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bunch of grapes


I am no wine expert and, indeed, tastes, opinions, products and availability have changed considerably over the past few years which will probably make anything I do know out of date.


When buying wine you can either buy a relatively cheap wine (and these days some of these are extremely good) but they are designed to be drunk immediately.  Alternatively you can buy a quality wine and store it.  As good wine improves for a number of years, stays at a peak and then declines, the idea is to buy it on the way up, store it until it reaches its peak.  I don't know how one is supposed to know when it has reached it's peak though! The other option, of course, is to buy it at its peak, but this is very costly.


Most wines are now sold ready for drinking and do not need to be left to mature, however, most will improve in flavour if kept for a while before drinking if stored in the right conditions, with the exception of very light-bodied or cheap red wines.

Given the right conditions the length of time a wine should keep varies with its type and year of production.  The weather affects the acidity and tannin content of grapes and these, in turn, affect the way it keeps.  An ordinary wine from a good year may keep as long as a good wine from a poor year. As we are not all wine experts the best idea is to seek help and advice from a good wine merchant.

Some rough rules to remember are that -

  • not all wines improve with keeping
  • Plonk stays plonk no matter how long you keep it (in fact it gets worse)
  • A new Beaujolais is designed for a short life and needs to be drunk within six months, longer than this and it will taste like vinegar.
  • Among good wines the typical pattern of a good red Burgundy is 6 years maturing, 6 peak years and 6 gently declining.
  • Bordeaux takes longer than the same quality from Burgundy.   Probably 8 years for a good one and some may take as long as 15 years.
  • White wines mature faster and fade faster.
  • A good white Burgundy could be ready in 3 years, half the time of it's red counterpart and only sweet ones, like the famous Chateau Yquem develop with age.

To prevent premature ageing, store wines in a cool, dark place where the temperature is fairly even between 7 deg. C (45 deg. F) and 18 deg. C (64 deg. F).  A damp cellar is ideal but as not many of us have one of these, a ventilated cupboard near an outside wall*, a blocked-up fireplace or even a corner of a well insulated garage could be used.

* Your comments about storing wine in a closet that is near an outside wall is incorrect. The best place is a closet that is interior to the house. Those near an outside wall will fluctuate in temperature much more so than an interior one, and fluctuation in temperature is death to wines.

John Jones


Keep bottles on their sides in wine racks, so that the wine inside keeps the cork wet.  If the cork dries out it will allow air through to the wine which will oxidise and turn to vinegar.  It may also crumble into the wine upon opening. If you don't have a wine rack use empty cardboard boxes with dividers (some off licences/liquor stores give these away) or small lengths of drain pipes can be stacked on top of one another and used in the same manner.

What should be served with what?

As I said before, old conventions have recently been overturned, these days it is very much a case of have what you like, with what you like!   It is thought by experts, however, that claret goes best with light flavoured meat, Burgundy with stronger flavoured meat and a white wine is the best accompaniment for fish.

Opening wine bottles

Everyone seems to have their own favourite bottle opener.   The only ones which should not be used are those which apply air pressure.   They could cause an explosion if there was a flaw in the glass or the wine has formed its own gas.

An old cork may be impossible to remove.  A good tip from a top wine merchants is to break the neck of the bottle below the bottom of the cork.   To do this insert the corkscrew, wrap a cloth round the neck of the bottle and give a sharp blow to the ridge at the mouth of the bottle with the back of a large knife.   Care has to be taken with shards of glass, presumably you could pour the wine through clean muslin to catch any fragments.  Personally, I am not sure I would want to try this.

Wine decanting

Red wine should be served at room temperature. Uncork red wines an hour before drinking them;  this is called allowing the wine to 'breathe'.   This will develop the flavour.

It can be poured rapidly into a clean glass jug and then back into the bottle in order to get air right through the wine.  This is particularly useful if time is short but should not be done with a mature wine as it will disturb the sediment. If you fancy a glass for yourself, go ahead, this will leave a larger surface exposed to the air.

A good mature red should have sediment in the bottom of the bottle.  To avoid decanting the sediment the wine needs to be poured very slowly, in a continuous stream, with the light behind the bottle.  If it is to be returned to the bottle, rinse the bottle well and shake it thoroughly dry.  (a tip from a butler is to either use a hair dryer to ensure the bottle is completely dry or, alternatively, hold the bottle under a hot running top and the heat from the outside will dry the moisture inside - mind you this would ruin the label).

White and Rose wines should be served chilled for about 1-2 hours in a refrigerator, the better the wine, the shorter the time, but don't uncork them until you are ready to serve.  If time is short, wine chills quicker with the cork out. Don't over chill though as this starts to dull the flavour.

Pouring Wine

There is an old Victorian adage "hold a woman by the waist and a bottle by the neck", this is largely correct but largely overlooked.

The ideal wine glass should hold 6-8 oz. of wine (180ml - 240 ml) and curve inwards at the rim to hold the scent of the wine.  It should never be filled more than 1/3 of the way up.

Wine tips

To decide how many bottles you'll need for a dinner, a rule of thumb is a standard bottle is generally ample for three people and a half-bottle for two.
If you're serving two dinner wines remember this simple protocol -

White before red - young before old

A dry wine always precedes a sweet one as the sweet taste will linger.  Sweet wines should be served with desserts.
Pewter goblets are ideal for white wine as they can be chilled in the refrigerator with the wine and they will keep the wine cool no matter what the temperature of the air.
White and Rose wines should be served chilled but don't uncork them until you are ready to serve, unless time is short. It will also cool quicker if placed in a container which has 1/3 ice cubes and 1/3 cold water as this allows the bottle to sink into the ice cubes rather than balance on top.
Don't throw out wine left in the bottle (who am I trying to kid!) Recork and it will keep in the refrigerator for several days.  If not consumed after a few days it can be used in cooking and, eventually, you can use it instead of vinegar.
If a guest brings wine it may be worth asking if they would like it opened immediately or would they rather have it at their next visit.  A good wine should be allowed to rest for 24hours after travelling otherwise it won't be at its best.





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