knowledge. So get ready to get your learn on and journey with us on this ride to debunk wine myths. But first, a word from today’s sponsor, Barefoot Hard Seltzer. A hard seltzer that’s made with real wine? That’s right. Barefoot Hard Seltzer is here, brought to you by the nation’s most awarded wine brand. Barefoot Hard Seltzer packs delicious flavor into every can with three simple ingredients: sparkling water, natural fruit flavors, and real wine. Plus, Barefoot Hard Seltzer is only 70 calories, two grams of sugar and gluten free. Find Barefoot Hard Seltzer in the hard seltzer aisle in a 12-can variety pack or four pack. Barefoot Hard Seltzer—wine glass optional. Okay, to kick off this episode on debunking wine myths, in my mind, there is absolutely no better person to start things off with than Wine Enthusiast’s very own Tasting Director, Alex Peartree. He’s constantly tasting wines from all around the world and talking to people nonstop about the stuff, from our readers to retailers to importers to producers. He definitely knows his shit. So Alex, thank you so much for joining us.
Alex Peartree 02:20
Wow Lauren, thanks so much for that amazing intro! Happy to be here.
Lauren Buzzeo 02:23
You better live up to it, that’s all I gotta say. All right, so I think to kick things off, let’s start a little easy. Maybe a little overly broad but that’s okay. But this is kind of a common one, especially for the season that we’re in, weather’s getting warmer, Spring is here, Summer’s coming, people are thinking about outside drinking. So, the wine myth that I want to start off with is the idea that all rosé is basically the same. What are your thoughts on that? True or false?
Alex Peartree 02:56
Absolutely not. I mean, this is definitely an easy one. Rosé itself is such a broad and vast category, and in the same way that there are single-varietal bottlings of Pinot Noir or Grenache or Cabernet Sauvignon, there’s single-varietal bottlings of rosé made with the very same grapes, or in some cases, like in Provence, they use a blend of grapes and the blends could be heavy on Grenache or heavy on Syrah or heavy on Mourvèdre, and all of it yields very, very different results.
Lauren Buzzeo 03:38
Right. So to start off, definitely varietally speaking, there’s a lot of different characters at play. There’s a lot of different options for winemakers to use to make the stuff and that’s inherently going to affect the profiles of the wine. Correct?
Alex Peartree 03:51
Correct. Absolutely. So, like in Provence, they definitely have a more lighter-colored rosé, but don’t confuse that with something that’s lacking in intensity. These wines are incredibly mineral driven and spicy and have really, really beautiful tart-fruit flavors. But then when you go to an area like Spain that’s using Tempranillo or Garnacha (Grenache), it’s from a different area, it’s from a warmer climate and the result is something a little bit fleshier or a little bit rounder, a little bit more fuller in body. So it really just depends where you’re getting the grapes from, where the grapes are grown and then what grapes you’re using.
Lauren Buzzeo 04:38
Yeah, another example of that is like in South Africa—because you know, I have to talk about South Africa when and wherever I can—you have a lot of rosés that are made with their local grape Pinotage, which is a pretty robust and and flavorful grape and thus produces pretty intensely flavored rosés. But if you’re looking at, again, maybe some of the classics like from Provence, although they’re not lacking in flavor, they might just be a little bit more nuanced than some of those more expressive varieties.
Alex Peartree 05:07
Exactly. And then even in a specific country like Italy, there’s a huge range across Italy in terms of the rosé category going from north to south. And, in the north, you have these amazing Bardolino Chiarettos, which are made from the same grapes that go into Valpolicella wines like Amarone, and these are pretty light and citrusy in pretty pale in color. But then as you get a little bit further south, there’s wines made from the great Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that are deeply cherry-hewed and definitely more robust in style.
Lauren Buzzeo 05:52
So that brings up actually an interesting side thought that pertains to this question, but I feel like there’s a little bit of an assumption out there that rosé is meant to be a very pale, almost watery looking quaff. And perhaps even the impression that darker-colored rosés are maybe of a lesser quality than pale rosés. I don’t necessarily think that that assessment or that connection is true, but I think that it’s interesting that I feel like it’s out there. And I feel like a lot of it rides on the success and the recent interest in Provencal rosés in particular, and people looking and gravitating towards that style and that general color, you know, color characteristic and associating that with quality. But it’s totally not true, right?
