The longer I continue to work in the wine business in India, the more I come across people who have learnt things about wines, which are not any close to the reality about wines. With this in mind, I have chosen to list down here some of the most common myths and facts about various aspects of drinking this magical beverage called wine.
1. Drink red wine at room temperature, white wine chilled
Although this idea isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s interpretation almost always is. Many see this as letting a red wine sit out on the counter so it can come to the current room temperature, and opening white wine right out of the fridge. The real idea behind room temperature for red wine was getting it to around 15°C, the typical temperature of a “room” (in European countries) when this saying was popularized. Many professionals agree, the best way to enjoy wine if you don’t have the luxury of a temperature controlled storage device is to put your red wines in the fridge for about 5 – 15 minutes before consuming and white wines for about 20 – 30 minutes.
If you store your wine in the fridge, take the whites out for at least 15 minutes before serving and reds at least 30. Again, it isn’t an exact science, but typically you’re looking for around 15°C on a red, a little below that for a white and a bit colder for anything that sparkles. Some argue that nuances aren’t observed in white wines that are too cold, which is true. I find that if you chill your wines, over the course of the evening they will warm up and you can observe the development through the night.
2. All wines get better with age.
Actually, a very small number of wines have the proper structure to hold up to aging. Most wines are made with the intention that they will be opened within a few years. The small amount of trophy wines that garner the majority of the press are the ones that have been built for longer aging and most people don’t even buy these wines. So if you’ve been saving that white Zinfandel from 10 years ago because you think it’s getting better, you might want to cut your losses now.
3. Red wine causes more headaches than white wine due to higher sulphites content.
Sulphites (sulphur dioxide) can also be found as a preservative in many common daily foods. Contrary to popular beliefs, sulphites do not cause headaches. In fact, our bodies produce 1,000 mg of sulphites each day. However to those with asthmatic issues, sulphites can induce an allergic reaction. Red wines have less added sulphites than white wines as their grape skins have natural preservative ability. Cheaper, lower-alcohol white wines require more sulphites to prevent oxidation. As for headache, dehydration is the cause. To avoid a hangover headache, drink in moderation!
4. Red wine has fewer calories than sweet wine.
It is commonly perceived that sweet wine has more calories than dry (non-sweet) wine. Well, that depends. While true for rich sweet wine like Sauternes, this is false for a semi-sweet Spätlese Riesling. Calories come from alcohol as well as sugar content. A typical dry Cabernet Sauvignon from France has 13.5% alcohol which amount to ~160 calories per 175 ml glass. An equivalent glass of a lightly sweet Moscato or a German Kabinett or a German Spätlese Riesling, due to its lower alcohol (6-9% abv) will have slightly lower calories despite its higher sugar content.
Key insight: If you want the lowest calories wine, go for a low alcohol wine that is dry.
5. Cheese and wine are the perfect pairing partners.
This is one of the biggest myths. Not all cheese goes well with wine! Cheese’s heavy texture and taste rid the tongue of its ability to fully enjoy the richness and balance of a good wine. Pair your cheese with your wine to ensure a great tasting experience.
Key insight: A soft cheese, such as Brie, is your greatest friend when you have a bad wine. It will coat your palate and you won’t be able to taste all its elements!
6. And last but not the least; you cannot pair wines with spicy foods!
For all of us in India, this one is important. There are plenty of wines that pair well with our various spicy preparations. What does not work is the combination of a full-bodied tannic red wine with a dish with chillies in it. The chillies clash with the tannins of such wines. What works well are light to medium bodied wines, as well as dry or off dry white wines. Most dry whites will work very well with spicy Indian curries, irrespective of which part of the country they are from.
Hope this inspires you readers to get started on the wondrous journey of discovering the world of wines!