Hit or myth? The seven rules of wine

The rituals surrounding the drinking of wine long been the preserve of those in the know, who can make friends and influence people by demonstrating their understanding of complicated flavour notes, the need for excessive swirling, and the role of fancy decanters, Grand Cru stock a nice range by the way!

However, a recent report by the American Chemical Society explored seven key wine-related rules and claimed to expose some surprising truths.

Together with researchers from the University of California, the experts came to the conclusion that wine shouldn't always be allowed to breathe, that the traditional pairings with fish and meat are not set in stone, and that a bottle of red can benefit from some time spent in the fridge.

1. A wine's taste is altered by the shape of the glass: HIT

The shape of a wine glass is an important factor in bringing out the drink's full flavour, a long-standing view upheld by the report. But can the average person really tell?

The reason wider glasses are used for reds is because of the increased surface area, which allows more oxygen in, helping to release the aromas. The reaction between the wine and other compounds also adds layers to the drink's aroma. 

White wine doesn't require so much room, and therefore is usually drunk out of a smaller glass. 

2. Swirling and slurping improves flavour: HIT

Similar to the shape of a wine glass, swirling and slurping allows more oxygen in, which helps to release flavour compounds. 

In the report the experts explain: "You're just introducing the liquid to oxygen and what it's doing is releasing those flavour compounds into the air, so you can perceive and experience them."

Slurping is another technique which can enhance our experience of a wine. When we slurp the liquid, more oxygen is introduced to the wine, and the molecules are directed to the passageway connecting the back of the mouth to the nose. This provides a more rounded flavour.

It may not look or sound appetising, but it can help to fully experience a wine. 

    3. Pair red wine with red meat and white wine with fish: MYTH

      It is generally accepted that dark meats go better with red wine and white wine with fish. However, this view is presented as obsolete rubbish in the report. According to the experts, "what's more important with pairings is to look at the type of sauce or garnish you have with the dish." 

      For example, if a meatier fish such as a Barramundi is served with a red wine sauce, it would overpower an accompanying white wine. You'd probably want to choose something like a Pinot Noir.

      Wine expert Ben Jager agrees. "It's only in England as far as I can see that people think there might be a problem about having red wine with fish. It's just a matter of not putting a big, heavy red wine with a delicate-flavoured white fish."

        4. Leave wine to breathe: IT DEPENDS

          The common view is that a bottle of wine, particularly red, should be opened and allowed time to breathe.

          This was certainly the case when red wine was filled with sulphur dioxide, which leaves an off smell in wine that evaporates as the wine breathes. However, sulphur dioxide is used more sparingly these days. 

          Waiters and wine buffs often insist on breathing wine before drinking, and though it can add to the theatrics, it is not always necessary. According to Jager, letting a wine breathe or not all depends on the wine. "If you have an old wine, you don't want to decant that, because it will fall apart, sort of like taking a pavlova on the back of a motorbike, it gets shattered."

          But letting a wine breathe can also be a good thing. "If it's a wine that's very young and can withstand a bit of age, it might become a little more complex.

          "It's very hard to make a generalisation on when is best to decant and when not to. What I always say is, you be the judge. Open the wine, pour some into the glass, taste it, come back five or ten minutes later. If you think the wine has got better, you might want to pour it into a jug for a while."

            5. Red wine at room temperature, white wine cold: MYTH

              The common perception is that white wine should be consumed ice cold. This can of course mask the imperfections of a cheap bottle, but according to the experts, it is preferable to remove a bottle of white from the fridge around 15 minutes before drinking. At a slightly warmer temperature, the delicate flavours of a white wine are allowed to shine.

              Red wine on the other hand doesn't always have to be served warm, as its flavour can become overbearing. The report suggests popping a bottle of red into the fridge 15 minutes before drinking. 

              "Again, it is down to personal preference", says Jager. "A lot of people really like that really cold feel of the wine in their mouth.

              "In the summer I won't drink a red wine that hasn't been in the fridge. If a red wine is too warm it just tastes really soupy. It loses its definition."

                6. Expensive wine is better than cheap wine: IT DEPENDS

                  It seems obvious, and mostly it's true. More expensive wines are made with better quality, healthier grapes, handled more carefully and stored in superior barrels.

                  As with anything it's a matter of personal preference. If you prefer a cheaper wine, there's no reason to fork out on a pricier bottle. 

                    7. Flavour notes are actually present in the drink: HIT

                      It's a situation we all know well: a wine expert, perhaps at a vineyard or fancy restaurant, is explaining a glass of wine as if it were a food hamper. We nod compliantly when informed of the hints of blackberry, cherry, vanilla or grapefruit while struggling to detect the flavour notes. 

                      But they are actually there. While grapefruit, for example, is not actually used in the wine-making process, some of the same molecules present in the fruit can be found in particular grape varieties or even wood barrels.  

                      If your budget allows, investing in a good dual zone wine fridge like a Grand Cru will be a definite HIT. Not only can you then store your wine at the right temperature, but you can serve and enjoy it at the perfect temperature as well.