Alex Peartree 06:40
No, it’s definitely not true. And yeah, as you said, I think it just kind of rides with the fad of Provence being the apex of the rosé category, but as people become more familiar with rosé across the world, I think they’ll realize that that doesn’t hold its salt at all. I mean, there are definitely great examples of rosé that are quality from other areas and they’re darker in style.
Lauren Buzzeo 07:13
Yeah, I mean one of those being like Tavel in nearby Rhône Valley from Provence, another iconic region. Those are beautiful wines that are pretty robust and dark in color, and actually that have more longevity than I think that people would immediately suspect or associate with the category as a whole.
Alex Peartree 07:30
Absolutely. And I think that’s another great thing to bring up is the longevity of rosé. While I would say that a good number of the rosés on the market are definitely meant to be enjoyed in the near term, there are certain regions or even producers that produce rosés that are meant to age in the cellar, if only for, I don’t know, a year or two, a few years down the line, but it’s definitely not a forward, fruity drink-now rosé style and I would probably put Tavel in in that category, as well as some Cerasuolo d’Abruzzos.
Lauren Buzzeo 08:12
Yeah, there’s definitely some oak-aged examples as well that I would throw into that category. Like, you know, Gérard Bertrand from the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, in the south of France, makes some beautiful oak-aged rosés. Those I think are fantastic examples. Certainly d’Esclans, the Garrus, fantastic examples of how a rosé can actually benefit from a little bit of age.
Alex Peartree 08:38
Lauren Buzzeo 08:40
Cool. Allright. Well, I think we hit rosé pretty well. Let’s move on to our next myth, if you’re ready.
Alex Peartree 08:47
Lauren Buzzeo 08:49
Okay, you’re gonna love this one because it ties in a little bit to the region that, one of the regions that you taste, which would be New York. So wine myth number two, big one out there: All Riesling is sweet.
Alex Peartree 09:02
Lauren Buzzeo 09:06
Love the enthusiasm on that response!
Alex Peartree 09:09
Lauren Buzzeo 09:09
Alex Peartree 09:10
Yeah, oh my god. Where do I even start? Um, so while I would say first off that there’s nothing wrong with sweet Riesling, but, Riesling is an amazing grape that has such an amazing range and style. And it can go from steely, bone-dry examples to lusciously fruity, just like incredibly sticky-sweet Rieslings. And while I would say New York does a great job of hitting all of those examples, obviously one of the main regions of Riesling is Germany, and they produce styles all over the place. All the way from, you know, the bone-dry, full-body Grosses Gewächs all the way up to ice wine, which is a real treat to try.
Lauren Buzzeo 10:12
Yeah, so ice wine—tell us a little bit about what that is.
Alex Peartree 10:15
Yeah, so ice wine is when the grapes are left on the vine and they freeze and you harvest them. It’s freakin cold when you’re when you’re picking them, I’ve done it. I’ve only done it once because that’s all you need, to do it once to learn.
Lauren Buzzeo 10:35
It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
Alex Peartree 10:39
And then they are pressed and because the water is frozen, you’re extracting such little amount of juice out of there, and it concentrates the acidity and the sugars and the flavors all into this sticky sweet syrup that you then ferment and the results is a gorgeous, delicious ice wine.
Lauren Buzzeo 11:03
My mouth is literally watering right now just thinking about this. But, you know, it’s also very entertaining and amusing to me that we’re talking about this myth that all Riesling is sweet, and we’re saying “absolutely not.” but waxing poetic about the super sweet stuff. So, but I mean, I think that that just emphasizes that there’s a reason why Riesling is known for being sweet. And there are some fantastic and beautiful examples of sweet Riesling. But on the flip side of that, it is a shame that people don’t know the beauty of dry Riesling and the versatility also, in my opinion, when it comes to pairing it with food and having it on the table.
Alex Peartree 11:44
Absolutely. I mean, I think Riesling is probably one of the most easy wines to pair a meal with just because of its structure. Its high in acidity and it has a pretty intense bouquet that can range from lime and lemon to peach and apricots and, in some examples, even more tropical fruits, all the while maintaining that impeccable balance from its inherent acidity. So, and the dry styles, one of the ones that I tend to gravitate to and of the styles that I think is consistently dry are those examples from Australia, in the Claire and Eden Valleys. Those ones are consistently done in a dry style and I think they have a very telltale sort of limey, stony quality to them that I think you could never mistake this wine for being sweet. Even if you were like, oh no, all Riesling is sweet, and you try this one…this is bone dry.
