5 Big Wine Myths…Exploded! — Wine 101
For the wine novice, it can seem like just to take a sip of wine, first you have to memorize a list of rules: what wines go with what; what temperature is the best for each wine, etc. And while some of these rules originated for good reason (they make your glass of, say, Chardonnay, eminently more enjoyable), there are lots of others that are more or less bunk.
You’ve no doubt heard some of the more popular wine myths out there, but which ones have merit and which can you ignore (and which ones have been taken way too far)? Let’s take a few of the most popular wine myths and see if they stand up to scrutiny — or simply fold like a house of cards.
Red wine with meat, white wine with fish
Verdict: Not exactly false — but not always true!
This is an old rule of thumb, and one that has taken a lot of abuse over the years. The basic idea is sound: red wines with acid and tannin, two of the basic components of wine, work well with meats that are rich and fatty, while white wines work best with lighter fare. But food has become more complex and evolved, so this may not always be the case.
Today, we have so many cultural influences in the fusion of our cuisine that it’s not always as simple as red with meat and white with fish. That doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. Red wine with meat and white wine with fish remains plausible, just not as fail-safe as it might have been a few decades ago. The bottom line remains that the best food and wine pairing is the one that you enjoy most. Experiment and discover what makes you happy!
Serve wines at room temperature
This is another very old rule of thumb—so old, in fact, that it predates central heating. Back in the early days of wine, room temperature was once more like castle temperature — damp and cool. Today, room temperature generally means 72 degrees Fahrenheit and up. That’s not the proper temperature for serving wine.
At warm temperatures, wines begin to lose balance. The alcohol and tannins become too prominent and overpower other flavors. If you want to get the most out of your wine, serving it cooler will always be better. (Read more about wine temperatures here.)
But what temperature is appropriate? Precise temperatures for just about every wine have been identified, but that can quickly get complicated. An easy rule of thumb for wine service is the 15-minute rule. Take your white wines out of the fridge 15 minutes before service, and put your red wines in the fridge 15 minutes before service. If you’d like a more exact idea of how to serve wine, check out our wine temperature infographic.
Sweet wines pair best with dessert
Verdict: Barely true
You’re supposed to break out sweet and fortified wines, like Ports and Sauternes, with sweet desserts, according to the “experts.” But that may not always be a good idea — sweet with sweet may just be too sweet for some. There are pairings that work well this way, but Sauternes can also be enjoyed with a salty snack and Port goes well with pungent cheese. The combination of a sweet wine with savory food can be delicious.
There are exceptions, of course. A bitter chocolate cake can be lovely with a glass of Port. As I’ve already said, you should enjoy what pleases you, but you should also continue to try new things. You never know, you might find that you enjoy many of the best dessert wines with a simple cookie.
Riesling is sweet
No matter what you may have heard, it’s not a good idea to generalize the flavor of a grape. The terroir, which in French roughly means the location where the grape is grown, and the vinification (winemaking style) both play a huge role in how a wine tastes. Assuming that a Riesling is sweet or a Merlot is “soft” is not always true.
Yes, many wines do fall into a stereotype. But there are fewer and fewer of those each year. So it’s best to avoid assumptions about a particular wine. Instead, taste, read and ask about wines as much as possible. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by many wines that you would have dismissed in the past because of their stereotypical descriptions that end up opening a whole new world of scents and flavors for you to enjoy.
Wine Critics are always right
Wine critics can have a lot of experience with tasting wine. Still, when they’re tasting wine, they can tell you two things: how good they think the wine tastes based on how they think the wine should taste, and how much they like it. Those two things are pretty subjective, and you may find that you disagree with what a wine critic says. Not to mention that their terminology can be downright confusing.
It’s not that all wine criticism is useless, but wine criticism is very particular. In order for a wine review to be useful to you, the critic would need to share some general idea of what you expect from any particular bottle of wine and then also share your preferences. It’s not impossible, just rarer than we might all like to admit. Of course, you’re likely to find one or more wine reviewers who speak to you, but that does not make them all useful or knowledgeable. Learn to trust yourself. Ultimately, your taste buds are the only ones that count.
– Gregory Dal Piaz, Snooth.com
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