Ever wonder if wines from Bordeaux need to be aged forever to best enjoy them? How about if sommeliers really have a secret thing about the second-cheapest bottle on the list being the best value? What about the basic tenet that white wines should be served cold, and reds at room temperature?
In this episode, Managing Editor Lauren Buzzeo speaks to contributing editors Roger Voss, Matt Kettmann and Virginie Boone about these topics and other common misconceptions.
That’s right. It’s all fair game today as we turn these common questions upside down.
We also provide some solid suggestions for regions and bottlings to seek out and try today to further enhance your wine geekdom, from affordable Bordeaux bottlings from the Cru Bourgeois of the Médoc to “serious” Beaujolais and wallet-friendly Napa Cabs.
So get your learn on and journey with us on this ride to debunk more wine myths.
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, Roger Voss, Matt Kettmann, Virginie Boone,
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the 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 wine myths. Did you know that not all Bordeaux wines are crazy expensive, or need to be aged forever to enjoy? How about that some don’t necessarily all have this secret thing about that second cheapest bottle on the wine list? And what about the basic idea that white wines should be sort of cold and red wines at room temperature? Well, that’s right. It’s all fair game today, as we explore these topics and other burning questions and common wine myths that we want to turn upside down. We’ll also provide some solid suggestions for regions and bottlings to seek out and try today to further enhance your wine geekdom. So get ready to get your learn on and journey with us on this ride to debunk more wine myths.
Alright, continuing on in our quest to debunk wine myths, I am now joined by our European Editor, Roger Voss. Hi, Roger. How are we doing today?
Roger Voss 1:21
I’m doing well, Lauren, how are you?
Lauren Buzzeo 1:23
I am fantastic! I’m so excited to talk to you because, honestly, Roger, we had to tap you next as our reviewer for so many classic French wine regions, since we have some real doozies that we totally need to discuss with you. So are you ready to help set the record straight?
Roger Voss 1:40
Yes, absolutely. It’s my mission in life.
Lauren Buzzeo 1:45
And you’re totally the man for the job. So here we go. The first wine myth that I want to discuss with you, is the idea that all good Bordeaux is expensive and needs to be aged forever. True or false?
Roger Voss 1:59
Totally false. Come on.
Lauren Buzzeo 2:03
Alright. Tell me why.
Roger Voss 2:05
Okay, so yes, there is some Bordeaux, which needs to be aged and is expensive. I would say there’s probably about 50 to 60 different estates in Bordeaux which will fit into that category, out of the 10,000 estates in Bordeaux. So you’re talking about a tiny, tiny minority of a minority. The bulk of Bordeaux, which is what I really taste as much as I can because it’s really what people should be buying, is the great value from all regions of Bordeaux. Even the neighbors of the greatest states, the top names, make wines which are great value. For instance, let us look at some of the Medoc, which is where all those first growths are, and there’s this range of wines called Cru Bourgeois, which are extremely good value. They operate to pretty much the same standards as the great first growths. But at the same time, they don’t command the same prices. If I told you that you could buy a really good Cru Bourgeois, 93-, 94-point wine for $40, that’s not good value in my mind.
Lauren Buzzeo 3:24
Absolutely. And compared to some of their neighbors that might be commanding price tags at about, you know, six to 10 times that, that’s definitely a tremendous value.
Roger Voss 3:33
Absolutely. And actually, that’s another myth we need to bust because even most expensive Bordeaux is, except for the very, very few, is really not that expensive. You could have a class growth estate selling for under $100. So while that’s expensive in most of our terms, it’s not what we think of as expensive as … it’s not the hundreds of dollars thatwe imagine in our minds. But I want to come back to the Cru Bourgeois in the Medoc. I want to come back to many of the less expensive Saint-Émilion. And there’s some really good value over there. And then at the other end of the scale, it would be wrong to say end, because that suggests it’s not too good. It is actually just as good for what it is. There is the Coupe de Bordeaux, the Bordeaux, Bordeaux Supérieur wines, all of which represent great value. And the thing I would want to emphasize is that all these are states, now quite often small and family owned, have learned a huge amount from the work that’s being done by the top names. So they’re using the same consultants, they’re using the same technology, but to a lesser extent. So the quality of the wines, even from those lesser states is extremely good for what it is.
Lauren Buzzeo 5:08
Right. And it’s so hard to talk about this. I mean, you even just caught yourself, you said lesser estates. It’s not to suggest, though, that they are of a lesser quality. It’s just sadly how these things have been categorized in Bordeaux. That you have these iconic first growth estates that just get so much attention and so much renown, that everything else just sort of gets classified around it. But it’s not to say that they are of a lesser quality or lesser importance or less delicious or to be appreciated than those other wines.
Roger Voss 5:40
No. People forget the classification of the Grand Cru Classé de Medoc was in 1855. It was established based on the sale price of the wines, not on the quality. And so, although they make extremely good wines—I’m not denying that for one minute—they also are not necessarily the only great wines that can be made in that region. And that’s where I come in with my point about the neighbors actually making wine, which is, let us say, not quite as good, but extremely good, and just as enjoyable for much less money.
