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A year in the vineyard: January

There are many falsehoods surrounding wine and wine drinking, says Jonathan Hesford

Hundreds of people visit my winery each year on a guided tour. Many of them ask questions starting with “Someone told me that ...”. I thought it would be interesting to bust these eight commonly held myths about wine.

Someone told me that ...

1) ... you can tell the quality of a wine by its legs

The legs are the rivulets of wine that run down the glass after swirling it. All it tells us is the viscosity of the wine, which can be a result of sugar or alcohol. It probably dates from the times when people saw sweet, high alcohol wines as better than thin, dry ones. It tells us nothing about the true quality.


2) ... you can age red wine, but not white

Not true. Some red wines are made for ageing but many are not, especially big brands sold in supermarkets. On the other hand, white wines with high sugar or acidity will age well for years. For example Alsace Rieslings or Sauternes.


3) ... you should serve red wine with meat and white wine with fish

OK as a general rule of thumb but not always. I’ve enjoyed lighter reds such as those from Burgundy and the Loire with white fish dishes. I would also recommend a rich white such as Meursault , with chicken or pork. I personally think oysters and Champagne is a horrible match. One of the loveliest wine matches I had was a New Zealand Pinot Noir with smoked salmon.


4)  ... screwcaps are better than corks

Yes and no. They avoid the risk of cork-taint, don’t require a corkscrew and can be resealed. However, they don’t allow the wine to breath, meaning that big, tannic reds will take much longer to age and some young whites can appear harsher and less open than they would with cork.


5) ... rosé is a mixture of red and white wine

Not in Europe it isn’t. Rosé is made from the juice of red grapes that has only been in contact with the skins for a short time and then fermenting it like white wine. Blending red and white to make rosé
is illegal in the EU as it may have the right colour but would have tannins from the red.


6) ... French wine isn’t popular anymore

This is usually voiced by British people who only buy wine from their supermarkets. Yes, it’s true that UK supermarkets have turned to selling New World wines with their simple labelling and fruity flavours rather than French (or Italian and German) with their confusing AOPs and more complex palates but France remains the favourite among wine lovers in the UK and it definitely the number one in Asia (and France of course).


7) ... you can tell the quality by the size of the punt

The punt is the indent in the base of the bottle. It was designed to prevent sediment from stirring up during pouring. While those bottles with no punt probably contain simple early-drinking wines, the marketing men figured out long ago that people would pay more for wine in heavy bottles with big punts. So today only the gullible believe this myth.


8) ... decanting is a waste of time

Decanting wine, or pouring it into a carafe, generally improves any wine so long as it is left in the decanter for at least an hour. Cheap, industrial wines tend to lose their harshness and serious wines of all colours are allowed to open up and gain bouquet while softening their texture. The only wines that should not be aerated are very old dry wines
(20 years or more). Conversely, none of those aerating gadgets do anything that decanting doesn’t and they don’t speed up the process.


9) ... Red wine should be served at room temperature and white from the fridge

This myth comes from the times before central heating and permanently warm living rooms. The French say a red wine should be “chambré” meaning brought out of the cold cellar an hour before serving. Most red wines should be served between 15° and 19° but some styles, like Beaujolais and certain natural wines made using carbonic maceration, are better at temperatures of good white wine.

That means 8-10°, not kitchen fridge temperature. Cheap, bad wine should be served as cold as possible,  preferably with ice and lemonade!


Jonathan Hesford has a Postgraduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology from Lincoln University, New Zealand and is the owner, vigneron and winemaker of Domaine Treloar in the Roussillon – visit

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