Lauren Buzzeo 12:56
Right, right. You know what it is also, I think that the fact that Riesling is what’s considered an aromatic variety, meaning it has these very pronounced, be it floral or abundantly fruity, characteristics in its aromas that people perceive that as that it’s going to be sweet on the palate, regardless of whether it actually has the residual sugar and the sugar content to be classified as sweet.
Alex Peartree 13:21
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great point. I mean, I would say that not all Riesling has zero residual sugar in it, but with a balance of acidity to that residual sugar. Ones that are labeled dry definitely come off on the palate as feeling dry. They just need that little bit of, like, residual sweetness to sort of balance it all out. So it’s not incredibly mouth puckering, like you’re sucking on a lemon.
Lauren Buzzeo 13:54
Totally, unless that’s like your thing. You know?
Alex Peartree 13:56
Sure. I mean, some people like that.
Lauren Buzzeo 14:00
So dry Riesling, you’re looking for the word dry. That’s mostly going to be in New World regions that you’ll see that on labels. When it comes to German wines, classifications for drier Rieslings would be dry or trocken, as well as potentially you can look into the feinherb or halbtrocken categories, which would be slightly off dry. So you’re still talking about generally dry in style, just with a little bit of sweetness. Any other recommendations for people looking to try dry Riesling?
Alex Peartree 14:30
Yeah, absolutely. In many New World regions, they use what is called the IRF scale, which is the international Riesling foundation scale. And on the back of the label, it has a little indicator of where the wine falls on the dry to sweet spectrum. So I think it’s a great way to just turn the label over and sort of see where where it falls. To see if you want more of a drier style or sweeter style.
Lauren Buzzeo 15:04
Perfect. And then lastly, I can’t forget to mention that these Rieslings, or dry and slightly off-dry Rieslings, are my favorite pairings for sushi and slightly spicy food. What’s your favorite pairing for Riesling?
Alex Peartree 15:19
Lauren Buzzeo 15:24
I stumped you on this one? Oh my god. All right. Don’t overthink it, if nothing’s coming immediately to mind, we’ll let you slide.
Alex Peartree 15:34
Yeah, I can’t think of one right now.
Lauren Buzzeo 15:38
Too many options because it pairs with everything. You can’t just pick one right?
Alex Peartree 15:41
Yeah. How can you?
Lauren Buzzeo 15:42
There you go. All right, Alex, thank you so much. I think you lived up to the expectations. You hit all the points. I appreciate your time and debunking these first two wine myths with us.
Alex Peartree 15:53
Thanks so much for having me, Lauren.
Lauren Buzzeo 16:00
Okay, moving along in our debunking wine myths topic today, we now have our Contributing Editor Sean Sullivan joining us. Hi, Sean, how you doing?
Sean Sullivan 16:10
Hi, Lauren, very well. Thanks for having me.
Lauren Buzzeo 16:12
Oh, of course. I mean, we have some very important wine myths to talk about throughout the episode for sure. But there were a couple—actually, there was really one in particular—that when I saw it come in, I knew I had to talk about with you. There was no other person that I could possibly talk about this one with. Are you dying to know what it is?
Sean Sullivan 16:36
All right, I am dying to know what it is.
Lauren Buzzeo 16:38
All right. So the wine myth that we’re going to talk about first that I think you’re just gonna love talking about and helping to debunk is the idea that sniffing a cork is wine snob bullshit.
Sean Sullivan 16:52
Yes, that’s a topic near and dear to my heart.
Lauren Buzzeo 16:57
So what do you think about that myth? First off, give me a general true or false.
