In part two of a feature aimed at encouraging sommeliers not to fall victim to stereotypes, Christine Salins looks at some more myths surrounding wine.
1. Vintage is better quality than non-vintage (NV)
This perception comes about because vintage Champagne is usually more expensive than non-vintage. Unlike vintage Champagne, which comes from a specific harvest and reflects the character of the vintage, non-vintage is a blend of different harvests and is made consistently to a house style. There are some excellent NV Champagnes that rival vintage Champagne.
2. Champagne doesn't age well
Actually, Champagne ages very well. It must, however, be carefully cellared in a cool, dark, humid place. Great vintages can be aged for decades, perhaps losing some effervescence but taking on a delicious complexity of flavour. A heady degustation dinner at Tetsuya's in the late '90s paired dishes with Dom Perignon from 1985, 1980, 1973, 1964 and 1959. Even the 1959 was remarkably fresh.
3. Champagne should be drunk out of flutes
The jury's out on this one. In 2012, scientists from the University of Reims wrote that flutes were better than wide shallow coupes because higher levels of carbon dioxide collect at the top of the glass, giving rise to the tingling sensation that Champagne drinkers love. But have you considered using a large, big-bowled glass such as a Burgundy glass? It allows the beautiful aromatics to be savoured, enhancing the drinking pleasure.
4. Red wine causes more headaches than white wine
Contrary to popular belief, sulfites do not cause headaches, although they can cause an allergic reaction for some unlucky folk. Sulphur dioxide is a common preservative found in many foods, as well as in wine, and is naturally produced by the body. But red wines generally have less added sulfites than white wines. Any headaches are more likely caused by over-indulging and dehydration. Not sure how you're going to broach this with diners who are convinced that red wine gives them a headache. Let sleeping dogs lie perhaps.
5. Red wine goes with meat; white with seafood
Not necessarily. It's more important to look at a dish's intensity of flavours and the sauce used. A tomato-based fish stew, for example, pairs more easily with a Spanish red like Tempranillo than it does with a white.
Big flavours require big wines; more restrained dishes call for more restrained wines. Although a bold red might not match a delicate piece of fish, meatier fish such as swordfish or tuna can work beautifully with a light red like Beaujolais while pan-fried salmon pairs nicely with Pinot Noir. Pork and veal match equally well with red or white, depending on the dish. Flavours, aromas and textures matter; colour doesn't.
6. Cheese and wine is a perfect match
Some cheeses, such as creamy camembert, soft brie and other surface-ripened cheeses, coat the tongue and actually disguise the nuances of a good wine. Choose your cheese and wine match carefully. White, fortified and sparkling wines are often better matches for soft cheese than red wine. And just to be on the safe side, pop some dried fruit, nuts, bread or crackers on the cheese plate. They're not just there to fill up the plate - they'll cover up imperfections if the wine and cheese pairing isn't quite right.
7. Only leftover white wine should be refrigerated
Refrigeration helps preserve wine as much for red as it does for white. Having said that, all wine should be consumed as soon as possible after it is opened.
8. Screw caps are an indication of lower quality
This is certainly no longer the case in Australia.
9. Wine is better with legs
The legs, or the streaks that run down the inside of the glass when you twirl it, are not an indicator of quality but rather of alcohol content. Because of the way that alcohol evaporates, wines that are higher in alcohol usually have slower dripping legs.
10. Small wineries make better wines
It's a romantic notion so sorry to disillusion you, but bigger wine producers benefit from more resources (financial and otherwise), winemaking talent and economies of scale. It's feasible for large companies to make boutique-style wines within the context of a mass-production facility. (Not that they all do; we're talking about what they can do.) Yet people love the stories that go with family-run, boutique and heritage wineries, and diners are generally reluctant to order a wine that they can easily find at the bottle shop next door.
For more wine myths, click here.