Exploring the fanaticism related to red wines
January 28, 2005 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Why is wine snobbery fanaticism predominately limited to reds?
posted by xmutex to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think that people just drink less white wine. They aren't used to the flavors and the differing sugar content. Many domestic whites from California make very little but over oaked, over macerated "Chablis" that have ruined the palets of many Americans for white wines and (just let me throw in, Rose.) There are many awsome French, Italian and Spanish whites that are crisp, clean and refreshing. I love Sancerre, Pinot Grigio and Verdejo. Muscadet can be lovely too.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:00 AM on January 28, 2005

Response by poster: I'd love some recommendations for good whites. I'm definitely in that "don't like white wine" category, but probably for reasons of ignorance more than anything else.
posted by xmutex at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2005

No. A true oenophile might argue the opposite. White wines are far more subtle on the palatte, and I think that's why a lot of people, including myself, don't get it. /redwinedrinker
posted by ch3ch2oh at 11:08 AM on January 28, 2005

Conundrum is my hands down favorite white. Once I got off Chards (pre-Sideways) and on to other types of whites, I was much happier. Banjo likes the sweeter types, while I like'm a bit tart.

My problem is more with reds, which I'm only starting to explore in ernest of late. I was stuck in the old trap of "I don't like reds, so I will not spend a lot of money on a bottle of red wine. Why does every bottle of red I drink taste like tannic poo?"
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2005

I've been drinking a couple of whites from a New Zealand winery called Oyster Bay. They make a chardonnay, and a sauvignon blanc. You might like to pick both up, and compare and contrast the flavors.

Some questions: Do you tend to like very dry wines, or off-dry? Crisp and tart, or round and creamy? Oaky, or not?

What types of flavors appeal to you: melon? citrus? hazelnuts? minerals? pine? grapes (don't laugh)? vanilla? smokiness? peaches? pineapple?

Even if you can't answer some or all of these questions right now, they might give you some structure as you try to come to terms with white wine.
posted by stonerose at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2005

I agree with elwoodwiles, people are quite snobby in Spain about the white wine from Galicia: Albariño or Ribeira. If you ever get a chance to try Terras Gaudas (Albariño) with some really fresh fish, you will see why.
posted by sic at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2005

I love wines red, white, and pink, but I would wager that the short answer to your question may have to do with the fact that there are many more red wines with the potential for aging. This is by no means universal -- many red wines should be drunk young; and some whites reward aging. But I think this observation leads to a general perception that red wines = more complex = more interesting = more fanatacism.
posted by casu marzu at 11:41 AM on January 28, 2005

I'm not much of a wine drinker (and when I do I tend to stick to reds,) but I've yet to meet a German Riesling that I didn't like.
posted by Cyrano at 11:41 AM on January 28, 2005

Diet might matter. Also I think white wine seems slightly effeminate to some people. It's OK to have a working knowledge of red wines if it improves your steak eating experience; but if you're going to eat a lot of fish and know a lot about white wines, well: that seems sort of ... continental, if you know what I mean.
posted by coelecanth at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2005

I'll agree wtih casu marzu in terms of answering the original question.

As far as the follows question, while I am almost exclusively a red wine drinker, I am also a huge fan of big white burgundies like Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet, and will drink those whenever they are around (if they are a big rough on the bank account). To a lesser degree I find some of the Loire whites like Sancerre to be pleasant, but I don't go out of my way to find them. Also, in a different vein, I do enjoy a good Riesling, Auslese or Gerwurztraminer. YMMV, but I have not use for California, Oregon or Washington State Chards or Pinot Gris. I think "crisp and light" is as good as it gets for those, and I am hardly ever in the mood for that.
posted by psmealey at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2005

casu marzu's spot on. The question of "when" to drink a white is almost always "now". With reds, it's more of a tricky science.

I think a big part of it is also that the "Great Houses" of French Wine are known for their reds.
posted by mkultra at 11:49 AM on January 28, 2005

People go nuts about Sauternes (Chateau d'Yquem) and similar wines like Monbazillac, but obviously those are exceptions to the rule.

