Six Wine Myths

By Posted on Jul 03 2010 | By

We live in an age of science. A rational explanation exists for everything. Anyone relying on unproven tales from the past is simply out of step with the technology gods.

True? Well, not exactly.

We all love to cling to personal theories, home remedies, conjecture or simply “gut feel” to help us navigate through our world of insecurities.

A few examples: Most body heat is lost through the head. The darker the beer the higher the alcohol. Newton was hit on the head with an apple. Salem witches were burned at the stake. You must drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Cracking your knuckles causes arthritis.

All classic beliefs. All false.

OK. You get the idea. Now, let’s have some fun puncturing holes in a few wine myths.

Wine Improves with Age

Wine changes with age but for most moderately priced bottlings it does not improve in flavor, especially whites. Today, most wine is vinified to be enjoyed the day it was purchased—displaying fruit forward traits and bright, fresh tastes. As whites age they tend to oxidize, turning a golden hue and losing most of their youthful exuberance. Reds also lose fresh fruit characteristics and become somewhat flat as the years roll by.

Of course, high quality—read expensive—reds and whites from world renowned vineyards will evolve over time from a fruit and acidity center to ones with more compelling aromas and tastes. It is not unusual to discover notes such as earth, cedar, tar, pencil shavings, mushroom and similar complex characteristics in a twenty-five year old bottle of First-Growth Bordeaux. But, if you are paying less than twenty dollars for a bottle, drink up. Your purchase is not an investment, it’s tonight’s dinner companion.

Critics Know All the Answers

There’s no denying trained professionals know quality wine. But experience has shown that often the wines preferred by the experts are not the ones attractive to the average wine drinker. Pros have developed a more acute palate and tend to favor more complex tastes, traits the average person is not looking for in their wine.

Use the experts as a guide but rely more heavily on what your own taste buds are telling you rather than what a slick and expensive magazine purports as good. Better yet, develop a “go to” relationship with your local wine shop. Owners of these establishments work hard to identify your flavor profile and will consistently guide you to wines that create smiles.

Smelling the Cork is Important

The tradition of smelling the cork actually originated in France in the early 1900s when wine fraud was rampant. Shysters would bottle cheap wine in used expensive bottles and pawn it off as the real thing. An easy way to spot such fraud was to examine the cork and see if it bore the same châteaux name as on the label.

Over time, this evaluation test morphed into the practice of smelling the cork. Smelling the cork will tell you very little about the quality of the wine therein. When offered the cork by a waiter, accept it graciously and set it aside. Wait for an actual sip to learn if the wine is good.

White with Fish & Red with Meat

Years ago this was a faithful guide when ordering a dinner wine. Today, restaurant meals are often a fusion of many styles, opening up the possibilities for a variety of wine/food matches. While the old adage still has some merit, do not be bound by its restrictive guidance. Seek matches that also marry the weight, color, or spice notes of the wine with your entrée. Some examples are Pinot noir with salmon, dry Rosé with rosemary chicken, off-dry Riesling with Indian cuisine, and even champagne with potato chips. An almost endless number of wines will pair well with an array of dishes. Have fun discovering new matches.

Wine and Cheese Are a Perfect Match

Most everyone will agree that wine and cheese are tasty companions. But it can also lead to a diminution of wine flavor when the sipper coats his palate with the fat and protein of the cheese, thus disguising the true taste of the wine. One improbable study was conducted by Professor Hildegard Hildmann with the Sensory-Science lab at US Davis in CA a few years back. The professor found that when wine and cheese were tasted together in a laboratory environment, the wine came off a little less oaky and a little less fruity.

Hildmann also discovered every cheese she tested had the same dampening effect on every wine in the study—Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, whatever. It seems if you really want to assess the true flavor of a wine steer clear of all food, including cheese. But, hey, are we seeking a technical evaluation of our dinner wines or trying to meld the flavors of our food and wine for maximum enjoyment. So technically, this myth is, indeed, a myth. But who cares.

A “Reserve” Wine Means Quality

Surely the word “Reserve” on our bottle of wine means its special, right? Well, maybe. Or, maybe not. No one other than the winemaker knows for sure. The use of the word “Reserve” in the United States can mean anything the producer wants it to. There are no laws regarding its use.

Typically, it connotes a wine of higher quality, aged longer, vinified with better quality fruit and other conventional benchmarks used to identify fine wine. What is doesn’t mean is a guarantee that it possesses any these particular traits. Since there is no restriction on its use, be careful basing your buying decision solely because the word appears on the label.

The list could go on and on. The world of wine is replete with misinformation. The point is, when it comes to “facts” involving our beloved social lubricant challenge everything. You are your own best critic because only you know what you like.

For beginners, don’t be brow beat into thinking a White Zinfandel or a 3 liter jug of Burgundy is the height of poor taste. Yes, most ardent wine lovers steer clear of these inexpensive offerings. But many passionate drinkers started their early sipping career downing lesser known—and lesser respected—vinous products. Think Boone’s Farm.

In this age of science, rely on the most trustworthy expert available. Your own palate.

Published in the July 8 edition of the Culpeper Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES