Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Myth busting. What if everything you've been told about wine was wrong?

Many of us believe enjoying wine comes with strict rules about temperatures, food pairings, and etiquette. Maybe it is time to think again.

While there are of course tips and tricks to better maximise a wine'’s flavours, the "rules" don’t always need to be followed. The fact you can and should break them is only the start of many misconceptions we have about wine.

Here’s a list of common wine myths exploded for you by experts.


Wines are made from grape juice and are suitable for vegans

Surprisingly, many Australian wines are not vegan- or vegetarian-friendly.

“‘Fining’ is an important step in the winemaking process to remove unwanted compounds and the ‘rough edges’ of phenolics derived from grape skins and seeds,” says Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose.

“Typical fining agents are protein (animal) based, such as milk, eggs and gelatin, which can also strip the precious flavours and textures our growers and winemakers spend great efforts at getting into the wine.

“As all of our Yalumba wines are made without the use of protein-based fining agents, we can confidently say we are 100% vegan – and vegetarian – friendly.”

Gold medal stickers mean a wine won at a wine show

The wine industry would like you to believe this, but it is actually a trophy that is awarded to a wine that wins its category at a wine show, not a gold medal.

While the wine industry sees little gold medal stickers as a sales tool, the reality is that most consumers do not understand how the Australian show system works.

You’d probably imagine that a wine that won a gold medal was first in its class, like at the Olympics, a silver medallist was second and a bronze medallist third. Wrong.

In wine shows, any wine gaining a score of 18.5 out of 20 (or 95 out of 100) from the judges gets a gold medal. That could be as many as 20% of all the entries. Any entry scoring between 17 to 18.4 and gets a silver, and so on.


Red wine should always be served at room temperature

This myth derived from the room temperatures in French chateaux, which were a lot cooler than Australia.

On a warm day in Australia, it makes sense to chill a red wine so that it is refreshing. Around 13°C is ideal.

“While it is true that red wine should be served at a warmer temperature than white wine, there isn’t really any truth to the notion of serving it at room temperature,” says Mitchell Taylor from Clare Valley winery Taylors.

“If red wine is too warm the alcohol dominates and can mask its subtle flavours. Chill a wine too far and the flavours are suppressed, the tannins become harsher and the acids too sharp.

“A red wine, lightly chilled to its ideal temperature, reveals its delicious flavours, just as the winemaker intended.”

Older wines are better than young wines

It all depends on your palate. Many wine drinkers actually prefer the fresh, fruity taste of young wines to the earthy, more mature older styles with their elegant complexity.

More than 90% of all wine is actually consumed within a year of its release, while aging wine requires stable temperatures to maintain the quality of wine, and the cork.

Determining which bottles to age and when to open them is among the most puzzling aspects of wine, says New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov.

“The best time to open a bottle is subjective,” he says. “The trick is getting to know your own preferences, which takes a bit of time and effort.”

The date on a bottle of wine is the release date

No, the year on a bottle of wine is the ‘vintage’ – the year in which the grapes were picked.

Many wines mature in oak, or in bottles, for several years before being released.

Rosé wines are a blend of red and white grapes


Usually not, although there are a handful of exceptions to this rule. Most rosé wines are made from red wine grapes, incorporating some of the colour from the grape skins, but not enough to qualify it as red wine.

Many of the new wave of rosé wines are made in a much drier style than a decade ago and are very food-friendly.

Foreign wines are better than Australian wines

It all depends on your personal taste. 


Wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy in France can be ludicrously expensive, while Australian wines have gained international acceptance over the past couple of years.

“For some years Australians have been at the cutting edge of the new World of Wine,” says leading English wine writer and educator Jancis Robinson.

Wines under screwcap are of lesser quality than those under cork

Corks are notoriously unreliable, with as many as one in 10 failing to deliver.

Stephen Henschke, whose family makes Hill of Grace, Australia’s most expensive single-vineyard wine, has not used cork for several years, citing its likelihood of delivering cork taint or allowing premature oxidation, which can leave a wine tasting of vinegar.

Henschke uses either screw caps or glass stoppers called Vino Lok across his entire range.

“Winemakers want their customers to enjoy their wines the way they design them to be; they don’t want the characters changed by faulty cork,” Hensckhe says.

“Under cork, you lose control and are at the mercy of a God-awful closure. It can turn wines into awful beasts.”


Drink red wine with meat, white with fish

“You don’t need to follow the rules if you don’t want to,” says Stuart Knox, a qualified sommelier and owner of Sydney wine bar Fix. “You can drink whatever you want – if you want a pinot noir with salmon, go ahead.

“Wine is meant to be enjoyed and while it would be odd to enjoy Riesling alongside a T-Bone steak, it is your money.”

# This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on The Upsider website

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