Wine Legends: the 9 most misleading myths busted by WinebyAlex

By Alexia Hupin @WINEBYALEX
Alexia hupin
Who is winebyalex?

A French wine educator, blogger and entrepreneur who is one of our educators for our WSET courses at Onshore Cellars. We asked her to bust some common and misleading wine legends for us and here is what she had to say!


We have all heard at least one of them. Learning wine can be complicated for beginners. There are so many grape varieties, wine styles, wine words... no wonder some wine myths were created along the way! Unfortunately, these misconceptions can interfere in your wine journey. To help you enjoy your wine properly, let's bust these wine legends now!

Wine Legend n°1 - Sulphites give you headaches

The Truth - Dehydration gives you headaches

Several elements in wine can induce dehydration: tannins and sugar/alcohol.

Tannins are naturally occurring compounds that exist in grape skins, seeds and stems. They create a drying sensation in your mouth. If you are susceptible to wine headaches avoid high tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Malbec.

Your body needs lots of water to process sugar and alcohol in wine. If you are not hydrated enough, it will take the water it needs anyway. You will be dehydrated even more and probably get a headache. Not drinking enough water when you drink (too much) wine can cause headaches. Also avoid sweet wines that contain high amounts of sugar and high alcohol wines. 

Sulphites are not the culprits here. They are naturally resulting from alcoholic fermentation in small amounts. Winemakers generally add SO2 to protect the wines from oxidation and microbial spoilage. They can cause an allergic reaction, like asthma symptoms, but not necessarily headaches.

The only solution is to drink responsibly and stay hydrated!

Wine Legend n°2 - Pair red wine with red meat and white wine with fish

The Truth - Pair according to your personal preferences

Food and wine pairing is often presented as a complicated science. It's true that some ground rules can improve your pairings. However, keep in mind that most meals pair with most wines for most people!Of course, red wine with red meat and white wine with fish works. But it's also fun to try new pairings and make unexpected discoveries!

For instance, I enjoy light red wines (Pinot Noir and Gamay) with fish like salmon, red tuna or cod meals. Full-bodied and oaked white wines (New World Chardonnay, Pessac-Léognan and Pinot Gris) pair beautifully with red meat like grilled lamb or beef tataki/carpaccio.

Wine Legend n°3 - Screw caps mean bad wines

The Truth - Screw caps better preserve fruit aromas and flavours of your wine.

Natural corks have been the favourite wine closure for centuries. Everyone loves the romantic ritual of opening the bottle with a 'pop'. Screw caps are stigmatized and most people think that wines sealed this way are cheap, low quality and cannot age. However, quality is more consistent with screw caps. Unlike cork, there is no problem with cork taint. They were actually introduced in the late 1950s as a way to solve quality problems, like TCA.

The cap is made of aluminum with a polyethylene or tin coating that creates a very tight seal. Depending on the type of coating, it can either completely prevent the infiltration of oxygen or allow the exchange of small quantities, imitating natural corks for ageing wine on longer periods.

Screw-capped bottles also provide more assurance that the wine inside them will be the same quality in your glass as it was in the winemaker’s hands. Plus, they're easier to open and to store!

Screw caps were widely adopted by New World regions, like Australia and New Zealand (70% and 90% of wine is closed this way respectively, from the cheapest to the best bottles!). However, due to years of misleading stereotypes, most Old World regions like France haven't really introduced it despite its benefits. 

Wine Legend n°4 - Always sniff the cork

The Truth - Always smell the wine

You've probably seen sommeliers sniffing the cork before pouring wine in your glass. They do this in order to detect 'cork taint'. Due to TCA (a molecule called trichloroanisole), this wine fault is detected in musty, moldy and wet cardboard aromas. When the wine is corked, you do not smell fruitiness or freshness in it. Cork taint is mostly due to corks attacked and damaged by TCA. That's why it's the advised to sniff the cork. 

However, cork taint may have impacted the wine below your TCA threshold, or not at all. So you won't even notice it. It can also come from other sources (contact with contaminated materials, chlorine,...) and then only be detected in the wine.

So always smell and taste the wine. It is the only way to make sure it isn't corked!

