Shattering Some of the Most Common Wine Myths

Shattered wine bottle on ground

Despite the wealth of resources available for those looking to learn more about wine, there is still a widespread amount of misinformation that exists. As these misconceptions can negatively affect both the purchase and enjoyment of wine it is thus extremely important to separate fact from fiction.

Here we shatter some of the most common myths surrounding wine.

“I’m Allergic to Sulfites”

Allergies are all the rage these days. From gluten to lactose intolerance, everyone seems to be allergic to something. Yet while the claim of a sulfite allergy is a prevalent one, in actuality, it is far more uncommon than many realize.

Sulfur has been employed in winemaking for hundreds of years but the idea of a sulfur allergy a recent one. In the 1970’s, a man with a severe sulfur allergy died after consuming salad from a salad bar that was sprayed, in an attempt to prevent browning, with 2,000 parts per million of sulfites.  

The FDA responded by requiring all manufactures who use even the slightest amount (anything more than 10 parts per million) of sulfites in their products to declare such on the label.  As wine falls under this category, nearly all bottles of wine will contain the warning label “Contains Sulfites.”  Wines containing less than 10 parts per million can avoid including this label, but even those containing the label “No Sulfites Added” are not indicative of a 100% sulfite free wine.  

The bottom line is this: all wine has some level of sulfites. Period.  

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a widely utilized tool in winemaking to help stabilize wine and preserve freshness. Yet sulfites are also a natural byproduct of alcoholic fermentation so even those wineries that do not employ SO2 during bottling will still produce wines that contain sulfites.

Fun fact: red wine generally contains less sulfites than white as red wines contain tannin which acts as a stabilizing agent. As such, less SO2 is required to protect the wine.  

Yet while all wines contain some level of sulfites, the sulfite panic of the 70’s still lingers and many today do not understand what sulfites are, much less the actual amount present in wine. 

It is estimated that less than .5% of the US population suffer from sulfite sensitivity, yet these are the same people who avoid dried fruits and bottled citrus juices which both contain ten times more sulfites than wine.  

So for those who claim to suffer from wine headaches, take note: it is not sulfites causing them. What is the likely the culprit is the excessive sugar content in cheap, jug wines or a reaction to wine’s histamines and tannins.

Or perhaps, it’s the fact you just consumed three glasses on an empty stomach.

Aged Wine is Always Better

Old wine

Having a collection of older vintage wines can be impressive, but it is important to realize that sometimes aged wine is just old wine. Thus it is extremely essential to understand which wines can age and which are meant to be consumed immediately.

In places like Barolo, Italy, aging is a regional requirement and wines are not released into the market until they have seen a specific number of years aging both in oak barrels and in bottle. Even once released, many of these types of structured wines do not reach their peak years until 20-30 more years in bottle.

In stark contrast, wines like Beaujolais Nouveau, are bottled quickly after harvest and are meant for immediate consumption.  Waiting even more than six months to consume these wines would thus be a massive mistake.

To determine which wines are meant for aging, it is important to consider the main indicators for aging potential, tannin and acidity, which help maintain the wine’s structure through the aging process.  Furthermore, an aged wine must also have been kept in pristine conditions throughout its life and even just a day’s worth of heat spikes could have ruined the wine permanently.  

Yet just because a wine has the ability to age doesn’t signify it will be somehow more enjoyable than a young wine. Throughout the aging process, a wine’s fruit begins to fade and more tertiary notes begin to appear.  Don’t enjoy earthy wines? Then even the best aged wine won’t be appealing.  

So before deciding on an older vintage wine, determine not only the wine’s ability to age but if an aged wine is really what you are looking for. You may just find that the vibrant fruit profile of a youthful wine may be a better fit after all.   

The Higher the Price, The Better the Quality

There are so many factors that play into bottle cost – from production methods, to the region, to the grape – that to judge a bottle by price alone would amount to a grave misjudgment.

Before considering price as a determining factor of a wine’s quality, first determine how far the wine had to travel to get to where you are. The longer the distance and the more hands the wine has to pass through, the higher the price. As such, European wines are generally less expensive on the East Coast and pricier out West but surely that bottle of Chianti is not getting better as it travels across the country. If anything, it has the potential to get worse through heat damage or improper transport!  

Another factor affecting price is the size of the winery. With smaller production facilities, more manpower and attention has to go into each bottle of wine and thus the prices for each bottle of wine will be substantially more than those wineries cranking out thousands of cases each year.

And finally, which variety you are purchasing can determine pricing as well. While some grapes are just more expensive to farm, current wine trends also shape the market and popular grapes have a higher demand amongst consumers and thus can command premium prices.  

So when deciding if a bottle is worth x amount of dollars, consider simply the quality to price ratio and ask yourself if what you are getting for the amount you are spending worth it? As this is a highly individual determination, it’s really up to you to decide.

What other wine myths would you like to see debunked?