5 Disturbing Myths About Wine and the Truths They Contain

Almost every day a news story appears, qualifying wine as either a cure all or as something harmful to our health. Today we wanted to look at some of the most disturbing, strange, and sometimes true aspects of wine.


1. Fermenting wine contains bugs, rodents

Last week a Huffington Post blogger wrote about the Bronco Wine Company, makers of the infamous “two buck chuck” wine sold at Trader Joe’s, claiming that the harvesting machine captures dead animals, unripe and rotten fruit, and insects as it fills bins with grapes. He goes on to say:

And guess what? You think there’s going to be any sorting when that truck arrives at the winery (or should I say processing facility)? Nope. Everything, and I do mean everything (including all those unripe grapes, rotten grapes, leaves, stems, birds, rodents, and insects) gets tossed into the crusher and transferred to large tanks to ferment.

Not surprisingly, the CEO of Bronco, Fred Franzia came forth and dispelled this claim as complete hearsay, claiming the blogger has never visited a vineyard and knows nothing about the production process. He explained that while they do use machines to harvest row upon row of grapes, the occasional twig or small animal gets sorted out before going into fermentation.

The truth: In our experience, most boutique wines are harvest by hand and don’t include such things as rats, birds, insects or twigs. They’re looking for only the premium, ripe fruit, and through rigorous hand sorting they filter out unwanted debris. That said, it’s not entirely false either. Large producers make millions of cases of wine each year and depending on the quality control it’s conceivable that a mouse, bird, spider, or any number of other objects aside from grapes could find their way into the fermentation tanks.

2. Sulfites are bad, mkay?

Well, not really. Perhaps one of the most contested myths surrounds the controversy of sulfites in wine. Look at any label sold in the US and you’ll see a discreet “Contains sulfites” warning, something that doesn’t appear in other places such as Australia. A good number of folks claim sulfites cause allergies and in fact somewhere between 5–10% of the population displays a sensitivity to sulfites, with less than 1% exhibiting a serious allergic reaction. However, their presence in wine is unlikely to cause red wine headaches or any cause for concern in general. Sulphur has been used for many years to aid in the preservation of food, yet with the growing interest in organic and “natural” wines it seems that many consumers remain willfully ignorant of their actual purpose and effect.

Neo-prohibitonists petitioned the FDA in the 1980s to require the sulphite warning on wines, despite the fact that other foods like soy sauce, pickles and fruit juice contain many times more sulphur than our favorite form of grape juice. That sulfites are a naturally occurring molecule, and our bodies produce as much as 10x the amount of sulphites found in a bottle of wine every day seems lost on those folks. Even the so-called “natural” wines contain a small amount, in the range of 10–30 PPM. The simple explanation is that sulphites are an unavoidable byproduct of fermentation.

The truth: Irrational fear over sulphites in wine are unfounded and bring little merit. Given the naturally occurance of sulphites in our bodies and in other food products, there’s little to worry about.

3. Red wine gives me headaches

How many times have you heard someone utter this? Numerous reasons have been postulated as to the cause of headaches from red wine. Some claim the presence of sulphites causes it, but as we explained above that’s not the case. Since white wines usually contain 25% more sulphites it doesn’t seem to make sense. Others point the finger at tannins, which are found in much higher numbers in red wine. Perhaps some truth lies there, but the claim has yet to be scientifically proven.

The real cause of headaches from red wine comes from histamines, which are present in higher numbers in red wine. These can cause blood vessels to swell, which in turn puts more pressure on certain areas of the body, such as the forehead. Another plausible explanation has to do with the substance Tyramine, another compound that can cause an increase in blood pressure. It is however present in both red and white wine, so the claim that only red wine causes headaches doesn’t hold much water if we blame tyramine.

The truth: The most likely culprit for headaches from red wine comes from histamines, which can build pressure in the body.

4. Merlot is boring

Much in the same way the movie “Jaws” ruined the reputation of sharks everywhere, ever since that movie “Sideways” came out, Merlot took a beating. This myth is quite subjective to a certain degree — after all, Merlot is one of the most popular red varietals, and has been crafted to be a straightforward drinking wine without much personality. There are however, some large exceptions to that generalization.

Despite the general assumption that Merlot is softer, more one-dimensional that it’s Cabernet brother. That’s not always the case, and in fact some of the most memorable wines I’ve had were great Merlots. Case in point, Keenan’s Spring Mountain Merlot, Markham’s Estate Merlot fromYountville, and COHO’s Michael Black Vineyard offering; each brings enough complexity and depth to the table to fool the average wine drinker into thinking they might be Cabs. Petrus makes one of the world’s most prestigous wines, and it’s a Merlot.

Many producers who make strong Merlot blend in a small percentage of Cabernet, Petit Verdot, or Cabernet Franc to give it added complexity, a fuller flavor, and a bit more grip.

The truth: Merlot has been subjected to a sort of boring, run of the mill normalization by many producers, yet the varietal can be equally, if not more compelling than Cabernet.

5. Expensive wine is good wine

While it might seem logical that more expensive wines bring higher quality, much of that perception is just that — a perception. Consumers tend to think that spending more money gets them ahigher quality product, but that’s largely psychological. Of course many of the 95–100 point wines cost well over $100 on the low end, and they probably do taste better than most others. But you can find plenty of bottles in the $20–50 range that will compete, or even show up those triple-digit offerings. At Club Veritas, we stock many expensive first growths from Bordeaux and “Cult cabs” from Napa, but our main focus is finding great wines that don’t break the bank.

Today’s winemakers bring a full arsenal of techniques with them, employing science, intuition, and good ol’ farming practices to create highly structured wines. Many of today’s most interesting and delicious wines come from regions outside France and Napa Valley. We’ve seen a rise in non-traditional varietals and blends containing several kinds of grapes that at one point would never come together in a glass. The wine industry has both devolved and evolved in a sense, where the rise of small boutique producers gives way to experimentation and the traditional labels that once garnered all the prestige fall short in the eyes of the modern consumer.

The truth: Great wines can be found at any price point, and taste is largely a subjective matter.
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