One of the benefits of having a sommelier in your circle of friends is that you can ask all the wine questions that seem silly, strange, or obvious to ask without getting embarrassed. (That, and they usually bring pretty tasty wines to dinner parties.)
But we love getting these questions. Wine professionals enter the field because they are passionate about wine and, quite frankly, can talk about it for hours on end (this fact has been verified by my husband).
So, when a friend begins with, “Can I ask you a question…,” it almost always means that we are about to chat wine. I suspect I know how doctors must feel at a cocktail party...
Now, the most common questions start with “Is it true that…” With all the mystery, confusion, and ritual surrounding wine, it’s no surprise that wine myths are so prevalent. Navigating this quagmire can require a trusted guide, and if you didn’t have a sommelier in your contact list before, you do now: [email protected] (That’s me, by the way.)
I’ve compiled a short list of some of the most common wine myths out there—those that have a direct impact on the wine and/or your ability to enjoy it at its maximum potential. Plus, once you understand the myths, you can make simple changes to have a more pleasurable drinking experience.
Myth #1: A great place to store your wine is in the kitchen.
When I walk into a friend’s kitchen and see the wine rack on their counter or above the fridge, my palms begin to get clammy. I try not to offer unsolicited advice, but in this instance I usually can’t help myself.
While there may not be a handier place to store wine than in the kitchen, it is the vinous equivalent of storing tomatoes in the fridge (this doesn’t apply if your wine is stored in a temperature-controlled wine fridge).
The biggest enemies of wine are heat, light and vibration—daily occurrences in any well-used kitchen. If you don’t have a wine fridge, the best place to store wine is in a dark closet away from direct heat or in a basement, if you are lucky enough to have one.
Myth #2: Decanting is only for old, expensive wines.
This is a myth that comes up often, and I always enjoy responding with a quick demo. I’ll grab my blender, throw in a young, red, tannic wine and blend it up for 30 seconds. Then I will have my friend taste the wine from the bottle and then from the blender. The difference is astonishing.
The wine from the blender is softer and smoother. It’s been hyper-decanted, which means that oxygen has been introduced into the wine to soften the tannins and mimic long-term aging. So, while you decant old wines to remove sediment and introduce oxygen, you should definitely try decanting young red wines to help them open up.
Myth #3: Whites should be served from the fridge and reds from room temperature.
The most important factor of enjoying a glass of wine is temperature. I don’t make that statement that lightly. It is more important than the glass you drink it from or the food you eat it with. Temperature influences how a wine tastes and smells.
Whites straight from the fridge (around 40° F) are too cold and many of the flavors get masked. The ideal temperature is around 50 to 55° F, so your best bet is to take it out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before serving.
Reds from the counter (around 70° F) are too warm, which emphasizes the alcohol in the wine. The ideal temperature is around 60 to 65° F, so if it’s at room temperature, place it in the fridge for about 15 minutes before drinking.
Myth #4: Expensive wines are better (…says the guy that sells expensive wines).
We equate quality with price. The more expensive an item is, the higher the quality and the better it is. While there is definitely a correlation between price and quality when it comes to wine, the truth of the matter is that there is great value to be found in areas that have less expensive land and labor, along with reduced demand. South America is a prime example. You can find great quality Cabernet Sauvignon in Chile, Malbec in Argentina, and Chardonnay in Uruguay.
Myth #5: Red wine with meat, white wine with poultry or fish.
Frankly, this myth is a bit dated and I think most people accept that you should just drink what you like. That being said, wine can be a valuable tool to enhance a meal, and a well-matched pairing can be the glue that brings everything together.
There are many different theories and methods on pairing food and wine, but there is one basic rule I employ that has never failed me: If it grows together, it goes together. Basically, if I am eating a cuisine from a specific area, I try to select wine from that area as well. The flavors often work together and you can spend more time enjoying the meal and less time over thinking it.
Do you have a wine question? If it feels too ridiculous to ask, just send me a note or post it in the comments below (of course it goes without saying that you are asking on behalf of a friend).