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Three wine myths, debunked 

Prepare to get schooled in sulfites, boxed wine and screw off caps.

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Myth:

Red wine has more sulfites than white, which is why I get a headache when I drink red wine.

Truth:

Red wine generally contains less sulfur dioxide than white wine, not more. If you get headaches from red wine but not white, this is likely because you are reacting to histamine, produced by lactic acid bacteria, which softens the acidity in wine and is present in greater quantities in red wine than white.

Wait, what?

White wine needs more preservatives than red because it is meant to be fresh-tasting, and sulfites prevent grape juice from oxidizing, which would dull that brightness. Sweet wine needs more sulfur to kill yeast that might kick-start unintended fermentation of the wine's residual sugar. High acid wine needs less sulfur because acidity is an unfriendly environment to unwanted microbes.

To avoid sulfites in wine, you can:

1. Choose organic. In most countries, the use of sulfur in organic wine is limited to half that in conventional wine.

2. Choose natural. Natural winemakers use sulfur only when absolutely necessary, and often not at all.

3. Choose Nova Scotia. Our cool climate produces very high acid wines, which need a lot less sulfur.

4. Avoid industrial. Wine made in huge quantities for cheap sale over long distances use grapes that are not necessarily healthy and therefore require a lot of sulfur to kill any rot or contamination.


Myth:

Bottles with corks indicate higher-quality wine; screw-caps are used for cheap wine.

Truth:

Although nothing beats the sultry, soft pop of a cork, most of the time screw caps are a perfectly appropriate wine closure and sometimes even a better choice.

Wait, what?

For wines meant to age, winemakers will always choose cork because it is believed that cork allows tiny amounts of oxygen into the bottle to react over time with the wine in important and not-entirely-understood ways. Plus, we expect cork in an expensive bottle of wine, and public perception is powerful.

Most wine, however, is made to be drank right away. Screw caps, made from aluminum with a sealing polyethylene disc, serve perfectly well and in blind tasting trials do a better job of preserving fresh fruit aromas. Completely eliminating oxygen transfer to wine risks the development of a rubbery aroma, so many winemakers are nervous about putting good wine under screw cap for decades.


Myth:

Boxed wine = bad wine

Truth:

Wine in a box can actually be higher quality than wine packaged in bottles.

Wait, what?

Packaging wine in boxes often means eliminating processing steps between the winery and the consumer, reducing opportunities for the wine's exposure to oxygen and contaminants. Wine in bulk—boxes containing significantly more wine than bottles—is also more temperature-stable, which preserves freshness and style.

Don't cellar your favourite boxed wine, though. Plastic bags don't have the material stability to store wine long-term. Wine quality can degrade and plastic leeching can be a health threat. Nevertheless, reputable winemakers are packaging more and more wines meant to be drunk young from boxes, Tetra Paks, cans and kegs for on-tap wine service as we become more accepting of—and enthusiastic about—alternatives to the bottle.

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