When you love wine as much as I do, you talk to people about it- A LOT. I get asked a lot of questions about wine, and, some make me laugh and others are just gross misunderstandings of the truth, that a friend of a friend shared with them and so “it must be true”. But common myths about wine are detrimental to its reputation, and I am here to defend wine and clear up some common myths about wine.
Myth 1: Headaches from wine are caused by sulphites; that’s why I can only drink white wine.
This is almost completely untrue. There are few of us in this world who do in fact have serious allergies to sulphites, but it is the exception, rather than the rule. First of all, sulphites are found in all processed food and all wine-red wine and white wine- they are naturally occurring, and added, to stop wine from spoiling- think of it as a preserving agent. In most countries around the world, this is a carefully regulated addition to winemaking. A few years ago, sulphites got a bad rap in the news when certain California wineries were using high, dangerous doses, of the agent and the band wagon of sulphite haters has grown and grown since.
The more logical reason you might suffer from headaches –other than the fact that you drank a bottle to yourself!- are histamines- they are also added to wine during production, inadvertently sometimes, when wine is exposed to wood. Depending on how new the wood is, what type of wood, and how much exposure the wine has to it. Old world (Europe) wine tends to have less exposure to brand new wood when being produced, and therefore might not give you the same exposure to histamines. Also, there are a lot more regulations around how particular styles of wine are made. The exception to this rule would be Spanish wine; some reds sit in new wood barrels for quite some time. This also explains why white wine doesn’t affect you as much- many white wines are never exposed to wood and made in stainless steel barrels. That is not to say they are not exposed to histamines, as these are found naturally in the air and land on the grapes as they grow in the vineyard.
Mass-produced new world wine (North America and Australia) can often be made using wood chips to add the flavour of oak in the wine. These are less costly on the winemaker (think of what a barrel costs to make), and probably would give you the most trouble if you are susceptible to headaches as the chips are an untreated, in raw form, hitting the most surface area of the wine possible. This is done quickly, making it cost less for production of wine, increasing how much can be produced and released in one year.
I should warn you that I am in no way a Dr. and if you have serious reactions to red wine, there might be something else in the wine that you have an allergy to. Be sure to consult your Dr.
Myth 2: All White Wine is made from white grapes.
This is completely untrue. Wine gets its colour from the skin of grapes, and to make white wine, the juice is simply pressed or squeezed out of the grape and avoids contact with the skin. Pinot Grigio for example, is a pink/red grape and when produced to wine is pale yellow in colour. To make red wine, the grapes are pressed and the juice sits with the grape skin for a number of days to that the colour transfer occurs (along with other helpful characteristics of the skin).
Myth 3: Unless a wine is classified as sweet it doesn’t contain much sugar.
This is completely untrue, especially in sparkling wine. A wine is determined to be “dry” if its taste is balanced to the acidity of the wine. How to best describe this concept is if you take a lemon, if you tried to lick or bite into the lemon, the sour and acidity would purse your lips completely. If you add sugar to the lemon, it gradually limits the acidic taste in your mouth, and there is a tipping point where the lemon then tastes sweet with the more sugar that is added. This is similar in wine. Sugar is often used to balance out the acidity of the wine, or it is present given the sugar content of the grape.
Take Prosecco for example, many labels indicate Brut or Dry, but they might have 15-30 grams/L of sugar in them. And sparkling wine is not the only one that has residual sugar, but doesn’t taste sweet. Many red wines from California and Australia (both warm to hot climates) are obviously classified as dry, have 5-10 grams/L of sugar in them. This has to do with ripeness of the grape and how much alcohol the producer wants in their wine.
When a grape ripens in the hot sun, it produces sugar. When yeast is added to grape juice, a chemical reaction begins, and the yeast eat the sugar to produce alcohol. This process can be stopped naturally, through cooling, or through the addition of chemicals. A winemaker will stop the process when their wine has reached a max level of alcohol, and all the sugar that hasn’t been consumed by the yeast, is left in the wine- voila, residual sugar!
Myth 4: Red wine should never be enjoyed with fish or seafood.
This is another one of those common myths out there that are simply untrue. There is some merit to the concept for particularly oily fish- like mackerel, tuna or sardines. The oil in the fish reacts to the tannins found in red wine and creates a metallic taste in the mouth (think about the taste you might get if you bit your tongue and tasted blood). But many non-oily fish go excellently with some red wine. Salmon or Trout for instance are paired excellently with Pinot Noir.
The next time you make salmon at home, try pairing it with a medium bodied red wine. You will not be disappointed.
Myth 5: The “legs” of a wine indicate a good quality wine.
This is completely untrue. For those of you scratching your head about that the heck I am referring to when I talk about “legs” here is the side note: Legs are an old term referring to the way the wine runs down the glass when swirled (pictured here in white wine). They are sometimes also referred to as tears. Legs of wine are simply related to the viscosity of the wine- in which the grape varietal, and the alcohol percentage contributes to. To be honest, when I am looking at a glass of wine blind, very rarely do I use the “legs” to discern anything. It really can be deceiving to think that because the “legs” of the wine run down a glass it means that the wine is old or of great quality.
Instead focus on colour, does the wine have a more red/purple hue? Or is it more amber to orange? For alcohol, take a sip, and then another, and then blow a breath out, do your cheeks feel warm? Is there a burning sensation in your throat. The more you react to this sensation, the higher the alcohol percentage is in the wine. Don’t believe me? Compare a light white wine vs. a full-bodied red; you will definitely notice a difference.
Have questions about wine or have always wondered about something when you are drinking a glass? Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org I am happy to always chat about wine. Better yet, let’s have a wine party and de-mystify wine!