Wine Myths Part 1
Bursting the bubble of 7 wine myths
I am amazed by some of the wine tales that I read or hear about to the extent that I sometimes wonder how much wine has been imbibed when the stories originated. Variations of these tales suggest that, like a game of Chinese whispers, some of them are being blown out of all proportion as they circulate. Like most urban myths, there is a danger that they can get in the way of reality or worse still spoil our enjoyment of wine. So it is time to debunk some of these wine misconceptions and burst the bubble of seven wine stories.
Myth 1: Putting a silver spoon in the neck of a champagne or sparkling wine bottle will keep the wine fizzy
Talking of bursting bubbles, let's start with fizz. In order to keep your champagne or sparkling wine bubbly after opening a bottle what is most important is keeping it cold - and then it will only keep fizzy up to a point.
Whether this long-standing story grew out of the belief that the spoon was trapping cold air in the bottle or through a misguided belief that silver holds some magical bubble-retaining characteristics, I don't know. I have tested the cold air theory however and sparkling wine kept in the fridge will keep bubbly - but only for a couple of days. Personally I prefer to use a stopper designed for the purpose like the plastic stopper pictured which I find keeps the bubbles longer than the clunky metal stoppers which never quite seem to grip the bottle sufficiently.
Myth 2: The heavier the bottle, the better the wine
I have heard this myth uttered far too many times and I can't imagine its origin. If you buy a wine in a heavier bottle, it is going to be a more expensive wine as you are simply paying for the heavier packaging - and there is no guarantee about the quality of the wine inside. If you compared two £25 bottles of wine, you would be getting poorer value in the wine in the heavier bottle because you, the consumer, are paying the extra cost of the heavier bottle. Also heavier bottles are not good for the environment; even if glass is recyclable think of all the extra weight on those lorries moving the wine around. And there's the risk of back strain for those people that move cases around to get your wine to you!
Myth 3: Screw caps mean cheap & nasty wine; quality wines are always sealed with a cork
This is a myth which may have had some truth to it years ago. The original screw caps were certainly cheaper than corks and a way for producers of cheaper wines to keep their costs down. Producers of better quality wines looked down on the screw cap and preferred to keep using corks as a symbol of premium wine that would age better in bottle. Screw caps became synonymous with the lower end of the quality range and wines meant for drinking immediately.
Since then however screw-off caps have come a long way; millions of pounds have been spent on technological advances such that wines with a screw cap can age and develop whilst in the bottle, just as well as a wine in a bottle sealed with a cork. New Zealand is a particular fan of the screw cap; just look at the fabulous wines of Man O'War, Auntsfield, TWR and Alpha Domus and they are all sealed with screw caps.
In fact of all Wines with Attitude's portfolio - which only contains good quality wines - about 25% are sealed with a screw cap. I know there will always be those who prefer the sound of a cork popping but don't assume a wine under screw cap is not good because you could be missing out on some fabulous wines. The price may be a better indication of quality. I will write more about screw caps in another blogpost.
Myth 4: Wine under screw cap cannot be corked
Following on from Myth 3 some fans of screw caps say that a wine sealed with a screw cap can't possibly be corked. But that is simply not true and shows a lack of understanding of that wine fault. To read more about corked wine, read my wine faults blog. In simple terms, the compound responsible for corked wine, TCA, is not just found on corks but can contaminate whole wineries.
Myth 5: Thicker legs means a better quality wine
Once you have swirled wine in your glass, the liquid dripping back down the inside of the glass is referred to as the legs or tears (rhymes with fears) - and you won't believe the amount of argument that the cause of this phenomenon has raised in the wine industry over the years. They have been said to indicate either the quality of the wine or its sweetness but they are in fact an indication of the amount of alcohol in the wine.
There is a detailed scientific explanation but to keep things short it's all about surface tension forces between the alcohol and the water in the wine, the faster evaporation of the alcohol, the tension between the liquid and the glass changing and, of course, gravity. This only happens with multi-compound liquids - there are no legs in pure alcohol or in pure water. A higher concentration of alcohol will make wine slide down the glass more slowly but the difference is not huge; it is easier to see the alcohol content on the label of the bottle than by guessing it from the legs.
Myth 6: Supermarket discounts
A £10 wine that is discounted to £5 may look like a bargain but it is actually a £5 wine that is normally inflated to £10. This is a generalisation as the margins on more expensive wines are higher than on cheaper wines but it's why I say to people, if you are going to buy wine from supermarkets, never buy at the full price. It may sound like a gripe but how else can supermarkets afford to have 25% discounts so frequently even taking into account their huge buying power?
And don't forget my advice in a previous blog post on what makes wine a good wine - whilst a good quality wine does not have to be very expensive, it really is worth moving away from entry-level wine as you have a much higher likelihood of finding a good quality wine above that level - only about £1.70 of a £7.50 bottle relates to the wine itself, the rest being made up of VAT, duties, packaging, transportation and retail costs. At £15 that figure rises to about £6, so it makes more sense value-wise.
Myth 7: Red wine should be served at room temperature
I imagine that the advice to serve red wine at room temperature could have been good advice in the days before central heating. But with the "recommended" temperature for UK homes these days at between 18 and 20°C and the actual temperature for many homes especially in winter in the low twenties, this is too warm for even a fuller-bodied red wine which should be served between 15 and 18°C. And remember that wine quickly heats up when in the glass especially if the glass is being held by the bowl rather than the stem.
Does it really matter you ask? Well, if red wine is served too warm it can taste a little flat and the alcohol may dominate making the wine seem out of balance. But too cold and the complex aromas and flavours can be lost - and if the wine has high tannins, these will seem more obvious at a cooler temperature. If you are lucky enough to have a wine cellar or a wine fridge, your wine will be at 12 - 15°C when you take it out so no need to take it out too long before you need it.
For guidance, lighter bodied. fruity red wines can be served as low as 12 to 14°C. Medium-bodied reds should fall in between 14 to 16°C and full bodied reds as above at 15 to 18°C. So don't be afraid of putting a bottle of red in the fridge for 20 minutes if it seems to warm and check out the difference in tastes and aromas.
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