7 Wine Myths With Just A Whiff Of Barnyard
If "wine's the only thing makes us happy as adults for no reason,"* then wine pretensions are the only thing that harsh the mellow.
So let's bust some bogus wine myths...and get back to our happy place.
1) Myth: Old wine is always better than young wine.
- Some wines and styles of wine are better drunk young and fresh (Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, and Cab Franc, for example).
- A recent vintage can be better than an older one.
- Wait too long and the wine could turn.
So it depends. Anyway, these days, most wines don't need additional aging.
2) Myth: You shouldn't be caught dead drinking boxed wine.
Being caught dead drinking boxed wine is actually OK. But even better is being caught drinking it while very much alive. Don't knock the box. It's a terrific wine for weeknight dinners when you just want a glass or two. Find a reliable box to serve as your house wine, and you'll save a bundle. Here's some good info on finding quality producers.
3) Myth: Merlot is a second-rate wine.
Oh come on, is this still a thing?
In a way, Merlot was probably a victim of its own success. Long story semi-short: Remember the 80s? No? OK, all for the best.
The 80s were a time when Americans began to rediscover wine. And in the rediscovery phase, they often turned to silky, soft, round and luscious Merlot. Why not? It was a terrific alternative to hard, tannic Cabernet. And just so easy to love.
California grape growers thought so too. Seeing dollar signs, they planted cool-weather-loving Merlot grapes everywhere, including along the Central Valley, a long, furnace-like strip that runs from Sacramento to Southern California.
The result? High temps and too-fertile soils led to enormous crops, which gave the wines an unpleasant, washed-out, vegetative taste.
And for many, this cheap, low-quality stuff became their only reference point, completely overshadowing the quality Merlot still being produced in cooler weather spots like Sonoma, Napa, and Carneros -- not to mention other parts of the world.
4) Myth: No red wine with chicken or fish.
You'll remember what James Bond had to say on the subject:
"Red wine with fish. Now that should've told me something."
But that's a bit judgemental. Particularly coming from a guy who shakes vodka martinis.
Anyway, a lot has changed. And in case this chicken-and-red myth still has some legs left, here are just a handful of chicken and salmon recipes and the reds that love them:
- Chicken Cacciatore with Chianti Classico or another Italian red.
- BBQ Chicken with Syrah or Zinfandel.
- Grilled or Broiled Salmon with Pinot Noir.
- Coq au vin with Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Syrah.
- Roast Chicken with Herbs and Syrah, Tempranillo, or Barbera.
5) Myth: Wines with screw caps are inferior to wines with cork stoppers.
Screw tops are legit. There is no shame in unscrewing a bottle of wine. The tightly sealed cap keeps the freshness in and the air out, which makes it particularly useful for white wines and reds that you mean to drink now...or soon. Meaning: wines that you're not intending to cellar for 10 years. Which is to say: almost every single bottle of wine purchased in the U.S.! (True story: Most wine in America (between 70 and 90 percent of it) is opened within 24 hours of purchase.) Cellared wines, meanwhile, can benefit from porous corks: a wee bit of oxygen helps the wine mature.
But this, of course, is to say nothing about the tradition and ceremony of the cork-pulling ritual. That's another story. Here's a little more on the subject:
6) Myth: Smelling the cork is informative.
You won't learn if the wine is "off" by sniffing the cork...unless you have the schnoz of a hound dog. Now if the cork crumbles to dust in your hand, that's another story.
7) Myth: Popping the cork to let wine breathe in the bottle improves the wine.
There won't be enough air touching enough wine for it to matter much. If you really want some air on it, pour the wine into a decanter or carafe or even a large wine glass (and give the glass a little twirl).
Or go completely over the top (and around the bend and across the river and through the woods) and do what the author of Modernist Cuisine recommends: "hyperdecant" the wine, which involves pouring it into your blender and, uh, he is not joking, frappé it like a smoothie.
Or maybe better yet, just pour the wine into a glass and take a sip. Then let it sit for a bit before coming back to it. See if the taste evolves over time. If it's tight and closed up at first, maybe it will open up with a little air over time. Have fun.
*Cartoonist Saul Steinberg said it.