I think it's because most whites aren't cellared and aged; rather you drink 'em within a year or two of their production. Nobody (except me, I guess) goes nuts over the latest Fleurie or Moulin-a-vent, and I think for the same reason - it's a bit of seasonal ephemera, not the high enduring oenologic art of the ages.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:57 AM on January 28, 2005

I think to some extent it goes back to what are traditionally considered the greatest of all wines--red Bordeaux. Since these are red, their coattails extend to some extent to all reds.

Bordeaux, as I see it, are to wines what Citizen Kane is to movies. It could be debated whether Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever--there's certainly nothing like universal agreement on that point--except that so many critics have labelled it the greatest movie ever that it becomes difficult to move past that and have a reasonable discussion about it. If one can even have a reasonable discussion about something that is so subjective to start with.

I find that there's more variation among white varietals than among red. I don't mean in quality--certainly there's plenty of good and bad whites out there, and good and bad reds--I mean more variation in what's typical for different varietals. When I started drinking wine fairly regularly, a little over a year ago, I found that it was easier to tell apart different white varietals than it was to tell reds apart. So as to your second question, I won't make any specific recommendations, but I will say try to explore a couple of different examples of each of the major white varietals. ("Major" is not well-defined, but I would call the major whites Riesling (try both dry and sweet Rieslings), Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (oaked and unoaked), Pinot Gris (a.k.a. Pinot Grigio) , and Gewürtztraminer.) Some people may reasonably "like reds" or "not like reds," but if someone tells me they "like whites" or "don't like whites," I tend to suspect they haven't fully explored the whites, with their greater (or at least more obvious, to the novice) variety of flavors than the reds.

On preview: everyone's point about aging (some) reds and not aging (with a few exceptions) whites is a good one too.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:01 PM on January 28, 2005

Mmmm. How I love a good red wine with subtle hints of chocolate, anise, and tannic poo. Yummy.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:03 PM on January 28, 2005

I just don't think whites have a complexity of flavor like reds do. To me, whites are either dry or fruity. Plus, often they are served cold, which to me also flattens any complexity into a single note.

Plus, whites are for pussies. Kidding. I kid.
posted by spicynuts at 12:04 PM on January 28, 2005

I'm interested in this, too.
So far, the only white I really like is a very dry Italian wine that comes in a bottle shaped like a fish. I can't remember what it's called.
I'm by no means well-informed about wine, but I tend to find that reds taste fuller to me. To me, the flavor of many whites seems to be missing something, like there's a piece missing from a puzzle that would be delicious if it were finished.
posted by willpie at 12:08 PM on January 28, 2005

Plus, often they are served cold, which to me also flattens any complexity into a single note.

Whites are often served too cold, and that does indeed make it harder to taste the flavors. Whites should be somewhat chilled, but not refrigerator cold. 50-55°F is about right. The rule of thumb I use is that if I've been keeping a white in the refrigerator, I let the bottle sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.

Not implying you didn't already know this, spicynuts, just a point of information for anyone out there who didn't.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:35 PM on January 28, 2005

Complexity ain't always a good thing. It can overpower many foods. There is a time and place for everything. There's no way I want a big Bordeaux instead of kiwi Sauv Blanc in the middle of a summer afternoon with fresh greens and goat cheese. No way.

Also, many whites are served too cold and they should be served warmer -- but at least they can warm up. Reds served too warm can't be saved. And, by the way, just as the aging rule is not monolithic, neither are the temp guidelines. Many full-bodies chards, oaky or not, shouldn't be served cold at all.
posted by casu marzu at 12:35 PM on January 28, 2005

I second the Caymus Conundrum recommendation; If you're looking to try a SB that doesn't taste like garbage, check out DuckHorn Cellar's SB; Crispy and smooth, it is refreshing, but not too "fruity."
posted by AllesKlar at 12:38 PM on January 28, 2005

very dry Italian wine that comes in a bottle shaped like a fish


I like German Rieslings, but the single finest white i have ever tasted is Rombauer (the Joy of Cooking folks) Chardonnay. Like buttah...
posted by fixedgear at 12:42 PM on January 28, 2005

The fundamental issue is that red wines tend to have a lot more "congeners" to them--the components of any alchoholic beverage that's not either water or alchohol. Basically, any "alchohol"--whether it's beer, brandy, wine, gin, vodka, whatever--is water, alcohol, and congeners.

