Wine has a rich mythology, including much conventional wisdom about how the beverage should be chosen, stored, and served. Unfortunately, much of that information is limited or downright wrong. Here's a rundown.
Myth: Wine constantly improves with age.
Reality: Certain wines may benefit from a few years of aging.
Wines that have a good balance of acidity, a lot of tannins (those mouth-puckering compounds), and intense fruit flavor may well improve with age. Candidates for such "laying down" include some red wines (including most of the better cabernet sauvignons we've tested) and some heartier white wines, including certain Burgundies and chardonnays. But even a wine with staying power will typically improve for no more than two to three years from the vintage year if it's white, three to five years if it's a red; after that, quality might actually decline.
Myth: White wines go best only with fish and fowl; reds with meat and spicier fare.
Reality: A wine's "color" isn't always the best guide to the foods it will complement.
It's is a rule of thumb, but experiment. It's as important to focus on the meal's spices and sauces as on its primary ingredients. As a rule, richer dishes go best with full-bodied wine, including most cabernet sauvignons and zinfandels, and many chardonnays. Good choices for spicy foods include semi-dry white wines such as gewürztraminers, Rieslings, and pinto grigios. Lighter fare generally pairs nicely with lighter wines, including many bottles of the red varietals such as gamay (used to make Beaujolais) and pinot noir, and of white varietals such as sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and dry Riesling.
Myth: Wine needs special storage facilities.
Reality: Wine can be safely stored in almost any home.
A trend is now to store wine in a temperature-controlled cellar or custom refrigerator. But unless you're collecting very expensive wines, any spot in the house that is out of direct sunlight, remains cool (less than 70 degrees F) at all times without temperature fluctuations, and isn't subject to vibration will hold wine safely for a year or two. Most basements fit the bill. Store bottles on their side. Screw cap bottles may be stored upright.
Myth: White wines should be served well chilled, red wines at room temperature.
Reality: For reds and whites, ideal serving temperature varies by wine type.
To get maximum flavor from the bottle, rich white wines, including most chardonnays, should be served cool, not chilled (limit them to about an hour in the refrigerator). Only lighter whites, including most sauvignon blancs, should be well chilled (about two hours in the fridge--longer and they might become too cold). Lighter reds, such as pinot noirs, should be served cool. Only "big" reds--such as most cabernets and zinfandels--are best served at about 65 to 70 degrees F.
Myth: Wine should be opened before serving to allow time for "breathing."
Reality: Not all wines improve when exposed to air--and wine rarely improves in an open bottle.
Opening a bottle a few minutes early does no harm, and certain wines will improve somewhat after they're exposed to air. But merely uncorking a bottle and letting it sit exposes too little of the wine to make a difference. The best way to fully enjoy a wine before you drink it is simply to swirl it around in the glass after it's poured, and sniff.
Myth: Each wine varietal demands its own glass shape.
Reality: One glass for reds and one for whites will suffice.
Wine snobbery now urges a different wine glass for almost every varietal. Two types will more than do it: A set of wide, 12-to-16-ounce glasses for red wine, and more slender, 8- to-12-ounce glasses for white wine.