Food - Drinks
By: - at August 8, 2013

15 Common Wine Myths and Their Realities

young man sitting on sofa sipping wineWine is one of those things that can seem daunting to people who are not familiar with it. People who are just starting to gain an interest in wine are typically under the impression that the "scene" is a closed off group of highly affluent people who are not willing to discuss how to gain access to what they know. While every group has people like this in it, winemakers are known to love discussing their craft with others. Wine itself isn't as difficult as many people make it out to be. In fact, wine people can be very open and friendly. The more people talking about and making wine, the more selection the community will have. One of the problems with wine culture is that there is a lot of misinformation floating around. These myths give people the wrong impression of wines. They also can make someone feel foolish for believing them and getting corrected. Wine doesn't have to be something that keeps you at bay. Remember, it's drinking, and the craft of making wine isn't that far off from brewing beer. The same sorts of people are attracted to both. Below are fifteen of the most common myths about wine and the realities around them.

Myth 15)  Aerators Decant Wine Best
Wines are notoriously complex, but decanting them doesn’t have to be. Aerating wine, also known as allowing it to “breathe,” reveals a wine’s full breadth of flavor and fragrance as it interacts with the air. This process is essential to truly let the wine realize its own, unique identity and pass over the palate as a distinct tasting experience. Specialized aerators are available on the market at varying prices, but they are not necessary or even the most effective way to decant a wine. All that’s required to allow a wine to reach its fullest potential for taste and fragrance is a simple, glass decanter. In a pinch, a wine glass will work just as well. With products out on the market these days catering to all levels of interest in wine, it’s often the simplest methods that are the most effective.

Waiter Pouring Red Wine From a Decanter
Waiter Pouring Red Wine From a Decanter

Another important factor to consider is whether or not your wine requires decanting at all. Only 15-20% of red wines should be decanted in the first place. Many can be served directly from the bottle into your glass, and the full body and flavor of the wine will be immediately evident. In some cases, decanting for too long can lead to lost flavor.

If you’re looking for advice on the best way to serve a particular wine, seek advice from the winery. The experts can tell you whether or not to decant, and if so, for how long. Watch out for anyone that advises you to use an aerator!

Myth 14)  Wine Needs to be Room Temp
Wine is all about chemistry and balance. Temperature dramatically effects which flavors and aromas emerge when a wine is served. Ranging from red to white, all wines have a particular temperature range at which they’re best served, with reds being at the warmer end and whites best served chilled.

A good recommended trick is using the “15-minute rule.” Fifteen minutes before serving wine, take the white that's already been chilled out of the refrigerator, and place the red in the fridge for fifteen minutes before serving. This creates a modicum of balance when preparing to uncork and serve. As always, if wines are not planned on being served, they should be stored sideways in a dark, dry place without dramatic temperature fluctuations.

Wine Ready for Serving with Thermometer
Wine Ready for Serving with Thermometer

White wine and champagne should be served around 9 decrees Celsius, with about 1 degree of variation given. The common temperature setting of 4 degrees Celsius is too cold according to most wine experts. Red wines always require a little chilling before they are served, though they do not require as much as whites. Reds are best served at 14 to 18 degrees Celsius depending on the region that the wine is from.

Myth 13)  Wine Always Gets Better With Age
All wines are not created equally, that much should be obvious by now. Depending on how long wine is aged, different flavor profiles will begin to make themselves obvious. However, just because new flavors are becoming apparent doesn't mean that they are all going to be flavors that you enjoy. One of the best ways to determine what wines are best for your palate is to try as much of it as possible. The more you know about what you like, the better prepared you will be to make an educated selection on what wines to buy.

Some Questionable Looking Wine
Some Questionable Looking Wine

The more familiar you are with different ages, tastes and aromas, the better honed your skills of detection will be at determining whether a wine is at its prime. There are also tried and true methods to accurately judge the condition of a wine upon uncorking. Leaving wines aged at least five years uncovered for a night will result in several possible outcomes. Better taste means it can continue to age at least 3-5 more years. If it has a different but decent taste it means it has at least a few years left. If the taste immediately starts to decline, it’s all grown up and time to finish off the bottle.