Lauren Buzzeo 6:26
Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting point about the classification system and how it was originally established. Because I think that most people do assume that it was some sort of qualitative pronouncement, as opposed to being influenced by anything else, like retail price. But I think that that’s a really good point to get out there and to help establish and get that known how exactly these these Grand Crus and these classifications did come about?
Roger Voss 6:52
Yes, I mean, we’re talking about the Medoc here. Saint-Émilion is different. That has its own classification system, which is revised every 10 years. And that has actually based almost entirely on quality, the nature of their land, the work they do in the cellar, etc, etc. But there’s also the element of price, which is why some some wines get promoted, because they sell for more money, which has nothing to do with whether they’re better than their neighbors.
Lauren Buzzeo 7:26
Bordeaux is such a wonderfully complex and slightly complicated area for consumers to really dive into and understand. But it is, again, one of those classic regions that people are so interested in. So I think, while certainly we could have an entire episode, and I hope that we do dedicated to Bordeaux, I think for now, the fair assessment as it pertains to this wine myth is that absolutely, people should not be scared or hesitant to buy wines that are not at the top echelon, or what they consider to be the pinnacle expressions of Bordeaux, certainly, if their wallets can afford it. And they should be willing to experiment and to try all of the other fantastic Bordeaux that are available at reasonable, dare I say, reasonable prices.
Roger Voss 8:14
Exactly. And of course, we can always say, go and look at the notes in winemag.com. Because I review nearly 1,000 different red Bordeaux a year. Then you’ll see the scores, the value, my notes, and there you go. And I understand it is quite complicated. Everything’s called chateau this and chateau that. And the label has a picture of a house on the front of it. So it is actually quite daunting. Which is why we need somebody like me, like any reviewer, to break through to actually say, “Go buy this one. Don’t buy this one.”
Lauren Buzzeo 8:54
Right. All right. So let’s let’s move beyond Bordeaux. I think we’ve got that pretty well covered. And now everyone will will go out and buy some non-expensive Bordeaux to be enjoyed and not have to age it forever. But let’s move on to Beaujolais, which is maybe Burgundy’s less famous neighbor. I don’t know.
Roger Voss 9:17
It’s certainly its less expensive neighbor.
Lauren Buzzeo 9:21
So Beaujolais, a lot of people know, for the marketing campaigns and efforts that surround Beaujolais Nouveau, which is this, you know, beautiful fruity, vibrant wine that’s typically released—what is it, the third Thursday of November?
Okay. So the myth that I’d like to discuss with you is that all Beaujolais wines are not serious wines.
Roger Voss 9:48
Okay, that’s a challenge. I mean, the thought that even today you could be having to pose that question is quite shocking to me now. Because, yes, Beaujolais Nouveau has been a big deal. During the 80s and 90s, maybe even into the naughties, it was a big deal. But as far as we in America are concerned, it’s really not an important thing anymore. And although millions of bottles of it are made each year, they tend to be sold in places like Japan. So I think we’ve begun to move on. I’m very happy about that because really what we’re talking about now, is the quality of what is made to age or at least to be drunk beyond the third Thursday of November. And the range of wines is extraordinary. Again, like so many wine regions in France, the quality has really shot up. And there’s really two categories I would like to talk about, if I may. One is village, Beaujolais Villages, and the other is Cru Beaujolais and you won’t see the word Beaujolais on those wines. You’ll see the name of the area, like Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Chiroubles, Chénas, Fleurie, Saint-Amour. I mean, what wonderful names anyway. So those are the wines that, really, to me, encapsulate the quality of what Gamay can do in the Beaujolais region.
Lauren Buzzeo 11:36
Because all of these wines, be it Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais Villages, or the Cru of Beaujolais are all made from the gourmet grape, correct?
Roger Voss 11:44
Lauren Buzzeo 11:48
But you’re really talking about the difference in terms of, well, what is the difference between say the the Nouveau wines and a Cru wine? What makes a different characteristic and a different profile if it’s all made from the same grape?
Roger Voss 12:02
It’s to do with where it’s grown. It’s to do with the winemaking technique. I mean, the Beaujolais Nouveau is made in a way that it can be drunk young, whereas the Cru Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages of quality, are made for aging. In in a typically, if we like, Burgundian way they press the grapes, they aged them in wood or in tanks, but they’re not made to be drunk young. So it’s partly winemaking, and the other thing to remember is that Beaujolais Nouveau tends to come from the southern part of Beaujolais region. It’s a big region. It takes a good hour or so to drive from north to south. It’s a big region, and the South is very different from the north. It’s actually prettier, but it’s still very different. And that’s where most Beaujolais Nouveau comes from. So the Cru Beaujolais, the Beaujolais Villages as well come from the northern part of the region. And it’s of a different terroir. It’s granite. It’s much different, more different soils. And the whole atmosphere in the North is very different from that in the south.
Lauren Buzzeo 13:20
So because of that you’re getting what? A little bit more structure, depth? What is it that perhaps makes these what could be considered more serious wines or more ageworthy wines?
