We’ve all heard at least one of them. How many have you fallen for?
Learning how to enjoy wine can be a daunting experience for beginners. With all the wine jargon and the sheer number of grape varieties and wine styles available, it’s little wonder a few ‘wine myths’ have crept in.
They may seem harmless, but some of these misconceptions about wine can derail your wine discovery journey. To help you make the most of your wine, let’s set the record straight about 12 common wine myths.
1. Wine always gets better with age
When you hear about wine auctions where exquisite old wines are sold for astronomical sums of money, it’s easy to assume that all wine gets better with age. In reality, only a small number of wines benefit from ageing. These tend to be of exceptional quality and often have notably high levels of tannins and/or acidity, as these elements help to preserve wine. Most wines are meant to be drunk within a couple of years after bottling.
2. Red wine should never be chilled
One of the first things most beginner wine drinkers hear is “only keep white or sparkling wines in the fridge” and “reds should be always served at room temperature”. Although in many cases red wine characteristics are best expressed at warmer temperatures than whites, there are some exceptions. The best red wines to try chilled are usually light- to medium-bodied with low levels of tannins, such as wines from Beaujolais and those made from the Pinot Noir grape. Don’t be afraid to try experimenting, or to ask your restaurant wine server what temperature they would recommend!
Top tip: ‘room temperature’ is probably cooler than you think. Ideal serving temperatures for red wines range from 13˚C-18˚C (55˚F-64˚F).
3. A silver spoon will keep your fizz fresh
We all know someone who puts a metal spoon or a fork inside the bottle of sparkling wine before putting it in the fridge, thinking it keeps the wine fizzy for longer. The rationale behind this sounds very convincing. The theory goes – as a good conductor, the metal spoon is quickly chilled in the fridge, the cold metal then emits cooler air around it, supposedly making it more difficult for the gas to escape from the bottle. However, this has been tested by many respectable researchers and it’s been found ineffective.
Top tip: If you don’t finish a bottle of sparkling wine in one sitting, you’re better off buying a good sparkling wine stopper or revive the bubbles using raisin.
4. Screw cap equals low-quality wine
There are outstanding quality wines bottled under both corks and screw caps. Screw caps have now become mainstream in numerous wine-producing countries, particularly in ‘New World’ countries such as Australia and New Zealand. They’re popular among wine drinkers as they’re easier to open and store, and preferred by many winemakers and importers as they cause fewer faults to occur in the wine. Screw cap technology is always improving, and if you look closely you will find wines at all quality levels and most price points sealed with a screw cap.
5. Great wines have great ‘legs’
You know those clinging dribbles of wine that ooze down the inside of the glass once you’ve swirled? They’re often called ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ and some believe their appearance indicates the quality of wine. This is not the case – in reality, they can give you a clue as to the wine’s alcoholic strength, colour intensity or sugar content, but not its quality.
6. Wine in a box is mediocre
The type of container rarely affects the quality of the wine within it, but it can influence the wine’s shelf-life. But, because most wines aren’t meant for ageing, a bag-in-box pouch or even a metal can could contain fantastic wine, as long as it protects the tipple inside from light and air.
An increasing number of winemakers are looking for alternatives to glass bottles to make transporting wine more sustainable, and opening and consuming wine easier for the drinker. We’re likely to see more great wine being packaged in alternative formats in the future. So, don’t judge the wine by its packaging!
7. You need to spend £££ to drink delicious wine
The saying “you get what you pay for” doesn’t quite work with good-value wine. Of course, the plonk in the supermarket won’t match up to bottles that cost hundreds of pounds, but perfectly quaffable wine is easy to find all over the high street. Smith advises spending around £10 to hit the quality/value sweet spot.
8. Sulphites cause hangovers
Sorry, but hangovers are caused by alcohol, not sulphites. Robert points towards claims that low-sulphite wines are hangover-free. “Sulphites are used to stabilise and preserve the wine,“ he says. “Low-sulphite wines drunk in excess will give you as sore a head as ever, I’m afraid to say.”
9. Only white wine goes with fish
Some white wines do complement the delicate flavours of certain types of fish, but it’s certainly not a blanket rule. “It all depends on the type of fish you’re eating and what sauce comes alongside it,” says Smith. “Take for example a pan-fried salmon – this works perfectly with a Californian Pinot Noir. How about a piece of swordfish? The meaty texture would fit hand in hand with a glass of Merlot. Shrimp in a creamy sauce with pasta? Sangiovese. There’s so many different variations when it comes to wine regardless of the colour, it’s all about experiencing and learning what works along the way.”
10. Wine doesn’t go with Chinese food.
The Chinese traditionally don’t drink wine with their meals, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Go for wines with high acidity, lower alcohol, and relatively understated flavors and aromas. Two favorites: Riesling and Pinot Noir.
11. Sweet wines are for beginners, not educated palates.
Some of the greatest wines in the world are sweet. Sauternes, ice wines, trockenbeerenausleses (is a German language wine term for a medium to full body dessert wine) and so on are decadently sweet, immensely flavorful and also quite ageworthy. And generally the more educated palates are the ones that they most appeal to.
12. Dry Wines Have Fewer Calories
The more sugar, the more calories, right? Well, alcohol is also caloric. Just because the sugars have been fermented into alcohol doesn’t mean the wine is lower calorie.
Instead, think about how much sugar the wine started with before fermentation and overall alcohol content. A big dry red wine may not have much residual sugar, but it started with a lot before that sugar was turned into alcohol.
If you want a low-calorie wine, look for a dry wine that is also low in alcohol – this indicates that the wine started with less sugar. Low alcohol wines are generally below 12.5% for whites and below 13% for reds. Certain styles of wine are known for being lower alcohol such as Prosecco, Moscato, German Riesling and Vinho Verde just to name a few.