Myth 12)  You Can Tell Quality by the Cork’s Smell
You're more than welcome to sniff the cork of wine bottles. It's commonly done on television shows and mentioned in stories. However, this will not give you any insight into how the wine will actually taste. The smell of the wine is part of the experience, however the cork itself isn't doing anything special to hold in or accentuate the aroma. Some people tend to keep corks around, but that's a personal preference. You can actually buy your own wine stoppers at local supermarkets so you don't have to continue to fiddle with a cork. In some circles, it's actually a faux pas to sniff the cork.

The best way to judge a wine is by tasting it. The cork’s function is to seal the wine, and the only information it can give is what’s written on top of it. It's important to keep your cork from falling into the wine as a cork can do more to spoil your wine than tell you about it.

Man and Woman Properly Tasting a Glass of Red Wine
Man and Woman Properly Tasting a Glass of Red Wine

When a cork ruins a bottle of wine, it’s due to a type of bacteria that infects the wine. There’s no way to know by smelling or examining the cork whether or not a bottle of wine is ruined, even though it’s technically spoiled from the cork’s bacteria. An easy way to determine whether or not a bottle of wine is in good condition is to smell the wine itself. An infected wine will smell of wet newspaper or damp basement, musty and unpleasing.

Myth 11)  Red Wine Comes From Red Grapes
Red grapes, such as verdot grapes, are used to make wine. Yes it's true. However, not all red wines have red grapes in them. The coloration that you see in bottles of red wine actually comes from the fermentation process, not the color of the grapes themselves. The pigment “anthocyanin” in red grapes creates the hue of the wine as the grape skins mix with juices, resulting in the recognizable, rich burgundy color. Named wines – wines that are named after the grapes in them – are therefore not a good way to tell what color the wine itself will be. If wine only took its color from grapes it would be more purplish, like grape juice, than what you would commonly see as a deep red wine.

Contrast of Original Grapes to Hue of Finished Wine
Contrast of Original Grapes to Hue of Finished Wine

The reason for this is that red wine does not come from grape juice. The fermentation process actually uses the grapes itself, skin included, to create wine. Therefore, it's actually impossible to tell the coloration of the grapes that have been used in the wine simply by the color. Although red wine does come from red grapes, a common myth is that red wine is derived from grape juice. Red wine derives its pigment from the fermentation process.

Myth 10)  Merlot is Always Soft
Stereotypes about certain types of wine result in the unfortunate result of wine drinkers missing out on the certain nuances of specific wines. If you try one type of wine and do not find it to your liking, that does not mean that you should avoid all similar types of wine in the future. People tend to get caught up in the sort of wine that they disliked and won't take the risk with another version of it in the future. This causes people to miss out. Instead, be aware that not all types of wines are the same. The process that different wineries use is slightly different, so even wines that have the same "type" can be vastly different.

Merlot Grapes on the Vine
Merlot Grapes on the Vine

That Merlot is always soft, for example, is one such myth that is rendered completely inaccurate since the winemaking process results in many variations in taste and body. Stereotypes are there for a reason, but each year these traditional associations and expectations become increasingly untrue. For example, vinification – the process of fermentation – plays a substantial role in how a wine presents. As with all wines, of course, personal taste is also a huge factor in how a wine is interpreted.

Myth 9)  You Need a Wine Cellar
Some collectors and wine connoisseurs boast impressive, custom-made wine cellars. However, although beautiful, these are more for show than any practical purpose. Wine is delicate and though it requires particular conditions for storage, achieving those conditions is actually very simple. You don’t need an entire wine cellar to safeguard your wine, whether you have a significant collection of rare vintages or just a month’s worth of middle of the road wines for parties and gatherings.

The most basic and essential components of choosing a place to store your wine is a space free of light, dramatic temperature fluctuations and vibration. Bottles should be stored on their sides, either in a rack or a box, to maintain their integrity. Wine racks that stand upright, or even attach to the wall, are relatively inexpensive to purchase and are a useful investment if you plan to store wine. These can be installed easily in a closet or other common secure, storage space.

An Elaborate, Expensive Wine Cellar
An Elaborate, Expensive Wine Cellar

Humidity is another aspect of environmental control that can affect the longevity of your wine collection. Wine cellars are often underground because the changes in humidity are less apparent than they are aboveground. This is also why it's not a good idea to keep your collection over your stove or kitchen sink, no matter what some catalogs might show you.

