12 Most Prevalent Myths About Wine
As an ardent wine lover, I often find myself at wineries fielding questions from friends and acquaintances. And like urban legends, I’ve often heard many myths about wine that are passed off as fact. Here’s a list of the myths I’ve heard most often.
1. Artificial flavors are added to wine
When wine aromas and/or flavors are described as being like caramel, strawberry, cherry, etc., it’s not a stretch to think those flavors are added to wine, especially when one thinks of the most common grapes — Thompson seedless. However, the grapes used for making wine are a different species of grapes — Vitus Vinifera. If you were to pluck a Pinot Noir grape from its vine, it would taste like a raspberry. Additionally, the wine-making process changes the flavors and aromas of grapes. For example, the vanilla aromas and flavors in wine come from being aged in oak barrels, not from the grapes.
2. Wines get better with age
Upwards of 90% of wines should be consumed within 3-5 years of purchase, and will not get better with aging. Wines that age well are tannic, acidic, complex, and well-balanced. Rules of thumb? If it costs less than $25, drink it within 3-5 years. If it costs $40 or more, it’ll probably age 5 or more years.
3. White wine can’t age like red wine
How well a wine ages is determined by the amount of tannins and acids present, which are natural preservatives. Granted, white wines don’t have lots of tannins but plenty have high acidity levels, thereby making them age-able. For example, a bottle of 1811 Chatuea d’Yquem made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon sold for $117k last year!
4. Screw-cap wines are cheap and of poor quality
Rubbish! Screw-caps are a great way to seal wine, and since 90+% of wines should be consumed within 3-5 years, screw-caps are fine for any bottle of wine that’s $25 or less. In fact, screw-caps have many advantages over corks, and there are plenty of quality wines that cost $25 or less!
5. Sulfites in red wine cause headaches
Sulfites are naturally occurring in all wines, including wines labeled as organic. They got a bad rap on this one. Physicians and scientists agree that sulfites in wine do not cause headaches. What’s the cause then? That is debatable and under study, but the most likely culprits are histamines, tyramines, or other chemicals naturally present in wine.
6. Red wine should be serve at room temperature, and white wines chilled
People tend to serve red wine too warm and white wine too cold. The optimal serving temperature for wine tends to be within certain ranges, and varies by the type of wine. It’s not an exact science, but think around 60 degrees for red, around 50 degrees for white, and around 45 degrees for bubbly. I suggest using the “20/20” rule as a rule of thumb: take white wine out of the fridge 20 minutes before serving, and put red wine in the fridge 20 minutes before serving.
7. Chardonnay is oaky and buttery
The oakiness in wine comes from being aged in oak barrels; butteriness comes from malolactic fermentation. Both are choices made by winemakers and neither is inherent to the Chardonnay grape. There are plenty of Chardonnays that are neither oaky and/or buttery.
8. The alcohol levels on a bottle of wine are precise
The alcohol percentage listed on label of a bottle of wine is legally required to be 1% plus or minus of its actual alcohol content. Thus a bottle labeled at 14.5% alcohol by volume could actually be anywhere between 13.5% and 15.5% alcohol by volume.
9. You can tell the quality of a wine by its “legs”
After you swirl a glass of wine, there are rivulets that run down the side of the glass. Many believe that the slower the wine runs down the inside of the glass, the better the wine. Actually, the heavy paths of juice running down a glass after swirling are essentially caused by the amount of alcohol and protein in the wine. The quality of a wine can’t be discerned by the amount of alcohol alone.
10. Red wine comes from red grape juice
Grape juice, regardless of the color of the grapes, is clear. Red wine gets its color during the fermentation process when grape skins are left in contact with the juice.
11. Serve white wine with white meat, and red wine with red meat
When inquiries are made about what wine to pair with what dish, this is the most common answer. It’s better to consider the flavors of the food and the flavors in the wine when deciding which wine to serve with which food. The number one rule for pairing wine and food? There are no rules!There are guidelines though: pair light-bodied fare with light-bodied wines, heavy foods with full wines, spicy foods with wine that have some sweetness and lower alcohol levels. Pair salty dishes with wines that have firm tannins. Be flexible and experiment. For example, try Zinfandel with Ahi tuna, Pinot Noir with salmon, or a full-bodied Champagne with a steak! And don’t forget pink wine which can be the best of both worlds!
12. Open a bottle of wine to let it “breathe”
While this may be technically true for some red wines, the fact is that simply opening a bottle of wine will not aerate the wine. There is simply not enough surface area at the top of the bottle to allow an adequate amount of air to make contact with the wine. If you want to let a wine “breath,” either use a decanter or some other device such as a lab beaker (or simply let the wine breathe in the glass). This list is just the start! What are some misconceptions about wine that you’ve come across?
Featured image courtesy of Cris Valencia licensed via Creative Commons.