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Wine Myths
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 11, 2003. For more information go to

One of the curious - and perhaps frustrating - things about wine is that some of the conventional wisdom about its appreciation falls into the realm of misconception or myth, and it can be challenging for the newcomer - and even, sometimes, the expert - to sort it all out.

Today's article is devoted to a quick deconstruction of the 20-plus "myths" that our volunteer advisory panel suggested as some of the most common and enduring:

* The more wine costs, the better it is. (While there may be some relationship between cost and value, exceptions abound ... thank goodness!)

* Old vines make better wines. (Occasional ancient vineyards make delicious, concentrated wines, but by and large, old vines generally produce fewer and fewer grapes until the grower eventually rips them out)

* Sulfites are unhealthy for everyone. (Sulfites, a natural preservative, occur in all wines. A tiny percentage of people have a potentially life-threatening allergy, and these unfortunates know what they must avoid. Sulfites are not a threat in any way to the rest of us.)

* Filtration is bad for wine. (Some excellent wines are unfiltered, but many great ones are filtered.)

* Natural cork is the only good wine closure. (Natural cork is traditional, even romantic, but a high rate of "taint" and failure is prompting an increasing move to alternative closures.)

* Screwcaps are the sign of cheap wine. (Historically, screwcaps have been used for cheap wine; but many premium wineries are now reconsidering them as a practical alternative to cork.)

* Europe makes the best wine in the world. (Europe benefits from an ancient tradition, but in a diverse world of wine, no region can claim supremacy.)

* You can tell a good bottle by smelling the cork. (You can tell a good bottle by smelling - and tasting - the wine.)

* Wine critics are always objective. (Wine critics are as human as the rest of us.)

* Only experts understand wine. (A particularly pernicious myth, promoted only by a few peculiarly insecure experts.)

* Zinfandel is a pink wine. ("White" Zinfandel is a pink wine made from a red grape. True Zinfandel is red, ripe and robust.)

* Wine labeled "Reserve" is the best. (While some countries legally define "Reserve" for wines that receive special treatment in wine-making, the term is unregulated in the U.S. and many other countries, and may be used indiscriminately as marketing hype.)

* Wine must be stored at 55F. (This temperature, which matches the environment of natural caves, is optimal for long-term storage, but fine wines can be stored properly over a much broader range.)

* Wine storage temperature doesn't matter. (Excessive heat will damage wine quickly, and long-term storage over 80F should be avoided.)

* Old wine is better than young wine. (A few special wines benefit from age. Most simply fade and lose their fruit.)

* Old wines are always valuable. (See above. Many old wines are worthless.)

* White wines don't age. (Too broad a generalization. White Burgundies, Sauternes, Gruner Veltliner, quality Riesling and Chenin Blanc are only a few examples of whites that can age with grace and style.)

* Always decant wine. (Unless a wine is either immature or contains sediment, there's rarely any need to decant.)

* "Legs" on the glass indicate quality. (These "tears" that drip down the inside of your wine glass may reveal high alcohol content, but tell us nothing about the wine's quality.)

* Never serve red wine with fish or white wine with meat. (Although the basic rule offers a useful guide, the many exceptions can be delicious. Pinot Noir with salmon, for example, is one of the great wine matches.)

* Never serve reds chilled or whites at room temperature. (Again, a useful generalization that overlooks many worthy exceptions. Some experts even go to the extreme of suggesting that virtually all wines are best served at an intermediate cellar temperature.)


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