Five Wine Rules Just Asking to be Broken

May 12, 2017 - By 

Apart from wine, how many foods or drinks can you name which come with their own sets of rules? Granted, there are a couple of local specialities here and there which tradition dictates must be consumed in a certain way (don’t get a Brit started on whether the milk comes before or after the water when making a cup of tea), but wine really does take the crown when it comes to supposed ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to drink.

The problem is, wine is a highly varied, ever-evolving and complex product, which – when one stops and thinks about it for a second – simply cannot be constrained by a set of black and white regulations. There are thousands of grape varietals, hundreds of styles, and each vintage will bring about differences that even make judging a wine by its type and location fairly irrelevant from one year to the next.

Of course, we get that some wine rules can be genuinely helpful, and can sort you out when you’re in a pinch. But we believe that any rule that tells you how you should or shouldn’t enjoy a glass of wine should be approached with some real cynicism, and more than a pinch of salt. After all, many of the more well-known guidelines are now hopelessly outdated, and not suited to today’s vibrant, globalised and experimental wine-drinking community. Also – who ever had a fun sensory experiences by always doing what they are told?

Let’s rip up the rulebook, stick it to the man, and have a look at five annoying persistent ‘wine rules’ that can be done away with once and for all.

First Rule: Don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t want to drink

This rule gets bandied around a lot on TV cooking shows, especially around Christmas time. However, it always seems to me to be massively wasteful – why would you chuck half a bottle of quality Bordeaux or similar into your sauce? Isn’t that a massive waste?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t cook with wine – you absolutely should. Wine adds a depth of flavour and a fortification to your sauces and dishes unlike any other ingredient, and brings touches of acidity and fruit that can be absolutely delicious. However, once wine is cooked, any complexity it might have had in the glass is almost immediately gone. It ends up being a reduction almost completely free of alcohol, and will bear almost no resemblance whatsoever to the quality wine it once was. Save the good stuff for you and your guests’ glasses… get something cheap and cheerful for the cooking pot instead.

Second Rule: Rosé is for summer

Here’s a widely followed rule I never quite understood. All that lovely rosé wine sits lonely in the wine store until the sun comes out or summer rolls around, and then suddenly, everyone’s a rosé fan again. Don’t get me wrong – there are few things I love more than a glass (or let’s face it, a bottle) of something blushing and pink in the summer months – drinking a Provencal rosé wine outside in the sunshine is one of life’s great pleasures. However, to abandon it for the rest of the year is nothing short of criminal.

I think one of the reasons this happens is due to the fact that most people don’t take rosé particularly seriously – it’s seen as the lighthearted, frilly member of the wine community, with nothing particular special to say. The truth is, rosé wines are just as complex, varied and fascinating as any other wine style, and they deserve your attention.

By all means, keep the pale pink rosés for those hot picnic days, but if the weather is cold, and you fancy something a bit more substantial, go for a deeper, darker rosé wine from Languedoc, Australia or California. They’re gorgeous rich and interesting, and pair fantastically well with South-East Asian cuisines, such as the Thai, Korean or Vietnamese street food that’s all the rage at the moment.

Third Rule: Decanters are for full-bodied red wines only

Decanters aren’t just pretty accessories given out at wedding parties, they can be highly useful for enhancing your enjoyment of wine. They allow you to admire the colour of wine, they’re great for catching sediment from bottles of aged, full-bodied red wines, but their main purpose should really be to allow your wines to breathe, aerate and mellow before drinking.

It makes sense, therefore, to use a decanter for any wine which could benefit from a bit aeration – and this is by no means just limited to the reds. Full bodied white wines, like a good Chardonnay, Viognier or aged Riesling all come out more palatable from a decanter, as it smooths down those heavy edges, and allows the flavours and aromas to manifest more fully.

I’m actually going to stick my neck out a little, and say that I prefer Champagne from a decanter, too – especially when I’m drinking it with a meal. Champagne and other sparkling wines are great with food, but all those aggressive bubbles can get a little grating between mouthfuls. Decanting Champagne allows the carbon dioxide to dissipate a little, giving you more opportunity to enjoy the flavours of the wine. Try it and see!

Fourth Rule: Only serve white wine with fish

Of all the so-called ‘wine rules’ this is one of the few which has become something akin to common knowledge. Unfortunately, it’s really quite outdated, and based on the rules of French fine cuisine, which mainly deals with the sort of silky white fish and butter sauces which do indeed go better with crisp white wines.

The truth is, when it comes to food and wine pairing, your best bet is to experiment and find out for yourself what works best. Furthermore, there are plenty of red wines which work brilliantly with lots of fish dishes – seafood paella with a light Spanish red, for example, or thick, hunky steaks of fish like tuna, salmon, shark and kingfish with Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Beaujolais. Be open-minded, and think about the textures and flavours you’re working with – don’t discount a food and wine pairing based merely on colour!

Fifth Rule: White wine should be served ice cold

OK, so the Champagne + ice bucket combination is a nice one, and works well on a sunny terrace somewhere, accompanied by a loved one. But this idea that white wine should be served straight from the fridge often does a great disservice to the wine in question. Fridge-coldness flattens the flavour of wine, and inhibits the aromas from swirling upwards into the glass – it may be refreshing on a hot day, but if you’re looking for refreshment over sensory enjoyment, you should probably be sticking to iced water.

Do yourself and your guests a favour, and take your white wine out of the fridge at least thirty minutes before you pour it. This way, you can still enjoy a pleasantly cool wine, but you’ll also get the benefit of experiencing the wine as the vintner intended it to be drunk.

So, what do you think? Are you a stickler for the rules, or do you also like to go against the grain? Do you think we’ve missed out on any outdated rules that belong in the bin of history? Let us know in the comments!

Benjamin Norris

Benjamin Norris

Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris is a wine critic and journalist from Bristol, UK. He is a lover of life's finer things and has a particular fondness for Alsatian and Eastern European wines, which he fell in love with during his three years working in Budapest.
Benjamin Norris

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1 Comment
  • Connie Chaplin May 13, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    Really enjoy not only the excellent wines that are delivered via “post” but reading the blogs, introductions to new winery’s and delicious selections you choose.
    Thank you!
    Truly enjoy Canadian wines and believe we should support the industry

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