Why Choosing the Second Cheapest Wine on the Menu Isn't Such a Good Idea

iStock.com/kupicoo
iStock.com/kupicoo

For those whose knowledge of wine is limited to whatever lessons they picked up while watching Sideways, it can be tempting to order a glass of the second-cheapest vino on the menu at bars and restaurants. According to this line of reasoning, you don't want to look cheap by choosing the least expensive wine—but at the same time, it doesn't make sense to order a pricey vintage red if you're not the kind of wine enthusiast who confidently throws around terms like "mouth-feel" and "hints of oak" and would therefore understand and appreciate the difference in quality.

Although this wine hack is widely observed, the Skimm points out why it isn't such a sound method. For one, restaurants are well aware of this customer habit and might even use it to their advantage by taking a bottle they're looking to get rid of and placing it in the second-cheapest slot. That could mean that you're getting a not-so-great bottle of wine and may have been better off ordering the cheapest one on the list.

"I can confirm that restaurants will occasionally reprice a wine that they need to move to make it the second-cheapest spot on the menu," sommelier Kirsten Vicenza tells Atlas Obscura. "It sells!"

And then there are the markups. According to Wine Enthusiast, the cheapest wines tend to have the highest markups, so while your bill may be lower than if you had ordered a top-tier wine, you're also getting the lowest value. The magazine recommends ordering a wine somewhere in the middle—perhaps the third or fourth cheapest wine—to get more bang for your buck.

This isn't a "hard and fast rule," though, as VinePair notes. Sommeliers will sometimes lower the price of a lesser-known wine to encourage customers to try it. If you're unsure what to order, it never hurts to ask for a recommendation.

[h/t Skimm]

The Reason Why Wine Bottles Have Dents in the Bottom

ForsterForest, iStock via Getty Images
ForsterForest, iStock via Getty Images

A lot of what you think you know about wine may actually be a myth, and that includes the purpose of the dent in the bottom of a bottle. While it served an important function centuries ago, the design feature today is cosmetic at best—and deceitful at worst.

According to Wine Spectator, the dimple raising up the floor of your wine bottle is actually called a punt. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, all wine bottles were handmade by glassblowers, and these punts were added to ensure they could stand upright. Today, most wine bottles are made by machines, and it would be easier to manufacture them with even bottoms that lay flat than it was 200 years ago. But because of tradition, the punt has endured.

The wine industry has found alternate uses for the archaic dent over the years. It creates a natural place to hold a wine bottle, and when pouring a glass, the proper technique is to rest your thumb in the bottle's indent. The punt can also be exploited to trick customers into thinking they're getting more than what they paid for. Two wine bottles stored next to each other on a shelf may appear to be the same size, but if one has a deeper dent, it actually contains less liquid.

The depth of a bottle's punt also used to be a marker of value, and some wine manufacturers continue to exaggerate the indents at the bottom of the glass to pass it off as high-quality. But as is the case with the heft or the color of your wine bottle, these cosmetic features have nothing to do with the caliber of the product inside.

The wine world feels a lot less intimidating when you realize a lot of its conventions are meaningless, like the rules that reds must be served with meat or that corks are better than twist caps. Here are some more wine myths to look out for.

[h/t Wine Spectator]

Graham Crackers Were Invented to Combat the Evils of Coffee, Alcohol, and Masturbation

tatniz/iStock via Getty Images
tatniz/iStock via Getty Images

Long before they were used to make s’mores or the tasty crust of a Key lime pie, graham crackers served a more puritanical purpose in 19th-century America. The cookies were invented by Sylvester Graham, an American Presbyterian minister whose views on food, sex, alcohol, and nutrition would seem a bit extreme to today's cracker-snackers. Much like the mayor in the movie Chocolat, Graham and his thousands of followers—dubbed Grahamites—believed it was sinful to eat decadent foods. To combat this moral decay, Graham started a diet regimen of his own.

Graham ran health retreats in the 1830s that promoted a bland diet that banned sugar and meat. According to Refinery29, Graham's views ultimately inspired veganism in America as well as the “first anti-sugar crusade.” He condemned alcohol, tobacco, spices, seasoning, butter, and "tortured" refined flour. Caffeine was also a no-no. In fact, Graham believed that coffee and tea were just as bad as tobacco, opium, or alcohol because they created a “demand for stimulation.” However, the worst vice, in Graham's opinion, was overeating. “A drunkard sometimes reaches old age; a glutton never,” he once wrote.

Graham’s austere philosophy was informed by the underlying belief that eating habits affect people’s behaviors, and vice versa. He thought certain foods were "overstimulating" and led to impure thoughts and passions, including masturbation—or “self-pollution,” as he called it—which he believed to be an epidemic that caused both blindness and insanity.

Illustration of Sylvester Graham
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Graham's views directly influenced Victorian-era corn flake inventor John Harvey Kellogg, who was born a year after Graham died. Like his predecessor, Kellogg also believed that meat and some flavorful foods led to sexual impulses, so he advocated for the consumption of plain foods, like cereals and nuts, instead. (Unsurprisingly, the original recipes for both corn flakes and graham crackers were free of sinful sugar.)

In one lecture, Graham told young men they could stop their minds from wandering to forbidden places if they avoided “undue excitement of the brain and stomach and intestines.” This meant swearing off improper foods and substances like tobacco, caffeine, pepper, ginger, mustard, horseradish, and peppermint. Even milk was banned because it was “too exciting and too oppressive.”

So what could Graham's followers eat? The core component of Graham’s diet was bread made of coarsely ground wheat or rye, unlike the refined white flour loaves that were sold in bakeries at that time. From this same flour emerged Graham's crackers and muffins, both of which were common breakfast foods. John Harvey Kellogg was known to have eaten the crackers and apples for breakfast, and one of his first attempts at making cereal involved soaking twice-baked cracker bits in milk overnight.

Slices of rye bread, a jug of milk, apples and ears of corn on sackcloth, wooden table
SomeMeans/iStock via Getty Images

However, Kellogg was one of the few remaining fans of Graham’s diet, which began to fall out of favor in the 1840s. At Ohio’s Oberlin College, a Grahamite was hired in 1840 to strictly enforce the school’s meal plans. One professor was fired for bringing a pepper shaker to the dining hall, and the hunger-stricken students organized a protest the following year, arguing that the Graham diet was “inadequate to the demands of the human system as at present developed.” Ultimately, the Grahamite and his tyrannical nutrition plan were kicked out.

Much like Kellogg’s corn flakes, someone else stepped in and corrupted Graham’s crackers, molding them into the edible form we now know—and, yes, love—today. In Graham’s case, it was the National Biscuit Company, which eventually became Nabisco; the company started manufacturing graham crackers in the 1880s. But Graham would likely be rolling in his grave if he knew they contained sugar and white flour—and that they're often topped with marshmallows and chocolate for a truly decadent treat.

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