Purple grapes just have more organic components to them, especially in the skins. Most importantly, they've got a lot of tannin in the skins--I don't think green grapes have almost any at all.

What's more, most green grapes--like Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay--have a higher water content that red grapes, especially since they generally don't age as well on the vine like most red grapes do. Red grapes can generally stand to mature and dry out on the vine much longer than green grapes, so they usually start out as a much more concentrated base. (That's also why winemakers hate for it to rain before they harvest, and why the "noble rot" is seen as such an advantage--it basically turns the grapes into raisins on the vine, without damaging the flavor.)

That helps explain a lot of the differences between red and white wines, like:

1) Why reds are more likely to give you a headache hangover. (Your brain ends up acting as an additional filter for congeners when you drink, after your liver, etc.)

2) Why reds are generally more complex. (More congeners, more flavor components.)

3) Why reds last longer in the bottle. (Tannin is a key factor in how wine can mature and last in the bottle.)

So, as a general rule, there's generally more to "explore" in the flavors and tastes of red wine, those flavors and tastes are more intense, and all those components tend to evolve and change over time after it goes in the bottle. If you're going to get obsessive over wine, reds are almost automatically a much more fruitful subject for your (somewhat pedantic) obsessions.

That being said, I love white wines, and drink a lot more white wine, day to day, than I do red. If you're looking for good white wines above and beyond the crappy Chardonnay you find everywhere, definitely try white Bordeaux (which is usually a combination of sauvignon blanc/fume blanc and semillon).
posted by LairBob at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2005

also, stay away from French SB; cat urine is not a flavor you want in a beverage.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:48 PM on January 28, 2005

3) Why reds last longer in the bottle. (Tannin is a key factor in how wine can mature and last in the bottle.)

I hope you are referring to reds that HAVE NOT been opened! A red once opened has a shelf life of a day or two at most. A white wine can be resealed and kept in the fridge for a week or so without serious damage.
posted by spicynuts at 12:57 PM on January 28, 2005

there are many more red wines with the potential for aging

Red wines can age because of tannins. Tannins are what make some red wines unpleasant unless aged.

As far as the original question, to extend some of the answers above - if a wine (red, not white) tastes good for two or three decades, one can be a snob (or fanatic) about it - the arguments can go on for years, it's possible to make comparisons, you can (with enough money) buy it, etc. It's hard to be a snob about something (a white wine) that was produced (say) ten years ago and is now undrinkable (and unobtainable).

Plus red wines cost more - what's the point of being a snob about something that a lot of people can afford?

On preview, what lairbob said, too.
posted by WestCoaster at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2005

I hope you are referring to reds that HAVE NOT been opened!

Umm...yes. Red wine that's been open for more than a day (maybe two, if you use one of those little vacuum pumps) is called "vinegar". (Literally..."vin aigre" means "sour wine".)
posted by LairBob at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2005

On the Albariño front, Martin Codax and especially Fillaboa are wonderful. From Catalonia, try Picapoll and Martius.
posted by Zootoon at 1:05 PM on January 28, 2005

ikkyu2, many white wines improve with age, although not as much as reds.

Eg, a good, well-made riesling can easily last 6 or 7 years. Ditto some chardonnays. Almost all dessert wines last (and improve) for years.

Stonerose: if you liked Oyster Bay, my current fave is Wither Hills, which I would rate against Oyster Bay any day. I'm pretty sure it's exported and you'll have a reasonable chance of finding some.

Back to the original question - I agree with the others. It's partly complexity of flavour, and partly (notwithstanding my note above) aging potential. It's hard to have a big cellar of whites over years.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2005

Here's a couple of whites that I used to like:

Frankenwein (hard to find in the USA)

I used to drink only white wine and didn't understand what people saw in reds, now I drink only red wine. I'm not sure what happened, but casu marzu's comment about summer really makes me want to get back into whites when the weather warms up.
posted by spaghetti at 2:17 PM on January 28, 2005

this is an interesting question. I think too much yucky chardonnay has been served at too many cocktail events. Personally I like a good Pinot Grigio from Italy. I am just learning about some reds but definately agree there are more red fans. I get the feeling you are not a wine expert if you don't know about reds. How about cheese snobs? Worse than wine fanatics!!! Interested in your feedback
posted by lag at 2:52 PM on January 28, 2005

