Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Forget the wine 'rules'

It's time to overturn some myths and misapprehensions

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There are no stupid questions when it comes to wine -- in fact, there's an endless amount to know or learn about wine. Yet there are a few long-standing myths that persist in the wine world.


1. Red wine goes with red meat, white wine goes with white meat.

Some people still stick to this "golden rule" of wine, which, technically speaking, isn't a myth so much as it is an unnecessary restriction. In many instances it's not an unreasonable starting point -- a light-bodied Pinot Grigio would be overpowered by a steak in the same way a big, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon would annihilate a garden salad.

But there's plenty of room for crossover -- salmon, for instance, goes as well with Pinot Noir as it does with a lightly oaked Chardonnay. A spicy chicken curry might rock with an Aussie Shiraz as well (or better) than a Gewürztraminer. And so on.

While the tannin of a big red wine works well with big beef dishes, many whites could tackle all but the pepperiest steak. When it comes to wine and food pairing it's as much about seasoning on the protein as it is the type of protein.


2. Red wine causes headaches because of sulfites.

While there's still no definitive answer as to why people get red wine headache (RWH -- yes, it's an actual term, there's an abbreviation for it, etc.), one cause that can be ruled out is sulfites.

The bottom line: dry red wines contain fewer sulfites than most other categories, and white wines contain more sulfites than red wines -- if the wine is sweet, those levels are even higher.

If you're getting a headache from red wine, it could be something like the naturally occurring histamines in grape skins/stems that affects you. These are left to be crushed and pressed in the red winemaking process, whereas they're removed before pressing with white wine grapes.

Sulfur dioxide occurs naturally in grapes, so there is always some level of sulfites in wine. If you're worried about sulfites, a dry red wine -- especially one that's organic -- will be the lowest.

If you're getting headaches from red wine, try one that's low in tannin -- Pinot Noir or Gamay are good choices.


3. When opening a bottle of wine, I should smell the cork.

I suppose if you had super-sensitive olfactory senses -- I'm talking Superman-level sniffing -- smelling a bottle's cork might help you detect a fault in a wine. But to most of us, a cork simply smells like a cork.

A far better indication of whether a wine is spoiled is to smell and taste the wine itself. If a wine suffers from cork taint, it'll probably smell like wet cardboard; if the wine is oxidized, it'll have a nail polish-type smell. Otherwise there's probably nothing technically wrong with the wine.

In this world of wines increasingly bottled under screwcap, this tradition is thankfully going the way of the dodo bird. There's not much romance in sticking your nose in an aluminum screwcap and taking a big whiff, now, is there?


(Central Coast, Calif. -- $19.99, Liquor Marts and beyond)

Red apple, bruised peaches, mango and brown sugar aromas might lead you to believe this is a bit of a fruit bomb. Not so -- on the full-bodied palate it shows great balance of ripe tropical fruit, light citric acidity and modest oak. Seven per cent Viognier brings added spice and viscosity here as well. A top Chardonnay at this price point, the Liberty School could definitely tackle heavier meat dishes. 89/100


(Hawkes Bay, New Zealand -- 25.89, Liquor Marts and beyond)

A single-vineyard red blend of mostly Merlot (with some Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec), the Te Kahu has elegant cassis and leather aromas to go with ripe plum, blueberry, anise, white pepper and meaty notes. It's full-bodied, juicy and soft, with up-front blackberry, blueberry and raspberry flavours, soft tannin and a medium finish. It may not be the heaviest wine, but it's well-structured and brings finesse that will do well with grilled steak. 90/100


(Venezie, Italy -- around $13, private wine stores)

I love the nose on this Italian Merlot -- complex ash, white pepper, blueberry and plum notes show really nicely. Tasty dark berry and plum notes on the medium-bodied palate come with a splash of acidity, and light black tea and pepper notes give this red a bit more structure than most Merlot in this price range. A very good value. 87/100
Twitter: @bensigurdson

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 18, 2012 E4

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