“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.”
— Katharine Hepburn
This is certainly true when it comes to rules of the wine world. Drink pink only when the weather is warm, never put ice in your wine, decant only reds, no white wines with gamey meat — we could go on. The rules are many and the list is endless. It can behoove you to know the wine rules for an elevated sipping experience, but also know that it can be absolutely delightful (and delicious) to break the rules at times.
There’s only one rule you must absolutely follow: Sipping wine should be pleasurable.
So go ahead and chill your red wine if it makes you happy. Or decant a floral white to feel the heady scent envelope your senses. In short, be non-conformist. Whether it’s learning the rules, breaking them, or making up your own new ones — keep it fun.
Need some inspiration? We spoke to 10 wine industry insiders, winemakers and sommeliers about their favorite ways to break the rules.
Chris Horn | Director of Liquids at the Heavy Restaurant Group, Co-Author of Cook + Cork, Seattle, Wash.
The age-old experience of a young tannic red wine with a properly seared cut of steak will never go away because it works. (The interaction between fat and tannin is hard to deny.) But sometimes when I’m grilling in the summer, the idea of pulling the cork on a big ol’ bottle of red wine sounds terrible. (Personally, red wine starts to lose its appeal when the thermometer pushes past 80 degrees.) So the next time it’s hot, and there’s meat on the grill, grab a chilled bottle of Champagne. Instead of relying on tannin to bind with fat, we’re introducing scrubbing bubbles to keep your flavor engine clean while introducing two amazing flavor accelerators: sugar and acid. I don’t expect this pairing to take off in steak houses across the country, but I would hope that it could invade your backyard this summer when it’s too hot for Cabernet.
Amanda Cannon Winquist | Co-owner, Normandie Restaurant, Portland, Ore.
In the wine world it can feel like there is a rule for everything. Don’t drink your wine too young, keep it at an exact temperature, in the right glass and never mix red wine with fish. But as a small business owner of a seafood-heavy restaurant, I have found that a lot of these rules are meant to be broken. When opening Normandie, we were very tight on space, so one decision I had to make was to consolidate our wine glasses. I do not serve champagne in flutes and I really think they are a waste of space. Instead, we use larger Riesling glasses to allow for better aromatics. This glass highlights the beauty of the wine rather than keeping the bubbles tight. At home I use stemless wine glasses for most of my wines because they fit just right in my dishwasher and are better at avoiding my dog’s tail!
Lacey Lybecker | President & Owner, Cairdeas Winery, Manson, Wash.
We sip white wine all year round. We bottle our Marsanne and Roussanne in August just so we have an excuse to sip into fall and winter. We also sip red wine all year — a light red can be perfect for a hot summer day. Also, there’s nothing wrong with sipping white wine from a Yeti or similar coffee mug — especially on the boat or at the beach. Last but not the least: Every day is a special occasion and we never shy away from opening a special bottle any day of the week. Life is too short!
Guy Devillier | Restaurateur, That’s Amore Italian Cafe, Seattle, Wash.
I love my pizza with sparkling wine. There’s something about the bubbles and the sinfully greasy pizza that just sings! And of course, there’s the silliness aspect of the special-occasion wine being matched with unpretentious food. A rosé prosecco with hints of basil will make for a great pairing with Margherita pizza. But it was a Ferrari Brut pairing with an all-meat pizza that introduced me to this joy. Picture this: Sitting on the living room floor, a huge pizza box in front, taking slugs directly from the bottle in one hand while balancing a folded piece of loaded pizza in the other. It is such a happy pairing and would be easy to overindulge on both ends.
Morgan Lee | Co-Owner & Winemaker, Two Vintners, Woodinville, Wash.