Another important consideration to take into account is whether or not the wine should be aged. Some wines don’t benefit from aging at all, while others can age for a decade and the taste will be improved and developed. Plan your storage based on the needs of your wine collection. Wine should not be disturbed until ready for consumption. If a closet and rack will do, there’s no reason for an extensive, expensive cellar. It is only advisable to consider more permanent, long-term storage if you plan on aging your wine collection substantially, and you require more controlled space and conditions.

Myth 8)  Potassium Sorbate Kills Yeast
If you’d like to try your own hand at winemaking, there are a few essential tips to know and myths to be aware of. In consumer wine kits, there is usually a substance included called Potassium Sorbate which is used to stabilize your wine. Sorbate prevents it spoiling from bacteria and yeast. However, Sorbate is actually only capable of preventing yeast reproduction. The only process that kills yeast is Pasteurization. There are other organisms such as lactic acid bacteria, that can ruin wine.

Wine Being Produced in the Traditional Way
Wine Being Produced in the Traditional Way

Sorbate does do the job of eliminating most of the live yeast when combined with other substances, but it doesn’t kill 100% of the yeast. Due to the fact that it can’t breed back to culture strength, the wine remains generally stable and undesirable results like sediment will occur.

The best way to make your own wine is to follow the instructions on consumer winemaking kits carefully. It also can’t hurt to do some online research and understand the chemical processes that are taking place as the wine is made. Wine is a fine balance of chemistry and process, and knowing the components involved will contribute to your understanding of how wine arrives at its final form. Obviously, the best test is the first taste.

Myth 7)  Tears Show Quality
red wine pouring into wine glass showing wine legs“Wine legs” are the lines of liquid that drip down the inside of your glass after taking a sip or giving it a swirl. Contrary to popular belief, the color, texture or viscosity of these “legs” have nothing to do with the quality of the wine you’re drinking. Wine legs are actually caused by ethanol alcohol in a liquid solution. While they provide a romantic aesthetic while wine drinking, the quality of a wine is based on personal preference, serving conditions and preparation.

Although the myth that wine legs can be used as a measure of quality is false, there is a complex, scientific reason behind why wine legs occur. The flow of the lines of liquid is caused by a phenomenon referred to as the “Marangoni effect,” which has to do with mass, surface tension and how particular components are mixed. At the very least, you can get a sense of how smooth or heavy the wine will be when you drink it. Richer wines often have more distinct legs, while lighter wines are more watery. However, neither is indicative of quality.

Wine is a complex science – whether speaking anecdotally or literally – with subtle variations in the way it behaves as a substance. Most of the time, though, supposed indicators of how to judge a wine by a measure that isn’t taste is incorrect. Experiencing a wine is a singular, personal experience that requires an open mind and receptive palate. Rather than seeing, tasting is believing in this case.

Myth 6)  Botrytis or Grape Rot is Bad
Some things are better with a little mold on them. One of the most common pairings for black tie events is wine and cheese. Remember that fermentation kills dangerous bacteria and therefore anything that the mold could do to you is killed while the grape is being processed into wine. Therefore, even moldy grapes can add a delightful, surprising charm to wine. Botrytis, or grape rot, is what happens when a crop of grapes suffer from fungal growths – not exactly what you’d want to be drinking from your glass!

Botryised Chenin Grapes in Savennieres, France
Botryised Chenin Grapes in Savennieres, France

However, a winemaker based in California was shocked to find, after being convinced to put the a crop of grapes with the worst botrytis she’d ever seen through the press, that the wine in her press yielded a delicious, sweet flavor. That case of grape rot that took place during a late summer harvest in the Napa Valley. Some winemakers refer to botrytis as a “secret ingredient.” It's just another example of fungus being beneficial when you would least expect it.

Myth 5)  Expensive Wine is the Best Wine
Expensive WineRegardless of what the price tag says, quality does not always come in a number. Wines can be mercurial depending on how they’re presented – temperature, length of decanting, chilled or room temperature – not to mention the preferences and palate of the taster. It stands to reason however that the best commodities are the most expensive. This is not always the case with wine. A bottle marked at $100 may very well taste just as good to one person as a $20 does, or even vice versa! Wines are often difficult to tell apart when unlabeled, even for experts. A wine is only as good as its taster, and personal preference plays a huge role in determining the value of a wine, regardless of the label. The best piece of advice is to try as many wines as possible, and refine your palate. You won’t have to ask which is the better bottle after some time, regardless of the price tag. The real-life story on which the movie "Bottle Shock" was based proved this, as American wines went up against French wines in the 1970s. Even the great oenophiles of Europe couldn't tell that their favorite wine in the competition was actually American in origin—something that shocked the world.