Sauvignon Blancs are the only whites I'll drink - give 'em a shot.
posted by falconred at 3:00 PM on January 28, 2005

Oregon Pinot Gris is a very excellent wine, esp. 2003 vintages ... which I'm already drinking. I found one that I loved and I've gone through a case of the 2003 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris and am now sadly out, and no one else has any more. :(
posted by SpecialK at 3:15 PM on January 28, 2005

I'd add one caveat to the "reds cost more" argument. In one relevant aspect, the opposite may be true. I think German whites are probably the kings of whites and the mind-blowing, old Rieslings I've had have been outrageously expensive. I (tentatively) assert that you may actually have to spend more to get a great experience with white than with red (I also have Sancerre in mind - they're fairly consistently good but also consistently expensive). Also, very good white wines, which are (as noted above) very age-able, are often a bit - or a lot - sweet. American producers may have killed off-dry wine for many consumers by adding sugar (most notoriously to "white" zinfandel) to wines.
posted by leecifer at 3:48 PM on January 28, 2005

Red wine that's been open for more than a day (maybe two, if you use one of those little vacuum pumps) is called "vinegar"

This is just ridiculous; I'm assuming you always drink a bottle of wine shortly after opening it. If you didn't, you'd discover most reds can last a surprisingly long time after being opened. The greatest wine I ever had was a Burgundy that had been open -- sans vacuum pump -- for almost a week. Yeah, it had changed, but it sure wasn't vinegar. And I routinely keep wines (avec vacuum pump) for several days with no ill effects.

As for the question: what casu marzu and lairbob said.

leecifer: Really? Rieslings were ridiculously cheap only a few years ago. OK, maybe a decade. Sigh.
posted by languagehat at 4:12 PM on January 28, 2005

languagehat: I'm thinking of ausleses, beerenausleses and trokenbeerenausleses. Those can get pretty darned expensive. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally psyched to drink German table wine. I guess I just mean that I feel like I can be amazed by a $15-$20 bottle of Rhone or Loire valley red but to get the same level of enjoyment out of a white, I need to spend another $10.
posted by leecifer at 4:34 PM on January 28, 2005

Also - not to turn this into chatfilter but - I'm absolutely astonished by your open for a week story. Admittedly there's plenty of wines which you need to beat up (decant, swirl, let stand open, what have you) and I've once or twice had a wine that I thought was better the second day (usually a Bordeaux or California Cab opened too young) but a week? That's wild.
posted by leecifer at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2005

On preview, I agree with the red costs more factor, too.

For french wines, I can get a really nice Sancerre (white) for about $20-$40 max if it's really special, but a really good Margeaux, Burgundy, or Bordeaux (etc) can run from $45 into the hundreds. Granted, the nice Sancerre isn't terribly complex, and the few times I've had a nice Burgundy or Margeaux, they were amazing. I think the snobbery has to do with the prices as well as complexity and quality.

As far as dry whites go, it's more likely that you'd aquire a taste for them if you acquire a taste for the things that go with them, like fish, sharp cheeses, certain asian cuisines, etc. I think it's easier to acquire a taste for reds cause they go with more foods, making the desire for reds more common and their prices higher.
posted by sophie at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2005

A couple of fun, wacky white wine outliers:

Retsina: crisp, very light white wine with a sort of pine resin added to it - it can taste like turpentine, or, especially on a hot summer day, it can be amazingly refreshing.

Ice Wine [Eiswein]: late on the night of the first hard frost, the grapes - intensely sweet, having been subjected to warm days and cool nights - are picked just as they freeze. They yield a syrupy sweet must that, at its best, produces a sweet but balanced wine.
posted by stonerose at 5:15 PM on January 28, 2005

How about cheese snobs? Worse than wine fanatics!!!

Hey! I resemble that remark.