Roger Voss 13:33
Well, you’ve you’ve hit on the two words, structure and depth. Ageworthiness, if there is such a word, those sort of things. It’s really because producers are making wines to age. You can drink them, many of them you can think within a year of the harvest. But I would recommend certainly for the most of the Cru Beaujolais, you wait at least two years. And for people places like Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent, you wait three years before you actually drink them. So they are ageworthy, not too much because otherwise you’re cellaring and that we don’t do anymore. It’s really the fact that they can be aged as much as you need to age them. And the producers make them for that purpose, meet them in that way.
Lauren Buzzeo 14:31
Okay, so absolutely some serious wines being made out of Beaujolais, not all Nouveau. Not to say that Nouveau is not serious, but it’s a little bit more friendly and fun. But again, in terms of structure, ageworthiness, depth, complexity, you are talking about some of those wines in the Cru and in the Villages level wines of Beaujolais to be discovered, to be enjoyed for more of those serious occasions.
Roger Voss 14:57
Absolutely. And one of the interesting things about Gamay, there’s a word they use in Beaujolais called Pinoting, which is Pinot Noir P-I-N-O-T, -ing. In other words really older Gamays begin to taste like Pinot Noir if you age them long enough. So if you age a Cru Beaujolais long enough, it actually begins to taste like big Burgundy.
Lauren Buzzeo 15:23
Wow, you know, I thought you were going to say Pinotage for a second.
Roger Voss 15:27
I was not, no.
Lauren Buzzeo 15:30
But I feel like you could make the same claim for Pinotage. If you have a very well aged Pinotage, it starts to develop much more of its Pinot Noir parentage.
There you go. Yes, it is something of the same, I know what you mean. So yes, there is a connection there. So it is interesting, because I’ve drunk old Gamays, you know, 10 year old, 12 year old Gamays, even older. If you were drinking them with your eyes shut, or not seeing the label of the bottle, you say gosh, this is rather interesting Burgundy. Or, where did this come from? So Gamay can age.
Yeah. And I’m sure at a fraction of the cost again of their Burgundian brothers.
Roger Voss 16:16
Well, the Wine Enthusiasts mission of finding value for money and good quality is very much alive and well Beaujolais.
Lauren Buzzeo 16:25
Awesome. That’s a perfect ending. Roger, thank you so much for helping us to debunk these two very important French wine myths. Appreciate your time and expertise as always, sir, you’re welcome.
Continuing on in our quest to debunk wine myths, I am now joined by our contributing editor for the central coast in California, Mr. Matt Kettmann. Matt, how you doing?
Matt Kettmann 17:32
I’m doing pretty well, Lauren. How are you?
Lauren Buzzeo 17:34
I’m alright, hanging in there. So I’ve got some wine myths that I’d love to discuss with you and potentially debunk. Do you think you’re up for the challenge?
Matt Kettmann 17:44
I love debunking wine myths.
Lauren Buzzeo 17:47
That’s what we do here at Wine Enthusiast, right? We feed off of it. All right. So I think that this first one is actually right up your alley. So I’m going to start with it. It’s a nice little softball for you, because it’s something that we’ve definitely talked about, I know you’ve covered to a certain extent through some of your articles. So wine myth number one to talk with Mr. Kettmann is that white wine should be served cold and red wine should be served at room temperature. True or false?
Matt Kettmann 18:21
Generally, false. I mean, there’s a certain amount of red wine that should be served perhaps warmer, and there’s obviously a lot of white wine that’s great super chilled, but most of it should be kind of closer to each other, I think. Most red wines are served a little too warm in at least American restaurants. And most white wines are served way too cold. So you can’t even taste what’s going on there.
Lauren Buzzeo 18:45
Yes, these white wines should not be treated like, I’m sorry, a cold Coors Light at a ballgame. And these red wines are largely not supposed to be on these display shelves in hot restaurants during the summer.
Matt Kettmann 18:58
That’s right. And you know, there’s a time and a place for that really cold Sauv Blanc and that really cold, crisp, even Viognier. But when it comes to Chardonnay and Roussillon and wines that have a little bit more body a little more texture, that really stands out a lot more when there’s just a little bit of—and you don’t want to say warmth. You want them still chilled but you definitely don’t want them cold like, you said, a Coors Light. And on the other hand, I mean some red wines are just fantastic chilled these days.
Lauren Buzzeo 19:35
Yeah, that seems to be like a hot topic right now and, again, something I know that you’ve covered for wine enthusiast quite a bit I’d say over the past couple of years. It seems to be quite the emerging or hot trend, especially in your area of coverage for us, that these these more light bodied, a little bit fruitier red wines are better or are best enjoyed with a little bit of a chill on them.