Myth 4)  Varietal Wines are a Good Way to Tell Quality
Varietal wines are made from only a single variety of grape. The popularity of using these wines to determine quality is solely based on the fact that, unlike wines that are branded by name, the origins of varietal wines are much more clearly fixed. The focus on enjoying varietal wines should be on understanding what a particular type of grape is capable of yielding in a wine, since varietal wines express tastes particular to the grape from which they’re made.

Red Wine Grape Clusters - Varietal Wine Would Only Use One Type of Grape
Red Wine Grape Clusters - Varietal Wine Would Only Use One Type of Grape

Assuming the quality of a varietal wine will be higher than a wine identified by brand is not an accurate gauge of quality, but simply a different approach to wine making.

Myth 3)  Champagne Doesn’t Age Well
This myth is actually quite false as champagne does in fact age well. This is because champagne is highly acidic. These acids combine with the carbonation and act as a manner of preservative. This will preserve the champagne till a chemical process that is called disgorgement. Disgorgement is a step in wine making, basically where the wine or champagne is resting on dead yeast cells. This takes somewhere around fifteen months before it has completed. However, some higher quality champagnes can take up to 3 years to reach this point in fermentation.

Dom Perignon Statue Epernay - Champagne Region, France
Dom Perignon Statue Epernay - Champagne Region, France

Once the end of the disgorgement process is reached, a champagne will age similarly to a white wine. The carbonation and acid can add years of life to your champagne that regular wines do not have. This means that logically, champagne tends to age better than similar quality wines. However, it would not be wise to grab a bottle of Moet and Chandon from the company's original vintage in 1743, and expect it to taste up to your standards. 

Myth 2)  Wine Can Make You Blind
blindness from alcoholThere have historically been warnings about bad ingredients that have dangerous, detrimental effects on the human body. One of the most common threats against the body is something that can make you go blind. Mixing the wrong ingredients, for example, are said to have this frightening and sometimes permanent side effect. The biggest fears often arise from consumer-produced wine that is made with moonshine or other types of alcohol. Because moonshine is something that is known to be extremely strong, one of the threats to over indulgence tends to be "you'll go blind." That is because some illegal alcohols, at least the first bit of product off of a moonshine cook, contains methanol alcohol. Just so everyone is clear, people can only drink ethanol alcohol. Any other form of it, including isopropanol (rubbing alcohol), can cause blindness or death in extreme cases of poisoning.    

However, if you stop to think about it, many things that you engage in have carried the threat of going blind. These threats rarely hold any water. In fact, wine and alcohol have been used in medicinal practices for centuries. Due to its chemical make-up, wine isn’t susceptible to the same harmful bacteria and other undesirables as tap water. If you ever have a problem with your water, it may be time to uncork.

Myth 1)  Professional Wine Making is full of Glamour
There are in this world, many professions seem like they are full of majesty and glamour from the outside. In reality, these professions tend to leave the professional covered in all manners of goop and grime. Like an engineer at a plant, wine makers are typically covered in foul smelling sorts of goop and ooze. Wines are made by squashing and fermenting grapes. This process is actually a chemical breakdown process. All chemical breakdowns create what is called "by products" that have to be cleaned and disposed of. This is only part of the mess that one can get into when they are making wines.

There is also the issue of trying to sell and market your wines. Typically this means that you are going to have to work hard and long hours. It's difficult to get a product out there, even when you love it. The work can be unrewarding for a long time and very rarely do winemakers ever come out making six figures.

Wines and wine making is not the gilded cage of perfection that many people think it is. Though many people do not make the connection it is very similar in process to making beer. It's time consuming, expensive, and requires a lot of faith that the end product will turn out as you hope. But it can be extremely rewarding to learn about wines, whether you want to make them yourself or simply enjoy a decent bottle with some friends over dinner. Many of the high brow ideals on the "right" way to handle wines are simply wrong. In the end, what is important is that you find a wine that you enjoy.





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