In my continuing quest to help my readers become obnoxious wine know- it-alls, thereby hastening my own obsolescence, I hereby present some common vinous misconceptions.
When presented with the cork at a restaurant, you should immediately smell it.
Please don’t. Originally this quaint little tradition allowed the patron to ascertain that the bottle was what it said it was by reading the name and vintage printed on the cork. It is, however, commonly believed that inspecting the cork is necessary to evaluate the condition of the wine. The fact is there’s really very little that the cork can tell you about the wine (one of the best wines I’ve ever had, a 17-year-old Vouvray, had a cork that looked like a cancerous tumor). The only way to tell if a wine is bad is to smell and taste the wine. As for that cork, I like to pluck it gently from the waiter’s hands and toss it into the street. Fetch!
Good wine has “good legs.”
“Legs,” the long, slow rivulets sliding down the inside of the glass, also referred to as “tears,” are commonly believed to be indicators of a wine’s quality. Next time someone at a wine tasting holds the glass up to the light and makes proclamations about the wine’s “legs,” gently inform the misguided soul that what they are observing is the Gibbs-Marangoni effect, a complicated process involving evaporating alcohol and surface tension that tells you nothing at all about the wine. Or go the classy route and say, “Legs? Take a look at that ass!”
Red wine goes well with chocolate.
Contrary to popular belief, chocolate’s mouth-coating sweetness will wreck a dry red wine. I realize that this discovery may wreck your Valentine’s plans, wine and chocolate probably being very important to said plans. All is not lost. There are wines that go well with chocolate—they just have to be very sweet, not dry. Try the big, Grenache-based dessert wine from the south of France called Banyuls, or some Port.
Wine left open will turn to vinegar.
An open bottle of wine will not turn to vinegar. It can’t. The gist of the science is that wine does not contain any of the chemicals necessary to convert its alcohol into acetic acid, which is the stuff you like to mix with oil and toss into your salad. When exposed to air, wine oxidizes. It might taste stale, but it won’t taste like Newman’s Own.
White wine should be served cold, red wine warm.
The truth is most people serve whites too cold, robbing them of their taste and smell, and reds too warm, causing the alcohol to become more present and overpower the fruit. Wine should be served at room temperature only if by “room” you are referring to the wine cellar in the basement of your château. Serve your red wines between 55 and 65 degrees. Whites work best at 45 to 60. There are thermometers made expressly for the purpose of ascertaining the correct serving temp of your vino, and while it is quite all right to use one, it’s not a good idea to let anyone see you.