Matt Kettmann 20:02
Yeah, you know, I don’t know what it was. I’ve been working for the magazine for over six years now. And then, I would say, I don’t know, maybe four years ago or so I started to get these wines that were lighter and brighter and, and often a little bit fruitier, but sometimes still with kind of an herbal or sagebrush component to them. And they were delicious at the temperature I was trying them at, and then I’d throw them in the fridge and I was like, man, these are better even a little bit cold. There’s kind of a range of temperature when you throw something in the fridge, you pull it out, it’s quite cold, you put in your glass, it warms up a little bit. Drinking these wines through that whole range was fascinating to me. And, you know, we’re talking a lot about Pinot Noirs, Grenache is a common one that will pop in this category. And some of these are treated at least partially or in some ways with the carbonic treatment, so you kind of get into that that sort of style of winemaking, which, which kind of captures freshness almost automatically. I’m not sure why this region is on the forefront other than we have a really cool climate region. So you can kind of have this long growing season where you’re still picking grapes, that are pretty low brix, pretty high acid, but they’ve had a lot of time to develop their flavor on the vine. And so there’s a lot of complexity to them, even though they’re still light. I think a lot of winemakers, especially this is a trend among a lot of the younger winemakers, they’re kind of realizing that. They’re grabbing those grapes at the right time and making these super fresh wines that are just delicious. They’re easy to drink, and they’re not simple. They’re complex, there’s something there. Uou do have to be careful with chilling like any wine, white or red, especially with these kind of lighter reds. If you chill it too much that complexity is definitely dumbed down. There’s kind of a sweet spot in there for where that kind of complexity pops a little bit. You can kind of mute it with the with the cold temperatures.
Lauren Buzzeo 22:04
Right. So an ideal temperature, generally speaking, for these red wines that are suitable to that bit of chill, would you say is what maybe around 45, 50?
Matt Kettmann 22:16
That’s a real scientific question, Lauren. Mine’s more like 10 minutes in the fridge. Or, if it’s been in the fridge, pull it out for 10 minutes. To me, drinking wine of all sorts is, you know, if you’re really going to dedicate yourself to a bottle with your friends, it’s about that whole range of experience, right? That wine’s going to open up for you, just by getting oxygen in it, and then also with the temperature changing in the wine. Anyone that pays attention to a glass of wine will notice this unless they’re guzzling it. You’ll notice in the beginning it’ll be a little tighter, and then by the time you get to the end of that glass, it will have opened up, and that will happen over the course of that bottle. And if you pull that bottle out, and leave it out, you can make a pretty strong argument for not throwing whites that you open back on ice. If you’re going to if you’re going to go through that whole bottle in a relatively short amount of time, pull it out and let it sit out as you’re drinking it. Because then it’s going to be a more interesting experience through the whole bottle, because it’s going to evolve the whole time. That’s the most interesting thing about wine, it’s not a stasis, it is a changing thing, from opening it to finishing the bottle. So you might as well embrace that and not try to freeze it in some some aspect of time. That said, if you really like the flavors at that really low temperature, do whatever you want. But if you really want to see the whole range of a wine, I would let that thing warm up over the course of drinking it.
Lauren Buzzeo 23:54
Personal preference. Totally. I love that you called me out on the scientific question, you’re totally right, 10 minutes in the fridge is a way better and way more relatable way to put this. So thank you for clarifying that for me. But I love getting into like the poetic view of the evolution of the living thing that is a bottle of wine. And it’s starting off and watching that take form and that shape and that change throughout the experience of actually drinking an entire bottle. It’s such a beautiful thing. And you’re right, how much temperature actually plays into that. So I think that that’s a great point, not only to not over chill your whites, but to actually allow them and allow yourself the joy of experiencing that evolution from that appropriately cool starting temperature to maybe perhaps, but still okay, that bit warmer temperature that you’re going to experience at the end of the bottle because you’re right, you’re going to get different experiences out of it, characteristics, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Matt Kettmann 24:57
It’s really an argument for having that red wine start cold, too. Because you’re going to get a similar process out of even a big heavy Cab that is going to maybe show most of its most of its texture, most of its flavor at a slightly more room temperature setting. Start a little cooler and watch those those characters come out. You’ll learn more about the wine, you might learn more about where it’s grown and who made it and all that sort of stuff. All these parts of the wine will reveal themselves slowly, rather than just being one thing in a glass. Obviously, this comes down to drinking a whole bottle of wine. If you’re drinking a glass of wine, it’s a little bit more of a time capsule. But even there, like I said, the wine does warm up in your glass. So as long as you’re not guzzling it and you’re patient, you can probably see that same evolution.
Lauren Buzzeo 25:44
Yeah. This whole California chilled read mentality is starting to make a little bit more sense to me. I think we need to move on before I’m like a Cali girl.
Matt Kettmann 25:55
Yeah, I’m getting thirsty, actually.
Lauren Buzzeo 26:00
I think that’s why it started there, because it’s always hot. Let’s move on to our next one myth to debunk to discuss. And that is going to take us more towards the hospitality angle. I want to discuss this idea that, or this wine myth that exists that sommeliers or wine directors just want you, or a patron, to buy an expensive bottle of wine. What do you think about that myth?
Matt Kettmann 26:30
As a broad statement, I think it is a myth. I think today, especially modern sommeliers, they’re really all about education, they’re about reading your palate and also showing you what they’re knowledgeable about, showing you what they’re passionate about. Those tend to be kind of a wide range of prices. I will say, I know somms, I know people that run restaurants, there are times when they need to get rid of some of these margins of bottles, so it’s not a complete myth. There’s some truth to that. There’s that there’s a business aspect to that. But I think by and large, especially nowadays, the somms are, for the most part, they’re your homies. They’re the ones who want to make you have a good experience, because you’re gonna come back if you have a good experience. You might buy a second bottle if they tell you something correct, and something that matches your power.
