“Red wine with fish?” muses James Bond, as he confronts the villain in From Russia with Love. “Well, that should have told me something.”
James Bond may be a great spy, but he wouldn’t make a great sommelier. Believe it or not, fish sometimes works with red wine—and white wine often works with meat.
This is just one of the many wine myths that remain omnipresent. Here are the top five:
Myth #1: Serve white wine with fish and red wine with meat.
James Bond wasn’t entirely wrong. As general rule, it isn’t a terrible idea to pair lighter foods like fish with white wine. But plenty of seafood dishes work better with red wine. If your fish is meaty or charred—or served with tomatoes, mushrooms, or a fruity sauce—it’ll likely be complimented best by a delicate red like Pinot Noir.
Similarly, plenty of meats work better with white wines. Spicy cuisines, like Chinese, Thai, and Indian demand rich, high-acid wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
Myth #2: Sparkling wines like Champagne are only for special occasions.
France’s big Champagne houses have spent millions trying to convince us that Champagne is best enjoyed when celebrating. That might be true—after all, wine shops see a huge spike in sales around New Year’s and Valentine’s Day—but sparkling wines can be enjoyed all year long.
Most sparklers are characterized by vibrant acidity and freshness, so they work with variety of dishes. Sparkling wines can cut through spicy food, complement savory food, and elevate even the simplest of dishes. Burgers and Champagne, anyone?
Myth #3: Sophisticated wine drinkers avoid Chardonnay and Merlot.
Among self-appointed wine experts, it’s become fashionable to bash Merlot and Chardonnay. This isn’t entirely without reason.
When Americans started developing a taste for wine in the 1990s, Merlot became the go-to grape for red, and Chardonnay became the go-to grape for white. So the market quickly became flooded with cheap, nondescript wine devoid of varietal character.
For Chardonnay, this resulted in wines that tasted mostly like butter and oak—leading many to declare themselves members of the “ABC Club” to let people know they’d drink “Anything but Chardonnay.” Meanwhile, oceans of Merlot were simply bland and boring.
Thing is, both Chardonnay and Merlot are responsible for some of the greatest wines in the world. Sure, both demand the right soil, the appropriate climate, and skilled winemaking. But when those demands are met—as they often are—both grapes can produce remarkably delicious, complex wines.
Myth #4: There are no good wines for less than $20.
The world is awash in affordable, great-tasting wine. But many drinkers insist on contending that it’s difficult to find a good wine for less than $20. They’re not just wrong; they’re delusional.
Sure, it’s difficult to find a good Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for less than $20, just as it’s difficult to find affordable caviar. But there are plenty of delicious options from the world’s unheralded wine regions—places like Portugal’s Douro Valley, Washington’s Columbia Valley, the Languedoc-Roussillion region of France, and virtually all of South Africa.
Even to seasoned oenophiles, these regions can be overwhelming. So don’t hesitate to ask your local wine shop for advice.
Myth #5: Serve white wines chilled and red wines at room temperature.
This is probably the most pervasive wine myth. And it’s why most people—and even most restaurants—serve red wines too warm and white wines too cold.
Before the advent of thermostats, homes were much cooler than they are today. So serving red wine at “room temperature” made sense—it still made for a refreshing beverage. Today, most Americans keep their homes at about 72 degrees—a temperature that’ll make even the finest red wine taste rough and alcoholic.
Legend has it that white wines are served “cool” because historically, they came straight from the cellar. A cellar, of course, is warmer than your average refrigerator—most of us set our fridges at around 35 degrees. Serving any wine this cold will mask its flavors.
Fortunately, you don’t need a fancy thermometer to serve wine at its optimal temperature. If you’re drinking a red wine, pop it in the fridge for 25-30 minutes. If you’re drinking a white wine, pull it out of the fridge about 25-30 minutes before you’re going to drink it.
David White, a wine writer, is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com. His columns are housed at Wines.com, the fastest growing wine portal on the Internet.
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