The manner in which many wine professionals tend to describe wine is often a mystery for many, and in my experience, I have found that an absence of knowledge about wine can be intimidating for many. This, unfortunately, leads many to abstain from trying to delve deeper when it comes to enjoying the true magnificence of wine!
The goal of this article is to help readers overcome their apprehension about being deep with wine, by busting some of the wine myths that many people believe.
I knew practically nothing about wine when I was first tasked with selling it to discerning customers, however, since then my wine journey has taken me through several of the world’s finest establishments and most celebrated wine regions including Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma, Burgundy, Montepulciano, Piedmont, and Champagne.
No other beverage is as intertwined with the history of the human experience more than wine. Almost all potable wine is made from the grapes of Vitis Vinifera vines, which are very unique since they can manifest in many different forms, flavors, fragrances, and sensations. Within the Vitis Vinifera species, there are somewhere between 5000–10,000 grape varieties, almost all of which are utterly useless for winemaking, save just a few dozen world-famous grape berries.
Some of the most well known Vitis Vinifera grapes include popular names such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Gris, and Zinfandel, however, this is really just scratching the surface of the vast world of wine. There is a lot to enjoy, and unlearning the below myths can certainly help you continue down that path.
The Wine Myths:
Professionals smell the cork
In more elite environments this is considered an amateur move, but it has become so common that many actually do believe that smelling the cork has a purpose; it doesn’t. This myth originates from the actual practice of checking aged vintage wines for cork taint, however, cork taint is best detected by smelling the wine itself, therefore smelling the cork is unnecessary. Furthermore, cork taint tends to occur only in wines that have been aged for a long time, and technological advances have led to more advanced bottling practices, which have all but eliminated this issue.
In some instances, fine dining establishments will present the cork for inspection, and this is so the discerning wine drinker can ensure that their specific bottle was properly served. However, this is a very old practice, and today any establishment that provides this level of service also knows how to properly store wine. It is also common for high-end restaurants to provide the cork to a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine as a keepsake, but again, smelling it just looks silly.
Sweet wines should not be paired with savory dishes
There are many assumptions about wine pairing, with one of the most ridiculous being that sweet white wines must never be served with savory foods. In reality, sweet white wines can be incredible with savory and spicy dishes. The trick to enjoying sweet wines with food is to make sure you are eating something with lively acidity. A sweet white paired with filet mignon doused in a heavy cream sauce probably won’t work well, however, that same piece of meat with a spicy chili sauce, or ground up and put into a tomato sauce might be fantastic.
Swirling the wine in the glass and watching it drip down the sides
The tears, or sometimes called legs, are in fact something that a Sommelier (expert wine steward) will look at when they are analyzing a wine, however, most people have no idea what they are looking for when they do this, so it’s entirely pointless. Furthermore, even if someone does know what the tears say about a wine, this exercise is only useful when done along with several other steps, which include further visual inspections, smelling, and tasting. Tears tend to occur most noticeably in wine that has a higher alcohol content, however, today most wines have between 12% and 16% alcohol and will, therefore, have noticeable legs. If you are at a restaurant and see other people doing this, the chances are they don’t know why they’re doing it.
Red wine is best with cheese
This is perhaps the most false myth of all. There are many, many varieties of cheese that pair absolutely beautifully with white wine. The thing to remember is this; for every cheese, there is a wine somewhere out there that is the perfect match, you just need to find it.
Wet, Bitter, Dry, and Fruity:
When it comes to wine, these words are terribly misused. The first term, Wet, is not an actual wine term. Wine is a liquid that is comprised primarily of water, the source of all wetness, but it is not itself wet, it makes things wet. Wet does not mean the opposite of dry in wine speak, wet means you spilled something on yourself.
Fruity can be used to describe wine, but all wine is fruity, so it’s kind of confusing. The best way to describe a wine that tastes a lot like various fruits is to say that it is fruit forward, while the opposite would be to say it is earthy.
Dry is, in fact, an actual wine term that refers to a low or non-existent level of residual sugar (RS) in the wine, however, that’s all it refers to. Dry red wines tend to have a higher RS than dry white wines, however many people confuse the tannins of a red a wine with being dry and therefore think white wine is sweeter. The other thing commonly confused with tannins is bitter. Wine is not usually bitter, good wine at least, however the tactile sensation of tannins in a wine oftentimes leads some to believe that the wine is bitter when it is not.
Swirling the wine in the glass helps it open
The purpose of swirling (spinning the wine around in the glass) is to volatize the ethers in the wine. If you don’t know what that means, then you probably shouldn’t be worried about doing it, just know that it doesn’t substitute for letting the wine sit in the open air for about 30 minutes. A seasoned wine drinker often will never swirl the wine when just drinking for enjoyment, and only does this step as part of the overall analysis process of judging the origin and quality of a wine. I personally swirl my wine constantly when drinking, but that’s because I’m neurotic, not because I think it will improve the wine.
Wine is an adventure, and one of the things that makes it so fun is that there is so much to learn. While some legends and lore around wine can make for great conversation, the above myths only hinder the wine lovers experience.