Re: the open wine bottles. I only do this very occasionally, but the results seem to very a great deal by bottle. And it definitely doesn't seem to be a red-vs-white issue -- it's much more dependent on varietal, and probably also depends on manner of storage, producer, and any number of other variables. More delicate stuff like pinot doesn't seem to like being open long at all. Others have been fine after a few days. I've read stories that really sturdy barolos actually benefit from being open a day or two (haven't tried this myself).
posted by casu marzu at 5:23 PM on January 28, 2005

Red wine that's been open for more than a day (maybe two, if you use one of those little vacuum pumps) is called "vinegar"...

This is just ridiculous...

OK, how about this...blanket statements about wine (or most other things) tend to be overstated.

I'll gladly admit that _some_ reds can last for more than a couple of days (especially when I'm lucky enough to drink one). Nevertheless, I think everyone here will vouch that _most_ reds turn noticeably sour once they're left open for a day or two--especially the cheaper ones that are the vast majority sold.

My point may not be categorically true, but I really don't think it's "ridiculous". Agreed?
posted by LairBob at 5:38 PM on January 28, 2005

bloody mother of gospel, people.. read the initial question.

I'm a fan of simple solutions, pointing out lack of culture in the US, and mocking Europhiles simplistic views. (I was into Hating America way before they sold out)

So I posit: The "great houses" are reds, grown in romantic regions with expatriate and/or tourist history, and are seized upon by Zagat toting robots who wish to enlighten their ignorant countrymen.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 5:41 PM on January 28, 2005

My sister-in-law knows more about wine than anyone I know. She believes there is a sex difference. Men like red first; women white. She is pretty fanatical that the more different kinds of wine you drink, the more you will like. According to her, when people start drinking wine, they tend to drink very similar varieties. This is bad only because there is so much great wine to be experienced, even on a budget. (I think she's right. I started drinking Australian Reds. I really burned out. Now I like pretty much anything else that has been well-made and properly aged).

I hated all sweet wine (perhaps because I was told it wasn't as good?) until I was given a couple of tasting. Good places to start? White burgundy is good for red-wine drinkers. Pinot Grigio is also good for people who like dry wines. It's the flavor of the moment, but it is very nice. SOuth African white wine is excellent and affordable. I particularly like one called Fleur du Cap.

Personally, I really like drier Alsatian wines-- still sweet, very fruity, but not cloying. They have a musty taste that reminds me of fall leaves. Ask your wine merchant to recommend a good Hungarian Tokay and a good German Riesling. They are both sweet, but can be fantastic-- very complex, very well balanced.

I can happily report that I am now evenly split on red and whites.

P.S. Get a vaccum seal. Most wines will keep if re-sealed.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:42 PM on January 28, 2005

I feel like I can be amazed by a $15-$20 bottle of Rhone or Loire valley red but to get the same level of enjoyment out of a white, I need to spend another $10.

Now, see, I find that a strange statement. I've never been amazed by a Loire red (pleased yes, amazed no), and to be amazed by a Rhone these days you need to spend a lot more than that. By contrast, a good Moselle -- and I'm not talking Trockenbeerenauslese, which has always been expensive but is almost a different animal, just an Auslese or even a good Kabinett -- is amazing, and used to cost between $10 and $20 (I haven't priced them in a while, since I'm trying to keep my wine costs minimal until I get some income flow again).

As for the open for a week story, I didn't say it was better for the wait (god, I'd love to have had it the first day, it was a Domaine Dujac '78 that probably cost $100+), just that it was still eminently drinkable. Sure, there was a tinge of sour, but that was just one note in an incredible symphony of everything that makes red Burgundy worth blowing your inheritance on. If I had an inheritance, anyway, that's what I'd blow it on.

LairBob: Agreed.

Jack Karaoke: I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'll bet you're drunk. On cheap plonk.

White burgundy is good for red-wine drinkers

Yeah, baby!
*drools reminiscently over a long-gone Meursault*

This is a great thread, by the way.
posted by languagehat at 7:05 PM on January 28, 2005

Third the recommendation for Caymus Conundrum. I had a week of free meals + wine in a hotel restaurant once, and the sommelier was excited to really show his stuff. Conundrum was our favorite.

Other whites I like: a good flinty Pinot Grigio, a not-too-oaky, buttery Chardonnay, Rieslings, and ohmygosh do I loves me some Alsatian Gewurztraminer.
posted by Vidiot at 11:02 PM on January 28, 2005

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