A few weeks back a leading national newspaper published a piece by its long standing, well respected but rather traditional wine critic. My nearest and dearest predicted correctly and a little embarrassingly that it would have me spluttering into my skinny-chai-hipster-latte. Called something like “All You Need to Know About Wine”, and to be fair to the writer, it was one of those articles that tries to cram a lifetime of learning into a double page spread.
But it set me thinking about the things I think are important and, as a riposte to that article, here are three of them:
Decanting is not dead - contrary to what the article said, claiming that a “quick swirl” in the glass was all that was required and that as soon as a bottle is opened the wine deteriorates. Er, no. It changes for sure but deterioration comes quite a lot later. One of the consequences of working in wine is always having quite a few unfinished bottles open at once. I know, tough hey. It is a constant joy and mystery to see how wines develop over time. Some do fall apart quite quickly, drying out, losing fruit and getting fusty but often wines that are not giving a lot away when first opened or that smell less fruity, more swampy, will blossom a few hours or days after having the cork pulled or screwcap cracked.
Chucking a young wine, red or white, in a decanter or even a jug (and the word ‘chucking’ is chosen carefully - not gentle pouring but rather up-ending the bottle and letting the wine gush out) is a slightly rude awakening for a wine that has been cooped up in a bottle for months or years but helps get it tasting its best pretty fast. I do treat old wines more gently to avoid mixing in any sediment that has formed in the bottle and because they are more fragile and need coaxing not klaxons to wake them. But how many of us get to drink wines that are really old?
Don’t always believe what you see - whether that’s on the side of a bus (!) or a bottle. A fantastic wine can be hidden behind a dodgy label but probably more often it’s the reverse. Heavy bottles with big punts in the bottom have no direct impact on the quality of the contents and can be just a way of adding gravitas through gravity and pounds to the selling price. Shipping in bulk and bottling closer to the market can be a great way of reducing a wine’s carbon footprint. While this is almost impossible for smaller producers and controlling quality by bottling at source is vital, there is no excuse for transporting kilos of glass across the world when something altogether lighter weight would do the job, just in order to “add value”.
A world class wine might be labelled simply as “Italian Red Wine”, “Vin de France” or similar either because the producer doesn’t conform to the rules of the region, they don’t want to be associated with an unfortunate reputation or just that they already have queues of consumers seeking out their wines based on their reputation alone so why be constrained by a set if rules they cannot change?
Be like Goldilocks - and don’t drink your wine too cold or indeed too warm but just right. Keeping wine refrigerated for a long time is actually pretty bad for it anyway and when you come to drink it you’ll struggle to taste much as the chill kills the aromas and flavour. At the other end of the spectrum, serving wine too warm makes it taste soupy, disjointed and more alcoholic.
Big, tannic reds do need to be at room temperature but more cool hallway than hot kitchen. Lighter reds and bigger whites are good with half an hour, maybe more, in the fridge. If in doubt aim for the middle ground at first and go from there. And use a decent, large glass. Honestly, it does make a difference.
Two to try:
Luis Canas, Rioja Blanco Fermentado en Barrica, Rioja Alavesa - This white wine contains a dollop of aromatic Malvasia grapes and was fermented in French oak barrels which adds a wonderful toasty complexity. Serve it too cold though and what you get is more tannin and less flavour.
Fattoria di Sammontana, Chianti Superiore San Firenze - This is one that will repay decanting. Splash it about a bit to let it breathe and the layers of fruit, hints of herbs and spices will unfurl.
Both wines available at Iron & Rose in Shrewsbury Market Hall and at Glouglou Wine Bar | Shop on Castle Gates.