Drinks

Wines of Wisdom

Winemaker Charles Smith sets the record straight on some persistent wine myths
Photo: Tasting Table
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A former rock-band manager who not only taught himself to make wine but broke branding ground with his outré labels, Charles Smith is something of a rebel in a historically genteel industry—and he's got numerous Winemaker of the Year awards to show for it. Who better then to convince you to buck conventional wine wisdom? We ask the founder of K Vintners and Charles Smith Wines, along with the soon-to-open Jet City Winery in Seattle, to set the record straight on the most egregious wine myths out there.

Myth: Serve red wine at room temperature.
Considering how many restaurants do exactly that, we understand if you aren't convinced. But allow Smith to explain: "That rule was based on the rooms of 18th-century Europe," before central heating existed. "Now rooms are 75 degrees. That's a terrible temperature to drink a beautiful red wine; it will be so volatile out of the glass." Instead, he says, "serve reds slightly cool and whites slightly chilled," per these guidelines.

Myth: Champagne belongs in flutes.
"They look wonderful, they're nice for celebrations, but flutes aren't really what you want for drinking," Smith promises. "You're cramming those bubbles into a tiny space; the fizz becomes intense and aggressive instead of gently luxurious." Don't believe him? Then believe the Champenois themselves, who typically drink Champagne out of regular wine glasses. "Why? Because it's wine," Smith says.

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Myth: Swirl your glass before sipping.
"Winemakers are always talking about minimal intervention, using the gentlest methods possible," Smith says. If you then take the fruit of their painstaking labor and "swirl the bejeezus out of it, it's a violent action—like shaking a baby." Instead, "delicately tilt the glass and roll the wine. It kind of settles in the glass, finding its comfort zone," Smith explains. "You've already vigorously poured it; that's all it needs to aerate beautifully."

Myth: White wine goes with fish; red wine goes with meat.
"I love swordfish with red wine from Southern Italy; the Germans have Riesling with everything," and, ultimately, Smith says, there are so many exceptions to traditional pairing rules that you may as well "drink what you like with the food you like." But he does suggest you ask yourself one simple, common-sense question first: "Is the wine going to be more important that evening, or is it the food? One is going to lead, so one is going to have to follow." For instance, if lobster is the focus, a delicate rather than powerful wine should follow; if a fine Bordeaux leads, French cuisine is a likelier supporting partner than Korean.

Myth: Red Wine + Chocolate = BFF
Contrary to widespread belief, intensely sweet chocolate is dry red wine's worst enemy, according to Smith, who feels it's not even particularly friendly to dessert wines like Port. What does work with chocolate? Bubbles. "A nice, big glass of mineral water is so refreshing," he laughs. Or splurge on "a truffle and a beautiful glass of Champagne—how decadent." (Just remember: no flutes!)

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