Lauren Buzzeo 27:18
Right, and if you find trust in them, exactly, you might buy that second bottle. You’re gonna come back, you’re gonna know that you’re in good hands. It’s like finding a good auto mechanic. Like, once you find a good one, you know that you’re going to be a customer for life, because they’re actually looking out for you and your best interest. That’s how I feel about somms and wine directors. They’re supposed to be looking out for you and your palate and your best wine interests.
Matt Kettmann 27:42
Yeah, that’s right. And like, like auto mechanics, to some extent, if they move shops, you might move with them. And if somms move from one place to another, you might follow them and see what they’re into at the next spot too. You find a good somm and they really are kind of your best friend when it comes to buying wine. They also, frankly, we’ll save you money. I mean, there have been multiple times when I’m at a restaurant, and we’re buying a bottle or two wine. Maybe we’re buying a second bottle of wine, they kind of understand my palate. I’ve talked to him a little bit about what I like, and I like to be exploratory when it comes to wines. I like trying and regions I haven’t tried, that sort of thing. And I’ll say what about this one, that’s $80. Oftentimes, they come back and go, you know what, that’s a great bottle of wine but for this bottle at $60, you’re gonna get more bang for your buck. I think you’re gonna like it more. And when that happens, you’re like, dang, this guy. I’m down with this guy, or this gal. Let’s do this. I’ll even buy a third bottle. I trust you so much, and you saved me $20, $30 on that first bottle.
Lauren Buzzeo 28:41
That’s right. Again, when the mechanic tells you you need brakes and rotors, and then you go somewhere else and they’re like, you don’t need rotors, you just need new pads. And you’re like, thank you for saving me $1,000.
Matt Kettmann 28:51
Lauren Buzzeo 28:54
But yeah, I think people are, for whatever reason… certainly there are good somms and good wine directors, and there are bad ones out there, and ones that have, unfortunately, given people this impression of perhaps a more business minded or self serving nature, looking out for their own bottom line as opposed to their customers interests. But they are supposed to be guiding you and helping you to discover new things and pleasing your palate and working for you. So I think that the more information that you can share, and the more open that you can be, it’s almost like a therapy session. The more open you can be with your feelings and your desires, the better outcome you’re gonna get in the whole process.
Matt Kettmann 29:32
That’s right. Yeah. The somms are your wine therapist, I guess. I mean, you know, you tell them a memory you had of drinking Txakolina in the Basque region of Spain, and they might not have that on the list, but they might have something like it. And they’ll pull it out and it’ll take you back to Spain, right there and your glass. I think it’s also become easier for somms to be doing the right thing as restaurants and wine lists have really diversified. They’re not dominated so much anymore by the same wines at every restaurant, which was really kind of a problem, I think, in the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s. You’d go to five different restaurants and most of them have the same wine list. In those situations, it was much more of a business situation, much more of a business push for selling wine, but that’s changed so much. And so I think this myth is really kind of grounded, as so many myths tend to be, is grounded in an old reality. Whereas now, there’s so many educated, excited somms out there, really pouring wines from corners of the world. You’ve never even heard of the, of the region of the world and they’ll lead you to that. And oftentimes, those are the cheapest wines too, which is, I think, you know, fascinating and good for the good for the pocketbook, too.
Lauren Buzzeo 30:51
Yeah, you know, speaking of those are often the cheapest wines out there, that leads me to another myth that I’ve commonly heard, which is that, if you don’t know what to order on a wine list, always go for the second cheapest bottle in any category, because it’s the best bang for your buck. Where did that come from?
Matt Kettmann 31:09
I don’t know. But I gotta be honest, before I got deeply involved professionally in wine, I often used that strategy. It kind of seemed safe a little bit, because you figure the bottom one is just plonk. It’s like, alright, we got to get something really cheap to these guys who don’t want to spend any money on wine. And then you go up the list, it gets more expensive. I also think that that myth kind of got out into the somm community, and so there was like an active force to make sure that wasn’t happening. And I’m not sure if that resulted in a third one being the best bang for your buck. But I’ve actually seen it be that the bottom line is actually sometimes more of a bang for your buck than than the one above it. It certainly helps to have a good knowledge of your wine when you go into these places. Just some basic stuff and know a few brands. Frankly, I almost always will look at a wine list on my phone or on my computer before I go to a restaurant, if I’m if I’m planning in advance. Just because I want to get excited about what’s on the list. I don’t make my decisions necessarily, but I do a little research. And I think that helps, too, and anyone can do this. You don’t have to be a wine professional, you can look at the list, see some regions that are interesting. And that kind of gives you a stepping stone to make that somm maybe even a little more interested in serving you correctly because you’re expressing interest, you’re showing something that you know about the list, and that’s going to fire him up. That’s gonna make them take you in the right direction and make a memorable choice, whether that’s the second bottle from the bottom of the list or the bottom bottle on the list or somewhere in the middle. Or if you have the budget, near the top. So do a little research and it’s gonna it’s gonna pay off as well.