Sean Sullivan 17:01
Uh, false. There, well, the people who say there’s no value in smelling the cork and that it’s just kind of wine snobbery bullshit, that’s just absolutely false. So I think a lot of people listening will probably know that cork taint is a contaminant that ruins wine and typically comes in through the cork, but it can come in through other sources like a barrel or some contamination in the winery. And so, in my tastings for Wine Enthusiast, I see typically annually between three and five percent of wines that are cork closed appear to be contaminated by the cork taint, and it has this kind of moldy-basement smell to it that can be either very faint, or it can be kind of quite prominent and offensive. And it also is something that inhibits your ability to smell wines and ability to taste wines, even at very low levels. And in fact, at levels that might be below your kind of threshold to detect it, so you know. So why does smelling the cork kind of matters, in that regard? Well, because the contamination is coming from the cork in most cases, in my experience. If you’re smelling the wet end of the cork after pulling a cork out of a wine bottle, it gives you a great shot to kind of pick up whether or not that wine is cork contaminated. So a lot of people will say there’s no value in it, but it is giving you your, you know, your first shot at detecting cork taint.
Lauren Buzzeo 17:55
So it’s like a, consider it a first line of defense before you go in for the full sniff of your glass, or even that full taste or that first sip, that you can determine if you think that you’re gonna have some faulty characteristics in your wine. True?
Sean Sullivan 18:43
That’s exactly right. Yeah, so a lot of people have said like, you know, there’s no value in smelling the cork and you know, it just makes you look snobby. Just, you know, smell the wine and see what’s going on in the wine, and I’ll tell you why I don’t think that’s true. So again, you know, the contamination of cork taint is typically coming from the cork. So, you know, cut from the cork and then being subsequently transferred into the wine but the cork taint, it isn’t a binary thing where it’s kind of, you know, a yes, no, it’s really a gradation from potentially no cork taint, to very low levels of cork taint to very high levels of cork taint. And particularly on those lower cork-tainted bottles, those lower levels, it can be very, very faint when you smell the wine, and if it’s cork tainted, a lot of the times you can try it and you just think it’s not very good wine. But if you are smelling the cork in advance of doing that, you have another chance of picking up that cork taint and knowing there’s something wrong with that bottle rather than just finding it disappointing.
Lauren Buzzeo 19:54
Right. I guess, potentially, are you maybe getting a little bit of a pure romance if you will, or an unaffected aroma, direct from the cork as opposed to in the wine? Especially after you first pop it and pour some wine, usually it takes some time for the cork taint to really actually develop it the aromas in the glass and to concentrate in the glass for for certain people to perceive it. But perhaps without, you know, the other compounds that you’re getting from the wine, straight from the cork, you might be more sensitive to pick up on it directly from there?
Sean Sullivan 20:27
Yeah, that’s correct. So you know, a lot of people will say to me, like, oh there’s no, there’s no point in smelling the cork. Cork either smells like cork or it smells like nothing. And first, actually, I will say if you’re pulling all these corks and smelling corks, you will notice a range of different odors coming from cork, from cork taint to sometimes they will smell a little kind of green peppery or a little mushroomy to being, smelling like cork and smelling fairly neutral. In contrast, as you said like when you are smelling your wine, there’s hundreds of different aroma compounds that are kind of competing for your attention at that point. So, if the cork taint is very strong, like yes, it’s going to kind of rise to the surface. But if it’s very low, you’re not necessarily going to notice it because all of those other wine aromas are kind of getting in the way, when you’re smelling something that’s considerably more neutral and smell like the cork. It gives you kind of a pure look at what that taint can smell like.
Lauren Buzzeo 21:29
Yeah, sure. So I think the important takeaway here is, uh, you know, to take pride in your abilities, in your olfactory senses, and take pride in sniffing the cork. Don’t fear—it is not BS. You know, if you pick up on something, you know, send it back, get another bottle, try it out. But don’t doubt yourself.
Sean Sullivan 21:52
Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. I want to touch on one other thing that you mentioned, which was the cork taint becoming more prominent over time. You get, as I mentioned, these kind of competing aroma molecules there, so at, you know, at lower levels, you’re not necessarily going to notice, but sometimes, you know, 15 minutes later, a half hour later, even a day later, you come back to that wine and it’s like, whoa, that wine is cork tainted. And that’s why it wasn’t all that impressive. But again, if you’re smelling the cork kind of up front, you’ve got another shot at detecting that cork taint. And I guess, you know, the people who say, you know, there’s no value in doing it, you know, first off, I disagree, from my experience. But secondly, there’s no harm in doing it. Right? You know? Like, people will say, like, oh, it’s you know, it’s just kind of wine snobby and there’s no purpose to it, and it’s like, actually, there is a purpose to it and it’s to try to detect cork taint and it’s not like you are harming anybody by smelling the end of the cork. So why not give yourself, you know, two shots at picking up the cork taint rather than just one shot, and smelling them?