The most important thing is to find joy in the wine you’re sipping, the food you’re eating and the people that you are sharing life with. I am a firm believer that if it makes you happy, then that is exactly how you should be drinking that wine. My mother-in-law doesn’t really drink wine but sometimes she will have a bit with us. When she does, she pours it into her tea or Diet Coke. Sounds awful? I’m certain that it is — but it also gives her joy! I also make house wine for a local chain of Thai restaurants. I make Cabernet and Chardonnay for them. Most traditional rules would say that Thai food and Cabernet Sauvignon don’t work together but judging by how much Cabernet they go through one would have to say that the ‘rules’ don’t apply to them. Five-star Tom Yum noodle soup and Washington Cabernet gives you joy? Sure, why not?!
Rachael Horn | Winemaker & Author, Owner AniChe Cellars, Underwood, Wash.
I don’t really follow rules much! Here are a few examples: I put ice in my rosé and Albariño, and I like to muddle some mint in my Albariño, too! Cava and potato chips are one of my favorite food pairings. Might not be a rule breaker and most definitely is uncouth, but even more certainly: simply delish. I chill heavy red wines during the summer to make them more palatable with BBQ. I also put still white wine into my spritzer and serve it over fruit and ice. I love Sauvignon Blanc this way. Lastly, I also blend wines at the table — “This Merlot is missing a finish but has lovely acid and a high mid palate. This particular Cabernet has great body and tannin, but lacks a mid palate and acid.” Viola! I blend them to make something divine!
Collin Nicholas | Mixologist & Owner, Pink Rabbit Bar, Portland, Ore.
While I enjoy the rich traditions that surround wine, there are a few great ways of challenging convention with the way you use wine in a recipe. Wine is no stranger to cocktail menus. I am constantly looking for unique ways of incorporating wine while building a menu in an intentional way. Complex, diverse and sometimes funky — there is limitless potential to develop wine-based ingredients for cocktails. Not only does wine offer an inherent fruit quality, it can also lend structure, acidity and a multitude of other nuances to your final product. This is also a fantastic way of avoiding wine waste by transforming unconsumed wine into a fun, more stable ingredient to enjoy in any no-proof or full-proof beverage.
Lyndsay Dyk | Founder & Publicist at Field Day PR, Portland, Ore.
Wine is a product of place that’s made to be savored. Wine ‘rules’ and recommendations can help folks enjoy that wine with intention but, on the flip side, some recommendations get locked into place without questioning — like wine temp! Generally speaking, it’s recommended to serve white wines slightly warmer than fridge temperature, between 49-55 degrees fahrenheit, and red wines slightly slightly cooler than room temperature, between 62-68 degrees fahrenheit. But in my house, I love to chill down red wines — especially anything with more acid and less tannins — in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. And if I have a white wine that has a lot of structure alongside its minerality and acidity, like a Brooks Estate Riesling, I prefer to drink that close to room temperature! At the end of the day, serving temperatures are really a matter of personal preference.
Sarah Murdoch | Director of Communications, Oregon Wine Board, Portland, Ore.
I always drink a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon after a margarita (rocks, salt, fresh lime and Patron Silver). You’re not supposed to mix liquor and wine but this tastes so dang good to me. When at home, I always drink out of stemless glasses. I am a bit clumsy and hate breaking glasses. With a big cat and a teenager walking around in my home, stemless is the way to go. The rule is never to use stemless as your hand warms up the bowl of the glass. However if I set my glass down anyway then it doesn’t get super heated.
Christopher Sawyer | Sommelier, Consultant & Educator, Sawyersomm.com, Sonoma County, Calif.
A phenomenal pairing that I created in collaboration with Chef Janine Falvo springs to mind when I think about steering clear of traditional wine rules. It has been one of our most memorable pairings till date. We paired Ahi Tuna with a bold Cabernet Sauvignon. The Ahi Tuna was cooked medium-rare, was red on the inside, and coated with espresso on the outside. The espresso bought an amazing intensity and vigor to the dish which matched the wine perfectly. A lot of times it is just about really knowing your ingredients and flavors. When it comes to grilling, it is not quite as simple as red meat with red wine. How are you cooking your meat? The tenderness, the smokiness, the barbeque sauce and a lot of other elements factor in when trying to create a great pairing.