Lauren Buzzeo 32:59
Right. Do a little research and have a little faith. Have faith in yourself, know your budget, know what you like and what you’re looking for, and have faith in working with the somm or the wine director. I feel like, guess what? If you get that experience where you feel like someone’s just pushing you to buy the most expensive bottle, that’s probably just not a place you want to go back to, at least until they get a new wine director.
Matt Kettmann 33:20
Yeah, that’s right. I had an experience recently at a restaurant in LA where the guy knew I was, a contributing editor at Wine Enthusiast. We had a couple good bottles with some friends and family, and then I wanted to pick another bottle, and I was kind of aiming around like the $80, $90, $100 dollar range. And he pushed me up to like $200 and it was kind of getting to a weird point. You’re like, well, maybe I should just go there and not act cheap, but the wine was fine. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t what I was looking for, and I still have a bad taste in my mouth, not only for that person, but for that restaurant. It’s like, why is this person working there? Why are they pushing that? And so it happens. It happens to people like me who are in this business professionally, but you should stand up for your rights and stand up for what you want, because you’re the one paying for it.
Lauren Buzzeo 34:12
Exactly, exactly. I mean, absolutely. It’s happened to everybody, the best of us succumbing to peer pressure, especially in the moment like that when you’re enjoying a fabulous meal. And you’re probably surrounded by people you love or friends or whatever, having a great time. It’s so easy to let your boundaries fly by the wayside. But keep your expectations, be real with yourself and be confident and have faith that you know what you’re looking for and you know how much you want to spend, and just ride that wave no matter what the other person says. And if they’re not along with you find somewhere else to go.
Matt Kettmann 34:47
Lauren Buzzeo 34:49
Awesome. Matt, thank you so much for your time, really appreciate you debunking these wine myths with us.
Matt Kettmann 34:54
Thanks for having me, Lauren. Hopefully we educated some of our listeners to the truth behind wine.
Lauren Buzzeo 35:01
Exactly. I’m going to go chill some reds now.
Matt Kettmann 35:04
All right, I’m gonna go warm up some whites.
Lauren Buzzeo 35:10
Okay, continuing on in our journey to debunk line myths, we are now joined by our California taster and Contributing Editor Virginie Boone. Virginie, how you doing today?
Virginie Boone 35:23
I’m doing all right, Lauren. It’s pretty warm here. I’m based in Sonoma. It’s pretty warm.
Lauren Buzzeo 35:29
Rub it in, rub it in. So, we are both here now together to talk about some wine myths that we would love to debunk. I’m so excited to bring these two wine myths that I have for you. Specifically pertaining to, of course, the region that you cover, and know and love and live in, California. So we have one wine myth that’s a little bit more generalized about California wine, and one that’s going to dive a little bit deeper into a specific territory and specific region that, again, you review the wines of for Wine Enthusiast. So what should we start with, the more general or the more specific?
Virginie Boone 36:14
I think we should start general.
Lauren Buzzeo 36:16
I think I like it. All right. So first up, Virginie Boone, I’m going to ask you to debunk the wine myth that all California wines are fruit bombs.
Virginie Boone 36:29
Because you know that I love that question, and I love that myth so much. What I would say to that is, I mean, it’s partially true, as many myths can be. But California is a very large place. And it’s a little bit like combining Spain, France and Italy together and saying all the wines are the same. Clearly, they’re not. I mean, we are a very diverse and very large place. We’re also a very warm and dry place. So that does impact the growing conditions here. The Mediterranean climate that most of our wine regions are known for, grow everything, and we grow a lot of agriculture as well, of course. So the fruit bomb thing, I think, comes from the fact that we are warm, we are dry, and we get a lot of sunshine. And this is particularly true during the growing season. And you know, the early days of grape growing California went to the easiest places. A lot of valley floors, a lot of vast areas that got a lot of warmth and sun and vigor. And so I think it was just kind of natural that if farming was led by quantity more than quality, in those early days, you wanted your fruit to be as bountiful as possible. And that did lead to a lot of fruit characteristics in California wine that you still see. I think the evolution, though, from there has been one a lot of improvements in agriculture. And to a lot of movement toward the coast. I mean, our entire western coast, or our entire western border is coastline, and it’s the Pacific Ocean, which is cold. So I think over time, there’s been a lot of movement to do more great growing closer to the coast. And I think there’s also been a lot of movement to go into the mountain sides as much as possible. So even places like Napa and Sonoma, higher elevation grape growing has happened over time. I think what you find in both of those instances is the ability to retain more acidity, retain more freshness, and also to capture some more of the savory aspects of a lot of wines, than the so called fruit bombs that really are just an expression of this warmth and heat that we have.
Lauren Buzzeo 39:08
Sure, so the higher elevation and the proximity to the ocean has a cooling, tempering effect on the vines, on the vineyards, for the wines to not be so overtly fruity and to retain, like you said, some more of that acidity and balance to that richness coming from warm climate, generally, overall growing. Is that correct?
