Do You Believe These 5 Wine Myths?


Wine can be confusing. Beyond the difficulty in remembering which grape tastes like what and comes from this or that wine region, wine is shrouded in hard-and-fast rules. Are you supposed to drink white wine with steak — or is it fish? Should you put red wine in the fridge, or is that a no-no? Is it ok if you don't have a special wine glass for that special wine? Below, we'll bust five big myths in the wine world — then we'll tell you how to make it even easier to enjoy great wine.

Myth: Only cheap wines have screw tops.

Decades ago, you could tell a cheap bottle of wine by its simple metal screw top. But times have changed, and these days, winemakers all over the world have come around to the benefits of these once-maligned metal closures. That includes high-end wines like Australia's Penfolds Grange, which can fetch more than $700 per bottle.

Why? Well, cork may be traditional, but it comes with its share of headaches, including its tendency to allow air to enter the bottle and to leave crumbly bits in the wine. It also opens the wine to a risk of contamination with trichloroanisole (TCA), also known as cork taint, which is a chemical compound that can leave the wine with a damp, musty smell or mask its flavors altogether. When it comes to the extra oxygen that corks let in, however, it's not all bad: The minute amounts of air that pass through cork over time can help the aging process of certain wines. For that reason, many winemakers put screwcaps on wines that are meant to be drunk young, like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Myth: Sulfites give you red-wine headaches.

If you've ever finished off a few glasses of red only to experience a pounding headache, you may have been told that sulfites were to blame. Sulfites are a chemical byproduct of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which has been used to preserve wine for thousands of years. When SO2 dissolves in water (or wine), it produces sulfites. In the United States, any wine that contains 10 parts per million (ppm) or more of sulfites must be labeled as such. But even organic wines and wines that say "no sulfites added" often still contain naturally occurring sulfites.

The thing is, sulfites probably aren't the culprit behind the pain in your head. If you can eat dried fruit or deli meat without issues, you probably don't have a sulfite sensitivity — many of these foods are much higher in sulfites than red wine. In fact, even white wine has more sulfites than red wine; European regulations allow for up to 210 ppm sulfites in white wine while the red-wine limit is only 160 ppm. The likely cause for your headache is garden-variety dehydration, so make sure you drink plenty of water with your wine. That said, some people can have an allergic reaction to other compounds in red wine, and for that, antihistamines can do the trick.

Myth: Certain wines require certain glasses.

Go shopping for glassware and you'll likely encounter an unending selection of wine glasses: there are big bowl shapes for Chardonnay; tall and straight glasses for Cabernet; flared shapes for rosé; the list goes on. It may surprise you to know that this explosion of wine-glass diversity didn't happen until 1973 when the Riedel glassware company created the Riedel Sommelier series as the first stemware line based on wine variety. The company claimed that each glass was designed to help wine drinkers pick up every aroma of each wine and to direct the wine to the appropriate flavor zone on the tongue. But these claims didn't end up being entirely accurate; for one thing, the tongue doesn't actually have flavor zones (you have a smattering of taste receptors all over your tongue). For another thing, scientists put these claims to the test in blind tastings and the results were ... lackluster. They found that the glasses did do something to the flavor, but the effect was limited. A later study did find that the different glass shapes had an effect on aroma, however.

Still, drinking wine is hardly a lab experiment — you savor a wine with all of your senses, not just taste and smell. For that reason, it might be worth investing in a few styles of stemware if you consider yourself a serious taster. But if you're just a person who wants to enjoy good wine without having to think about it, don't feel locked into drinking Cabernet only from a special Cabernet glass. Any wine glass will do. 

For example, stemless glasses have emerged as a popular, versatile choice. Aesthetically, they're sleek and look great on any table. But thanks to their lower profile, they also make a great choice for settings where a stable surface may not be readily available (think beaches and picnics in the park).

Myth: Red wine goes with red meat, white wine goes with fish.

Red wine and ribeye is an amazing pairing, don't get us wrong — but it's not the only pairing. The color of a wine is only one element that dictates its ideal food pairings — acidity, tannins, fruit flavors, oak treatment, and other factors can all have an impact on whether your bottle of vino tastes great with that home-cooked meal. Ribeyes go well with reds because the tannin content cuts the fattiness, but anything with a palate-refreshing quality (like Champagne) can do the trick. Likewise, sweeter wines like certain Rieslings go well with spicy food like curry, and high-acid wines like Chianti are a great pairing with high-acid ingredients like tomato sauce.

Myth: Red wine shouldn't go in the fridge, and white wine should stay chilled.

We can bust this myth easily: The recommended serving temperature for red wine is between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If your home thermostat is set outside of that range, "room temperature" isn't actually where you want your wine to be. If you're surprised by that, here's another: The recommended serving temperature for white wine is between 49 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, yet the FDA-recommended refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees. Clearly, the old rule of thumb about keeping white wine in the fridge and red wine on the counter isn't quite accurate.

Obviously, you don't need to pull out a thermometer to ensure your wine is at the exact right temperature, but making some effort to get it in range can do a lot for its taste — especially lighter, less-tannic reds like Beaujolais, red Zinfandel, Rioja Crianzas, and Pinot Noir. Give it 20 minutes in the fridge, but don't leave it for too long to avoid dulling their aromas and flavors. The exception is heavier, tannic reds like Cabernet or Barolo. Cooler temps can make the tannins feel astringent, not velvety. Likewise, with white wines, take them out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving and you'll experience a completely different wine.

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Written by Ashley Hamer May 24, 2019