If you repeat something often enough it becomes truth. We learned that by following politics.
Seriously. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. We pick on Nero because we like French wines better than Italians, but his playing would be impossible. Nero was Emperor of Rome around 60 AD, and Amati is credited with inventing the violin about 500 years later. It was invented in Italy, but not in time for Nero.
As long as we’re picking on Emperors, let’s talk about Napoleon. He was a tyrant because he was compensating for something, right? You would have to ask his wife, but it wasn’t a behavioral reaction to his height. Sure, about five-foot-seven makes him a little fellow, but in his day that made him a little taller than the average Frenchman. Plus he always had that ridiculous hat on. You couldn’t really tell.
So why don’t we take a look at some myths about wine? We are, after all, big fans.
1) Wines need to breathe. Kinda. Wine comes from grapes, ages like we do, and is sort of an organism. We describe wine as having “character” and “personality”, but we think that when you pop the cork you should dive in. The neck on most wine bottles doesn’t really allow for a whole lot of expiration, but if you want to feel fancy you can transfer a red into a decanter or carafe. Those of you drinking whites or box wines will have to sit out this round.
2) You should smell the cork. And dog saliva is cleaner than human saliva. You are really just testing the cork to see if it’s moist. That will tell you whether or not the wine has been properly stored. If you’re getting really snooty you can confirm the vintage and vineyard by looking at the cork, but smelling it will only confirm that cork smells like cork. Unless it doesn’t, which is highly likely since most bottlers are using synthetic cork these days. In which case it should smell of fine plastic. You should never smell a screw-top, but it is perfectly acceptable to lick it. Boxes should be nibbled and spit out, just to confirm that cardboard tastes like cardboard.
3) A charming French monk named Dom Perignon invented Champagne. Dom certainly did his part to promote Champagne and was a great spokesman for the Champagne Tourism Board; he didn’t actually invent the stuff. He actually spent years trying to rid his wines of annoying bubbles. He would spend all summer talking to his grapes, squashing them with his little monk-feet, and carefully getting them into bottles. Then, fall would come and bring cooler temperatures, and fermentation would stop. The monks of the abbey would spend the winter playing monk-games by the fire, and wait for spring. As temperatures would rise with the new growing season the little yeasties in the bottles would wake up and start making gasses. One bottle would finally throw in the towel, setting off a chain reaction that would send wine, glass, and monks flying all over the bottling room. The English, tired of hearing the French complain, grew adept at making strong bottles in their coal-fired ovens, and decided that they liked a little bubble in their vino. Perignon did manage to make white wine from red wine grapes, but spent most of his days trying to rid his wines of pesky bubbles. His fame eventually came down to brilliant marketing.
4) Red wine should be served at room temperature. Yes. If you live in a 15th century French hovel. There is a reason that wines are stored in a “cellar”. It is dark and cool. Sunlight and heat have a tendency to piss wine off. Most wines should be stored at around 55 degrees, and serving should be about 65. That was the average temperature of a French home around 300 years ago. Besides, who determines what room temperature is? Simon lives like a hermit and his place is always freezing, while our Aunt Edna likes to crank the heat to 90. That’s why we drink beer with Simon and tea with Edna. But not a lot of tea because her house also smells like mothballs.
5) You have to have a fancy glass. Shucks, a jelly jar will do in a pinch. A glass with a large bell will allow you to stick your nose in and savor the aroma of a fine wine, but who cares. Grab a solo cup. We’ve used a sippy cup when the dishwasher was full. The important thing is to pop open a bottle, tear open a box, or wrestle a screw-top and drink deeply of wine.