Virginie Boone 39:31
Yeah, I would say that that has a lot to do with the changing styles that you’re seeing in California. I also think a lot of that is driven by the fact that winemakers have become much more involved in the growing and what happens in the vineyard than they were kind of in the early days of California winemaking. So rather than you just receive a lot of fruit, you need as much as possible, the growers want to grow as much as possible and let it hang as much as possible. Winemakers are really from the beginning sort of looking at how a vineyard is farmed, how its thinned, how canopy management happens, how irrigation happens, to just sort of get away from some of that overt exuberance that California wines can have. And I think those two things together have have really altered and made the wines here a lot more complex than maybe they were in the early days.
Lauren Buzzeo 40:28
Sure. So I think, generally, what you’re saying is it’s a fair generalization, again, an assessment, that all California wines are going to have quite overt and pronounced fruity characteristics just because of the nature of the general climate throughout the state. But within these different regions and pockets and subappellations and even appellations, you’re going to find areas that are not going to produce exclusively just really opulent, rich ripe wines.
So can you tell me some of your favorite appellations. I know that you mentioned being by the coast and I know that you mentioned areas of high elevation. But what are some of your favorite appellations that are suitable to such styles?
Virginie Boone 41:14
The obvious one, but it’s it’s a very large region, is called Sonoma Coast, of course. Sonoma Coast is is extremely coastal, but it’s also, like I said, pretty big. So the people who really start to analyze Sonoma coastal wines like to get even deeper into those little areas that are more coastal than other areas. And a lot of this has to do with elevation and how far ridge in you are from the ocean and fog patterns and wind patterns and there’s a lot of different variables. But the Sonoma Coast and some of the areas that have been designated more specifically, like Fort Ross-Seaview, Annapolis area, there’s some movement for Freestone Occidental, which is just outside of Sebastopol, kind of technically Russian River and Sonoma Coast right now but it is extremely cold. There’s some movement to maybe have that become its own appellation. But certainly when I see wines from Freestone Occidental, I know they’re going to be on average, much crisper, way more acid driven, a lot more savory sort of tones, pretty delicate structure. So I love Freestone Occidental. Then I also love kind of what’s called a neighborhood of the Russian River, but it’s it’s also kind of the coldest section of that, called the Sebastopol Hills. The Sebastopol Hills are very close to Freestone Occidental, and also get a lot of influence from the coast and fog and a lot of days in the growing season it will be fogged to the ground all day long. It’s known mostly for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but like for the Pinots it just brings out a lot of the black tea, a lot of the forest, a lot more rhubarb, pomegranate. They’re very savory. And in the Chardonnay, sometimes it’s you just get a lot more of the brine and almost like a taste of the sea. So I love those sort of pockets of extreme coolness within a larger cool climate area. And then mountain-wise or elevation-wise, I would say in the Napa Valley, one of my favorite places is Mount Veeder. Mount veeder is high elevation. It’s on the western side of the Napa Valley, so it kind of is the border between Napa and Sonoma. It gets a lot of influence from the San Pablo Bay and some of these coastal areas as well. It’s certainly not cool, but it’s cooler than a lot of the other parts of Napa Valley, and it’s at elevation and it’s extremely wild. And so that wildness, I think, carries through in the wines and you just feel like you’re there when you taste the wines. There’s so much more savory complexity to them.
Lauren Buzzeo 44:07
I have to say that, personally, I find a lot of the wines that you’re talking about are also the ones that are going to exhibit more ageworthiness and long term potential than the ones that perhaps are a bit more lush and fruit forward and opulent from first taste. Do you think that that contributes to that as well?
Virginie Boone 44:27
Yeah, absolutely. I think the structure and if you look at the pHs, if you want to get down that kind of rabbit hole, it is a different game than the lush areas of Oakville and Rutherford that are warm. And the soils are just so vigorous and so those areas have have risen in their claims to fame because people love that lushness and they love the the red fruit that comes off those wines. What people love about California but also sometimes ding it for is that the wines are, often, ready to drink maybe a little bit sooner than some European wines that we’ve been used to. That’s good and bad because, to your point, that doesn’t mean they always taste great down the road.
Lauren Buzzeo 45:16
Right. But you know, if that’s your personal preference, and that’s the style you like, even if you know you’re a fan of fruit bombs, go for it. Tmbrace it, enjoy it. Not everything needs to be a certain way. It’s nice to have the variety and sometimes you are just looking for that really enjoyable, sexy wine to drink right now, with a nice hamburger, but of beef, whatever that’s going to suit your needs. There’s no shame in that. Not everything has to be super structured, high acidity, classic Euro style. We should just embrace the differences that we could find. But I think the key takeaway here is that there are differences, and we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations across an entire state.
Virginie Boone 45:59
I think that would be nice.
Lauren Buzzeo 46:02
I’ll do my best, Virginie.
Virginie Boone 46:06
We are a very large place and to my beginning statement. To me, it seems almost impossible to lump such a big place in into one little area. But I get it.
Lauren Buzzeo 46:21
Yeah, well, you’ve given us hope. There are things out there to try. And again, we shouldn’t we shouldn’t judge a book by its large cover. So I think that we should move onto the more specific wine myth that I’d love to talk about with you, which pertains to a region that you cover and specialize in for Wine Enthusiast, and that would be Napa. And the wine myth that I’d like to discuss next, is that all Napa wine is expensive, true or false?
