The light striking the courtyard’s sandstone walls gave a golden haze to the evening. Guests seated at wooden benches chatted quietly, enjoying plates of fresh summer food.

But there was nothing welcoming about the server. “There is nothing wrong with the wine,” she said, loudly enough for heads to turn.

My boyfriend and I had just arrived in Germany and were having a romantic dinner. I’d ordered a glass of Spätburgunder, the local Pinot Noir.

But when I raised the glass, all I smelled was moldy dishrag. It wasn’t exactly like TCA, the compound responsible for cork taint, but what else could do that to a wine? I quietly asked for another glass.

“If you want another, you’ll have to pay for both,” said the woman.

I felt my face flush. “It’s corked.”

She marched back into the bar at a rapid clip and came back, bearing the bottle. It had a screwcap, not a cork.

“There is no cork taint in that wine,” she said. By now, everyone was staring. We finished our dinner at top speed, feeling the sting of public humiliation. When the bill came, it included the musty red wine, as promised.

Later, a wine writer told me that the wine came from a difficult, wet vintage. “Some people bottled rotten grapes,” he said.

Coming from Australia, where wineries pride themselves on technical perfection, it was a shock. But in the next few years, I encountered lots of wine problems, particularly at European wine competitions, where many wines with “off” smells or flavors would appear.

That was 14 years ago. Since then, world wine quality has skyrocketed to the point that faulty wines are rare. Not only are even the cheapest wines well made, there’s a stunning diversity of styles and grapes available.

Yet at the very moment that wine quality is through the roof, ads are appearing across social media claiming that wine is suspect. “Clean wine” marketers compete to create memes about how terrifying wine is; one will post that people should count chemicals, not calories, and the next will claim that wine has “250 commonly added additives” (false). My favorite is the skeleton clutching a wine bottle. “Mass produced wines are scary!” says the caption. Over on Facebook, ads show white sugar being dumped into a wine glass.

Where are all these lurid wine tales coming from?

This article first appeared in VinePair. You can read the rest of the article here.

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