8 Wine Rules You Should Break

Find out which classic "wine rules" are meant to be broken.
By: Alex Van Buren
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Moment of Truth

Wine "rules" exist for a reason: They guide us in a pinch. We know that that whites should be chilled and that we shouldn't pair a big fat steak with a pale Pinot Grigio, but on occasion these well-known truisms can hamper our enjoyment, too. We reached out to Bryan Flewelling, professional oenophile and wine director for Big Tree Hospitality's three Portland, Maine, restaurants to hear which rules are worth breaking.

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Rosé Is Only for Summer

"Oh, completely not," says Flewelling. Depending on the producer, good French rosé — he is partial to some that employ Grenache grapes, as well as those with more of a magenta hue, which tend to be more tannic and have good acidity — are ideal for autumnal drinking. "Rosé is not made to be laid down and drunk in 10 years," he reminds us. So seek out darker rosés, such as those made with Zweigelt, a grape from Austria, which can typically stand up to fall’s heartier pastas, soups and vegetable tarts.

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Sweet Wines Are Only for Dessert

When customers tell him they loathe sweet wines, Flewelling asks whether they also hate sweet desserts. "There's the sweetness of the Twinkie, and then there's the sweetness of an apple," he parries. "Why has wine been the single area where you can't abide sugar?" He'd point out that a German Riesling has just as much acidity as it does sugar, and can be fantastic with Asian cuisine. It provides "a yin-yang balance" to spice, he notes, "like a sweet-tart candy."

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You Have to Decant a "Big" Red Wine

"Aerating a wine makes a difference no matter what the wine is," says Flewelling, "although there are some that are so delicate I wouldn’t aerate them. I don't decant old bottles, because they've usually had enough time to mature." The point of decanting, he explains, is to "wake up" what are called "esters" — compounds in wine that react to oxygen. He'll often decant young wines that need the help, but a lot depends on the producer: If a vintner lets grapes hang on the vine well past ripeness, all that oxidation happens right on the vine, so you won't want to aerate at all. "Some wines are perfect after the first day; some suck after the first hour," Flewellling says.

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Only White Wine Goes with Fish

"The whole reason people don’t drink red wine with fish is the presence of tannins [in wine]," explains Flewelling. "Those astringent tannins can make fish — which typically has not much fat — taste metallic." So although he wouldn’t bust out an "aggressively" tannic wine such as a Barolo, the right fish could do nicely with Pinot Noir, Gamay or Beaujolais (as long as it's not too tannic). "Tannins and fats are great friends," he says, so if you have a fattier fish, such as salmon, you might be able to be even more adventurous with red wine pairings.

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Cook Only with a Wine You'd Drink

"Oh, no, quite the opposite," says Flewelling with a laugh. "For me, I want to drink the wine I drink in its entirety! All I'm looking for in a cooking wine is either that it has the acidity that I want or … the unctuousness that I want." Think about, he suggests, what's left when the alcohol cooks off. When cooking mussels, you'll want a bright, high-acid wine — such as Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet — to contribute acidity to the finished dish.

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Whites Should Be Ice-Cold; Reds Should Be Room-Temperature

"Definitely not," says the pro. "I like to drink my whites very close to room temperature (unless it's Albarino, which I love a little above fridge temperature)." When white wine is too warm, its acidity doesn't come out very much; but don't overchill it, which can mask its flavors. And consider cooling off your reds, too: "When you chill red wine, the fruit character comes out a little more. In Pinot, Gamay, the fruit character pops." Ten to 15 minutes in the fridge should do the trick.

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Always Order Pinot Noir with Duck

"I don't like dogmas of any kind, really," says Flewelling with a chuckle. "Totally not. Duck is really unctuous and velvety. Get a great Merlot and it's silky." Or you can go with Cru Beaujolais, which is a Beaujolais that's town-specific. He's partial to Fleurie Beaujolais, which "isn't as muscular and broad-shouldered" as some.

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Never Order the Cheapest (or Second-Cheapest) Wine on the Menu

There's some truth to this rule, but it's flawed: "Usually the less expensive wines on the menu are the ones that are marked up the most," says Flewelling, "making the biggest margins for restaurants." If there's a $300 wine on the menu, it's more likely it's been marked up by 100 percent, as opposed to cheap wines, which might be marked up by as much as 400 percent. "It really matters what you're looking for," Flewelling says. "Don't buy a $20 wine and expect gymnastics. The sweet spot for me is between $60 and $70." That said, he'll routinely ask customers willing to pay $100 for a bottle whether they'd be as content spending $50. The vino pro himself doesn't buy into price stigma. "There are plenty of $400 bottles of wine I wouldn't pay $10 for. I'll buy $6 wholesale bottles of French wine — such as La Vieille Ferme rosé — seven days a week," he says. Why? Simple: "It's delicious."

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