Virginie Boone 46:53
Well, I think you need to define expensive. Because, yes, but your expensive might be somebody else’s value, I guess. But we don’t need to get lost in those weeds. So yes, Napa Valley, expensive. Look, I taste hundreds of Napa wines every month, and I put them in the database and yeah, there’s a lot of very expensive wines that come out of Napa. What I’ll say is essentially, it is a little bit of supply and demand. Always with wine, there’s some of that. Napa is a tiny area. It’s 30 miles long, maybe four or five miles across. And not every inch of it is planted. It might seem that way, sometimes when you drive down Highway 29, but it is a region that pays a lot of attention to the environment and the entirety of its agricultural preserve. So there are limitations to where and what you can grow. There’s just fundamentally not a lot of Napa grapes in the grand scheme of things and they are highly coveted because they have earned a reputation since 1966, when Robert Mondavi first established his winery and started to tell the story of Napa to the world, as well as the the Paris tasting, of course, and all the different messaging that came across and all the success that Napa had. So the grapes, there’s not a lot of them. The farming is intensely rigorous and very hands on. It requires a lot of labor. There’s just been a lot of demand for the grapes. So it gets tricky when it comes to bottle price, because, of course, the bottle has to reflect all those costs that go into it. I think, to some extent, and in this moment in time I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but Americans in particular are not used to paying the true cost of things. That tru cost that it takes to produce things, oftentimes, especially agricultural products, which wine is. So I think, I think something that we’re going to have to start to really grapple with is when you pay a lot for a wine, is it a fair price, even if it’s expensive? Is it fair? Have the producers in the farmers done everything they can to be sustainable or organic or take care of the land? Are they taking care of their employees? Do they do they have fulltime employees with health benefits through the year, so that they really are maintaining their vineyards meticulously throughout the whole growing season, not just during harvest? And then all the costs that go into it after that as well, from selling and distribution, of course, but bottling, labels, corks, all of it. So I think California or Napa wines, specifically, are very expensive. But I think a lot of that cost is real.
Lauren Buzzeo 50:18
Yeah, sure. It’s very hard to understand all that goes into any given product, like you said, especially an agricultural product. But certainly the land there is expensive. The production techniques used for some of the top lines are expensive. The labor, the cost of employing the people that you need, whether it’s from your winemaker to your vineyard manager to labor to pick at harvest time, to your office managers, social media, everything. It all has a price. So it all make sense. But I think that the interesting thing to me is that, sure, Napa wine is all expensive, and it’s expensive for a reason. And you’re right to say that what is expensive to me might not be expensive to someone else. But I think it’s generally safe to say that you’re not really going to find a Napa red wine for under $20.
Virginie Boone 51:15
It’s pretty hard. I think, where I try, I mean, I very seldomly get any Best Buys in the magazine for that reason. But I think for red wines in Napa what you have to look for, certainly, is probably not a Cab. There could be some Zinfandel that’s at that price point, or Petit Sirah, or maybe Merlot or a blend. A lot of times you’ve just got a lot of creative winemaking, where people who have been in the business long enough or own a lot of their own estate fruit can kind of pick and choose to bring something down to a lower price point. In Cabernet that’s often $40 to $50, but could it be achieved at $20 to $30? I think there’s certainly going to be the pressure to do that. And there are a lot of grapes out there right now. So there could be there could be some shifting going on in terms of being able to find more affordable fruit in our near future. I think you also just have a lot of entrepreneurialism within Napa. A lot of the younger generation, who maybe have day jobs working for a very prestigious and expensive winery, making expensive Cabernet. In their spare time, they’re trying to find those little pockets where maybe they pick up a ton or two of something fun, and can make it at a more reasonable price point or put it in some cans or those types of things. So there is creativity within Napa Valley, because a lot of people who live there and work in the industry can’t afford to drink its wines.
Lauren Buzzeo 52:59
Right. And I think along with the experimentation, like you hit on, there is still value. And not everything is at that ridiculous upper tier echelon that maybe not everybody can afford on a regular basis. But there are still wines in that sort of middle tier level that people can find and are accessible. So it’s not all astronomical and it’s not all crazy.
Virginie Boone 53:24
No, and I really admire the producers who can do that, and choose to do that. To try to have a $40 or $50 wine that maybe it’s just Napa Valley appellation, and it gets to restaurants, and it gets to retail, maybe, or it’s just a way that people can can at least play the game. They can at least have a taste. And they make these beautiful, very expensive vineyard designates as well. I think to be able to do both very well is admirable and we need a little bit more of that from some of the big producers.
Lauren Buzzeo 54:01
Yeah, definitely. Well, I think that you’ve definitely taught us today that there’s a lot to be discovered and a lot of myths and perhaps preconceived notions that we should consider dispelling and updating our opinions on, so Virginie, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you debunking these myths for us.
Virginie Boone 54:22
Lauren Buzzeo 54:26
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. From Napa and Sonoma to Bordeaux, Beaujolais and beyond, we talked about a lot of different wines and wine regions today, with so many delicious and exciting recommendations worth checking out. Be sure to visit winemag.com/podcast to learn even more about these selections and where to find them to get your taste on. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out, too? You can always 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 episode, cheers!