Lauren Buzzeo 23:00
Right! Respect yourself, respect yourself, respect the wine. And you know, who cares what anyone else thinks is what I say. I’m a proud cork sniffer. So clearly, you know, in case there was any doubt out there, this is a subject that you’re very passionate about.
Sean Sullivan 23:17
Yeah, I mean, I also say to people, if you went to the grocery store, and 5% of what you bought was rotten, you would be pretty upset by that. But somehow, you know, we’ve allowed that to happen in the wine industry, where we have this healthy amount of tainted wines out there.
Lauren Buzzeo 23:36
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, you’re one of our only reviewers that keeps, really because you had prior to admittedly joining Wine Enthusiast and reviewing wines for Wine Enthusiast, but you’re one of our only reviewers who keeps track of samples that you receive and your cork percentages, cork taint percentages, that you experience. Again, it’s clearly something that you’re very passionate about, if anyone is interested in learning more, you’ve written wonderful articles for us that are on winemag.com, we have another one that we’re working on editing right now, so we’ll be getting that up shortly, all about all of your cork taint questions answered. So definitely be sure to check out winemag.com, cork taint, Sean Sullivan, if you’re looking for more information. Sean, thank you so much for your time. A pleasure talking as always!
Sean Sullivan 24:24
Lauren Buzzeo 24:28
All right. I am here with our Contributing Editor Christina Pickard. Christina, how you doing?
Christina Pickard 24:34
Hi, Lauren. I’m well, I’m well. Holding up, amidst all the madness.
Lauren Buzzeo 24:38
Excellent. You sound so sultry today.
Christina Pickard 24:41
Do I? It’s that Monday, that Monday morning growl.
Lauren Buzzeo 24:46
Love it. So we have a couple of wine myths that I wanted to discuss with you and I thought there was no better person to speak to a couple of these myths that we received and that we often hear out with consumers and out in market. There was no better person to hit up to talk about these myths than you. So are you ready?
Christina Pickard 25:06
I’m honored! I’m honored, Lauren.
Lauren Buzzeo 25:10
So, the first myth that I’d like to discuss with you is that natural wines are better for you. True or false?
Christina Pickard 25:19
Oh, man, you know what, you’re not going to be surprised by this answer. It’s complicated. You know, isn’t that the answer for pretty much everything in wine? And life in general? It’s complicated. I wish I could give a black or white yes or no. As you probably guess I have a lot to say on this subject.
Lauren Buzzeo 25:40
I am totally floored and shocked. I really thought you were just gonna be like, yep, moving on.
Christina Pickard 25:46
You know, me always want to be just concise, short and sweet.
Lauren Buzzeo 25:50
Totally, totally. I’m with you. All right, so next question.
Christina Pickard 25:56
Oh, man, so… I’ll try it. I will try to answer. I can’t promise that I will be concise, but I will try to answer this the best way that I can, because it is a pretty big question, as most things with natural wine tend to be. It’s a huge subject, you know, as probably a lot of listeners know, we actually do now have a first sort of beginnings of a certification process happening in France. But, you know, for the most part, natural wines don’t have a certification, you know, they aren’t regulated, so it is a fairly loose category. But assuming that, you know, that we are broadly speaking about natural wines as those that are made organically and biodynamically. And then out in the vineyards and then in the winery are made with as little additions as possible. So very low to no levels of sulfur, native yeast, unfined, unfiltered, minimal oak, etc, etc. Assuming that we can all agree on that as the definition, I feel like that always has to be the disclaimer before you start talking about that.
Lauren Buzzeo 26:56
Right… that is like the Hall of Fame asterisk right there.
