Sulfites, Legs And Other Wine Myths
Wednesday - January 14, 2009
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a great celebration. I’m still enjoying mine. I thought I would start the year by debunking some common myths about wine that I hear passed around from time to time.
I should have done this a while ago, so now I’m setting it straight.
* Red wine has more sulfites than white wine. This is simply untrue. The process of making white wine requires winemakers to use more sulfur because white grapes don’t have a coloring component in their skin. Red grapes, however, have a natural preservative in their skin which allows winemakers the freedom to add less sulfur during the winemaking process. If no one used sulfur in their wines, your Chardonnay would look more like apple juice and your Cabernet would look like a cross between prune juice and chicken stock.
* Wine turns into vinegar after a long time. Yes, there are white and red wine vinegars, but vinegar is not made in a bottle unto itself. A fine bottle of wine should be assumed to be free of faults and bacteria. That said, vinegar requires acetic acid bacteria (aka acetobacter) in order to transform alcohol (ethanol) into acetic acid in the presence of oxygen. I’ve had many “old” (read 80-100 years old) wines that have not turned into vinegar. If you do ever taste a bottle of wine that tastes like vinegar, I suggest you return it.
* The thicker the “legs” of the wine, the better it is. When people refer to the legs of the wine, they are looking at the “tears” of alcohol that cling to the inside of the glass after it has been swirled. The only thing this indicates is the amount of alcohol in the wine. The thicker the legs or tears, the higher the alcohol. A good example of this would be late-harvested Zinfandel and Shiraz. If the wine has no tears at all and just sheets down at once, the wine has very little alcohol, like German Riesling. The only time this myth is true is if the only reason you are drinking wine is to get wrecked. Not good.
* Screw caps are only for cheap and low-quality wines. This is a fairly recent myth, as there are many more wineries choosing to bottle their production under Stelvin closure (aka screw caps) in order to avoid the pitfalls associated with natural bark-produced cork. These include cork taint, oxidation and the sometimes irritating floating cork in the glass.
* The darker the wine, the more flavor it has. It is true that red wine gets most of its flavor from the skins of the grapes. But wine-makers also can add color to wine just by adding a coloring agent (as long as it is grape-based). I spoke to one winemaker who says that just a few drops of this stuff can make a Pinot Noir look as black as a Shiraz! The color of white wine comes primarily from oak and age, minimally from the skins of the grapes. There are plenty of light-colored wines - Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Grenache, to name a few - that pack as much intensity as any of the darker-colored wines. I never judge a wine simply by its color.
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