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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products and availability have changed considerably over the past few years which will probably make anything I do know out of date.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 -
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.
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.
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.
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.
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