Christina Pickard 27:01
I know right? Are they better for you? Well, I think the first question to ask is, are they better for the planet? And I would say in that case, yes, definitely, I think any wine grower who’s farming organically, biodynamically, really committed to it, you know, not just ticking boxes for marketing purposes or just to get that certification and then use for marketing purposes. I think if they, you know, if they are committed to it, and they’re doing it for environmental reasons and sustainability reasons and, you know, they’re not, they’re not spraying chemicals, I think that that is better for the environment and therefore better for you. There have not been, in my opinion, not enough tests done, but there have been some to my knowledge that have shown traces of chemicals of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides in final wines. So is that better for you? I think so. I would rather not drink even trace amounts if I don’t have to of those chemicals. So that’s the organic biodynamic side of things. You know, when we’re speaking about the winemaking side of things, it gets a lot messier. We again, I don’t think that there has been enough done to kind of know what these additives, how much of them end up in the final wine, because you’ll talk to some winemakers and they’ll say, you know, adding, let’s say, tannins from a packet, adding enzymes, these things, you know, there’s no trace of them in the final, once the fermentation process in the aging process happens, there’s no trace of these in the final product. But then, you know, on the flip side of that, there are people who say, well, they’re additives and additives are additives, you know, and I would rather not drink wines with any additives or with as few amount of additives as possible. We know that these things, of course, won’t kill you, but you know, whether are they better for you or not? Probably that doesn’t really make a difference, you know, in terms of overall health, because at the end of the day, alcohol is alcohol, right? And, you know, I think that it is a cleaner choice overall. For the environment because of how little is added in the winemaking process, but ultimately, you know, you’re gonna feel crap the next day after drinking too much alcohol regardless whether it’s natural wine or, or conventional wine or any of the many, many myriad of wines that would fall somewhere in between. But I don’t know, I like to sort of go with the way that I approach wines for me personally. So ultimately, the wine I choose to drink is often in conjunction with the food I choose to eat. So mostly, I strive to eat organic and local and in season and those foods for me are infinitely more flavorful. They’re more packed with nutrients. Plus, you know, bonus, I’m supporting sustainability and the environment in my local community. But you know what, there’s also times when I just want a pizza or a hamburger or a pack of Oreo cookies or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s or whatever. And you know what, I think that that’s okay too, because life is all about balance. And if we start thinking about wine in the same way way, I think it’s positive for ourselves, for the environment, for supporting small producers, you know? But drink the wines that you love and just don’t drink too much of them.
Lauren Buzzeo 30:09
Love it. I love that you bring that up also because I think that a second part of that wine myth is that natural wines don’t give you hangovers. And I don’t know where that came from, or where the logic for that really resides. But it is still alcohol, you are still going to have those effects. Regardless of whether you drink a natural line or commercial, conventional wine. It’s just, it is what it is, folks. You drink, if you drink too much, you’re gonna feel it the next day.
Christina Pickard 30:36
Right, right. Exactly. And I think sulfur gets blamed a lot, you know. The natural wine conversation always tends to end up around, surrounded with sulfur, you know? By how much sulfur is used in conventional wines versus how much is used in natural wines. And that is the case, there is very, very little sulfur used in natural wines compared to conventional but then, of course, like conventional runs the whole spectrum of you know, depending on how much is added during the fermentation process? How much is adding during bottling? And I think sulfur ends up getting blamed for hangovers a lot, or people being like, oh, I can’t drink this wine. You know, I can’t drink reds because I have sulfur allergies. And that is still true for a very small percentage of people, but people who truly have sulfur allergies also would be allergic to dried fruit and beer and you know, sulfur is added as a preservative in a lot of other things besides wine. And so, particularly red wines, they say that there’s like a protein and this is kind of, I am not a scientist ,so this is a little over my head, I’m speaking a little out of turn, but I hear, you know, there are other, there’s histamines, there’s things with, you know, with the phenols on the skins that people think are more likely to cause perhaps worse reactions. You know, some people will swear they have worse hangovers on reds than they do on whites. But ultimately, reds are also higher in alcohol. So who knows? Who knows what we can blame. It’s probably the alcohol for most people.
Lauren Buzzeo 32:04
So when it comes down to the question of if natural wines are better for you or not, I think it’s, it’s fair to boil it down to it’s a personal choice, just like buying organic produce or meat or whatever. You’re weighing a lot of different variables, a lot of different factors. Might it be better for you to not have certain ingredients included in the cultivation of these wines? Yes. But it’s not a hard scientific fact that it is healthier for you. Fair?
Christina Pickard 32:31
Fair, fair. I’ll give you that. I’ll give you that.