Wine Legend n°5 - Putting a spoon in an open Champagne bottle will keep the bubbles

The Truth - Use a Champagne stopper and keep the bottle in your fridge

I don't know where this idea came from! Lots of people do this but there's neither basis nor evidence that it works!

Gérard Liger-Belair, professor at University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and a leading researcher on Champagne bubbles, said ‘We’ve already done several experiments on this, and a spoon has no action on keeping dissolved CO2 in sparkling wine.’

A much more reliable method is to use a Champagne stopper that provides a tight seal. Also keep the bottle as cold as possible, in the fridge. In these conditions an open bottle can keep some fizz for a few days. 

Wine Legend n°6 - Expensive wine is always better

The Truth - No, expensive wine doesn't always taste better

It's more complicated than that. Lots of elements affect the price of your bottle of wine! 

Basic costs play a huge role in the price tag. Think about the grapes, price of land, production materials (bottle, cork, label,...), winemaking process, maturation, labor, administrative and marketing costs and the route to market (directly to consumers, via distributors, retailers,...). The perceived value of the wine is also important: producer reputation, appellation, vintage, supply and demand,…

A more expensive wine will typically be aged longer and in higher quality barrels, released on the market later. It will come from smaller areas, lower yielding grapes, well-established regions, put in expensive packaging and sought-after by consumers. 

However, you won't necessarily like it just because it's more expensive! Maybe your preference will go towards a more simple or fruitier wine at a lower price point. It all depends on your personal taste and preference! 

Wine Legend n°7 - Champagne should be served in flutes

The Truth - Serve your Champagne in a wine glass, it is wine after all!

Flutes have been used for centuries for good reasons. They send a festive signal and they do a good job keeping Champagne's effervescence for a longer period than wider glasses. However, flutes can limit the best wines' intensity and complexity…

Wider glasses, like white wine or similar, enhance fine Champagne much better. More oxygen intake allows the wine to breathe and reveal all its layers. You experience more aromas and more pleasure!

So it depends on the Champagne style, but also on your personal preference. I would stick to the flute for simple non-vintage Champagne, but go for a wider glass to taste fine vintage Champagne! 

Wine Legend n°8 - Sweet wines should be paired with dessert

The Truth - Yes... but not only! 

They can both be paired with many other things. Sweet wines work well with cheese, spicy food, sweet n sour, charcuterie and Asian cuisine. Residual sugar counteracts the spices' burn. Plus the wines' high acidity cuts through the richness of the food and cleanse your palate. My favourite pairings are Alsace Gewurztraminer and Thaï pork, Sauternes and blue cheese, off-dry Riesling and spicy prawn salad.

Desserts also make beautiful pairings with red wines (figs and Mendoza Malbec, strawberries and Chinon), rosé (fruits and Tavel, macaroons and Côtes de Provence) and white wine (Far Breton and Loire Chenin Blanc, white chocolate and Sauvignon Blanc).

Wine Legend n°9 - White wine should be served iced cold

The Truth - It depends on the style of white wine!

Yes, some white wines should be served iced cold:

Sparkling wine between 6 and 10°C. Low temperatures reduce pressure inside the bottle. It's easier to open it without loosing wine.

Sweet wine between 6 and 8°C. Low temperatures decrease the impression of sweetness and enhance the acidity of the wine. It seems more balanced and pleasant to drink. 

However, other types of white wines should be served at higher temperatures:

Light- to medium-bodied unoaked wine between 7 and 10°C. Chilling the wine enhances the perception of primary aromas and flavours (flowers, fresh fruits, minerality,...), which is the focus of this wine style, while opening it up. It's easier to smell its aromas. 

Full-bodied oaked wine between 10 and 13°C. Serving the wine lightly chilled unravels more mature and complex aromas and flavours (riper fruits, spices, oak,...), which is the focus of this wine style, while preserving its primary aromas.

Also keep your personal preference in mind!

There you have it: the 9 most misleading wine legends busted and explained for you! How many of these have you fallen for? Have you encountered other wine legends?

Cheers, Alexia Hupin DipWSET aka WinebyAlex 

If you would like to take your wine knowledge to the next level, WSET Level 2 Award in Wines is perfect. Check out our courses here!