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09.23.2005

Wine Knowledge Reality Check

Despite recent (bogus) news that wine has outstripped beer as Americans' social drink of choice, it's pretty clear that in general most Americans know very little about wine. A recent study conducted by WineOpinions, a statistical research company focusing on the wine industry, rams that fact home with unnerving certainty. In a survey of 500 Americans who drink wine on at least a "somewhat frequent" basis, a full 66% of respondents had no idea what the vintage date on the bottle referred to. 17% thought it referred to the year the wine was made, 37% believed it referred to the date the wine was bottled, and 12% said they had no idea. The sobering thing is that among the people in this group who drank wine "regularly" the percentage of incorrect answers was still 54%.

Among these folks, a full 48% responded that they "strongly agreed" that the best wines are blends of different vintages. That's right. Not varietals. Vintage years.

Unless a huge chunck of Americans are drinking obscure solera-style wines or non-vintage Champagne, we've got some work to do. Most of these folks also cling to the notion that under all circumstances the older a wine is, the better it will taste. Given the choice between wines of one, three, and five years of age, 44% would choose the older wine, regardless of varietal.

So here's what we're going to do. I want every one of you readers to promise me that the next time you are out drinking wine with friends, you make sure you take care of them. Don't be pedantic, don't be arrogant, but should the opportunity arise to figure out how much they know about wine without making them uncomfortable or self conscious, I want you to at least teach them that the vintage date is when the grapes are picked and that many wines don't in fact get better as they get older. Then maybe they'll teach someone else, and they'll teach someone else, and at least we'll get this fact straight.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.