Lauren Buzzeo 32:38
We know where you stand, don’t worry. All right. So moving on. The next myth that I’d love to discuss with you because I think that it’s especially pertinent to one of the regions that you cover and the wines that you taste for Wine Enthusiast. The myth I’ve heard is that single-vineyard wines are better than blended wines. What do you have to say about that?
Christina Pickard 33:02
Well, again, I’m not going to give you a yes or no answer for this, or black and white. And again, I’m gonna say it’s complicated. And you know, there isn’t, I think this is why these myths become myths in the first place, right? There’s no sort of easy answer to this. And there’s, a lot of it is going to be opinion. But I think that we are kind of obsessed in the wine world with categorizing and, I get it, you know, single varietals. Single vineyards are easier to remember, they’re easier to wrap our heads around. And there are certainly plenty of very special single-vineyard sites around the world. But there are also plenty of really average ones. So then it becomes a question of should you pay more for that average site just because it’s come from the one place, you know, just because they’re marketing it as its single vineyard and therefore it’s, you know, X amount more expensive and often the single vineyard has gone into, you know, the priciest oak and it’s been hand picked and fair enough, there has been more TLC in this handling process and the fermentation and aging process of it, but it doesn’t necessarily always make it better just because it’s single vineyard. And you know, it’s also, I mean, isn’t there an enormous amount of skill on the winemakers part just in being able to blend the best traits of each site? So I don’t know, maybe it depends on your personality, but I think, can’t we admire the chef who makes, like, killer scrambled eggs or the perfect steak as much as we can? Who, you know, one who works with like dozens of ingredients, putting them together to sort of form one coherent dish? I think, you know, both can be great in their own way. And there’s no right and wrong to that. And I think, you know, you were talking about the regions that I review, particularly with Australia being one of them. They have a very long history and tradition of blending wines. And they, so Australia’s history is really, of winemaking, started with fortified wines. They moved into table wines and fine wines, but really the ones that we know primarily from the country today, that tradition started with blending there. They, you know, they would take, like, some fruit from the Hunter Valley and some fruit from McLaren Vale or Barossa, you know, two or three different totally different regions, and blend them together because they will go, you know what I get, you know, all this this characteristic from this vineyard and this from this and I can get great acidity from this fruit, maybe, and great tannin structure from this one, and by combining them, I get the best of both worlds. So, um, you know, there’s, that’s maybe more a winemaking skill. So maybe the conversation is more about, you know, the skill line more in the winery versus the skill line more in the vineyard. But there’s no right or wrong. You know, I don’t, I don’t think that you need to blindly choose a wine based on the fact that it’s single vineyard.
Lauren Buzzeo 35:40
Totally. And as you’re talking there are so many bombs inside, diversions, that are going on in my brain, talking about a terroir and representation of place and Old World versus New World because, of course, I wanted to talk to you about this. It’s something we’ve talked about before just casually, you know, in the tasting room, as it pertains to Australia. Because they do have this really rich history of actually relying a lot on their quality, high-quality wines being blended wines from different sites. It’s only been more recently, I think, in their viticultural history that they’ve gravitated more towards single-vineyard expressions, especially as marketing those as more higher-end than some of the blends. But I do think it’s an interesting dichotomy between Old World and New World, how the New World generally tends to gravitate towards more acceptance of blending and of the winemaking, whereas the Old World very often relies on this sort of implied sense of quality that comes from a single-vineyard wine, right?
Christina Pickard 36:43
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, Australia’s most famous wine and also its most expensive wine is Penfold Grange, which is a multiregional blend, you know. Not only is it a blend of grapes, they’ve Shiraz and some Cabernet in there, but it’s also a blend of regions which I think is an interesting comment, right, on Australia as a whole. But as you say, they’ve also moved towards more single-vineyard sites. But, you know, the, the total or total polar opposite of of Penfolds Grange is some of them, like, natty guys that I really like, you know? There’s Ochota Barrels does a wine called Texture Like Sun that’s a blend of a coferment of nine different grape varieties from several different regions. And, you know, then the whole, there’s another conversation to be had around field blends as well, which is really, like, old school, traditional small-scale, you know, wine growing, which is where they just put a bunch of varieties all in one plot together. And often, you know, you can still go to some Old World regions, you know, I’ve met some, like, small winegrowers in Spain and France, and you’ll ask them, what’s the final blend of their wine? And they’ll be like, I don’t know. It’s just whatever I picked out there. And they can’t even tell you because of course, they haven’t sent it to a lab or anything. We can’t even tell you like exactly what the blend is. So there’s definitely some generalizations you can make with Old World or New World for sure. And the New World is, you know, tend to be always looking towards the Old World as well. And to see, you know, what they’re doing a little bit. And we are in this age of terroir and single vineyards and revering those, but I don’t know. I don’t know, I don’t know, if I had a crystal ball, maybe, you know, maybe we’ll be moving away from that, maybe we already are, in some ways, you know, in going back to these blends and celebrating those as well.
Lauren Buzzeo 38:26
Yeah, well, I think something that’s also perpetuating this whole single-vineyard, single-site expression is sort of a newfound love and appreciation for old vines. They’re very much a hot topic right now in the wine world. People love talking about these old vine vineyards, the centurion vines. And and the idea is that somehow because they are old vines that the quality of the wines that they ultimately yield and produce is of a higher quality then younger vines. So it’s interesting how there’s sort of these parallel, well, trends, that are causing all of them to rise together to prominence and create these expectations of quality when they’re not maybe necessarily as inherent as people think they are.
Christina Pickard 39:11
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, there’s some and I think some would absolutely fit that bill. And certainly, you know, some of the older vines in like Barossa, McLaren Vale, you know, to go back to Australia, or, you know, produce amazing fruit. And then there’s others. You know, I’ve talked to some of the older producers in Barossa, they’re having to rip up a lot of their old vines. And I was kind of appalled at first, and there is a sadness in that. And I’m certainly not promoting that, because I think there’s a lot to be said for history, but they were also just like they don’t, the fruit is actually not that good. The yields are so low, and they’ve had to rip them up. So there is always that balance of practicality too and it’s easy from a marketing perspective to say, oh, these are old vines, and this is a single vineyard and therefore the wine is going to be good. And, you know, sometimes it’s the case and sometimes it isn’t, and it’s also so much depends on the farming, but I do think that ultimately, this whole move towards talking about old vines, talking about terroir and single vineyard, you know, even if some of it feels a little bit gimmicky and a little bit of like a marketing ploy, or just a way to sort of charge extra money for wines in some ways, even if that is sometimes the case, overall as a movement as a shift, I think it’s a positive thing in the way that I think natural wine, whether you’re a fan or you’re not a fan of some of the wines has been an important, it has been an important shift in the wine world because it has us talking about what’s happening in the vineyards more. And I think that conversation for a long time, for decades, was far too focused on what happened in the winery. And so again, you know, being an environmentalist, I guess, or someone who’s passionate about the environmental side of winegrowing, I think that conversation, just anything that’s going to take it out to the vineyards more and talk about how these wines are grown, is positive.
Lauren Buzzeo 40:47
Yeah, totally. I couldn’t agree with you more. But you know what, I love the fact that listeners probably got a really good insight into the world of Christina Pickard sas it pertains to her wine preferences and ethical choices on consumption and I can’t wait to hear from you more soon in the upcoming episodes. We have a an episode coming up on Australian red wine, so looking forward to talking about that.
Christina Pickard 41:11
I’m excited about that one. I’ve got a really interesting guest for that. So be sure you tune in because he’s, he’s kind of a rock star in the Australian wine scene, so well worth, well worth tuning in and hearing what he has to say about what’s happening now in modern day Australia.
Lauren Buzzeo 41:25
I think you’re the rock star, Christina.
Christina Pickard 41:27
Oh, thanks, LB.
Lauren Buzzeo 41:30
All right. Before we fall down more rabbit holes, I’m going to say goodbye. Thank you so much for talking with us today.
Christina Pickard 41:36
Thanks, Lauren. A pleasure as always.
Lauren Buzzeo 41:41
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. We talked about a lot of different wines today, with many recommendations worth checking out. So please, be sure to visit winemag.com/podcast to learn more about these selections and where to find them. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find podcasts. If you liked today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wide loving friends to check us out, too. You can also drop us a line at email@example.com. For more wine reviews, recipes, guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @wineenthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next time, cheers!