Interesting facts and common misconceptions about wine
Here are a few simple principles that guide us when we are buying wine or drinking it.
1. You don’t have to spend a fortune to drink great wine
It’s true that some of the best wines of the world are prohibitively expensive. Sadly the fine wine market has spiralled out of control. Famous names that used to be (almost) within reach are now unaffordable. But even a great wine will very rarely cost more than £30 to make. By looking for the under-valued areas, the lesser-known grape varieties and the less publicised producers, you can find great wine at sensible prices.
2. Screw caps are a step forward
Corks are a problem. Approximately 1 in 10 corks have a bacterial infection that taints the wine it seals. Screw caps are, by contrast, consistently reliable. There is still an argument to be had about how fine will age over decades under screw cap, but as most wine is drunk within two or three years, there is no question which is better. Of course we all agree it’s sad to lose the time-honoured ritual of pulling those corks!
3. Temperature is important
Red wines really are best served at Victorian (rather than modern) room temperature. Of course the softness of a wine served at 22°c may feel lovely and warming on a cold winter’s day, but above about 19°c and the aromas and flavours (that the winemaker has tried so hard to encapsulate) will be lost.
Similarly with white wine, but in the other direction. The better the white, the more it will benefit from a little warmth to show you all its charms. Good quality whites are best served around 10°c, and you can watch them improve further as they sit in the glass.
However it’s undeniable that fizz is delicious when really cool (a domestic fridge should do the job, around 6°c). And sweet wines too can seem more refreshing at that sort of temperature.
If you do serve a wine cold, just give it a few minutes to warm when you pour it. You might find it blossoms given the chance.
4. Good glasses are (almost) as important as good wine
Some trendy London restaurants think it’s cool to serve all their wines in water tumblers. Well, all you have to do is to pour the same wine into four different glasses to see how differently you will experience both smell and taste. Of course wine buffs can get too fussy – and very boring – about this, with a different glass for every style. But really the key issues are simply:
A. Nice thin, clear glass.
B. Some form of bowl shape to funnel the aroma up to your nose.
C. A decent size, so that a modest glass only fills a third the bowl at most.
And then just accept that they will get broken occasionally – the investment is worth it.
4. Decanting is better than ‘breathing’
Much inexpensive wine is fine straight out the bottle. But there is also plenty more that does benefit from some air. It’s been shut up in that bottle for some time and it may well want to stretch its legs. But if you just take out the cork you gain little – there’s not much aeration through that tiny space. You need to slosh the wine out into a decanter or any old (clean) jug. There’s no strict rule of thumb as to which wines will benefit most, except to say that:
A. If it’s young it’s got more to gain. Decanting old wine is really only to get rid of sediment; the maturation has already been done in the bottle.
B. If a red is a bit tannic, or tough, then decanting is normally worth the effort. The best example of all is Barolo (followed by almost any other really powerful Italian red).
C. Decant these styles an hour in advance and serve them in big glasses so they can ‘breathe’ in the glass as well.
5. Storage is important if you want to keep wine
You don’t need to keep wine. You can just buy it as you need it. But it can be fun to hold onto some bottles to watch them mature (and we do give you on the website “cellar potential” for some that might benefit). But if you do so, please check first you have got the right place for them. Dark, not too dry and at a constant temperature – never above 14°c
and never below 6°c, with hopefully only very gradual changes within that range. And of course remember to have the bottles on their side.
6. Find something you like and then ‘experiment around the subject’
The world of wine is complicated – too complicated. Most people, understandably, can’t remember what they drank yesterday, let alone that interesting bottle they had at their friend’s house. But if you know you like a certain style then you might enjoy other things with a similar taste profile. That’s why we arrange the wines by style. If you like Sauvignon Blanc you might enjoy some other ‘crisp, dry whites’; if you like Shiraz we think you will enjoy many of our ‘full-bodied, rich reds’.
7. Buy from people you trust
We would like to think you will trust us – that’s what WineTrust100 is all about, the really careful selection of just 100 wines that we know are tasting brilliantly right now. But even if
you buy from others, look out for wines that are sold for their quality not for their price or their reputation.
8. Often Wine Retailers don’t do you a favour.
The wine world is sadly split between the cheap deals and the over-hyped. The former are wines that are bought solely with the intent of making a cheap offer at the desired time. Around 75% of wines sold by the big retailers are actually sold when ‘on offer’. Producers that won’t play ball aren’t included in the process. The latter (the world of ‘fine
wine’) is all about the puffing up reputations, a kind of wine ‘bling’. People with disposable cash seem easily caught up in the excitement of trying to get their hands on young wines that they haven’t tried, that are probably not even in bottle yet, but which seem to be getting ‘critical applause’. Well that’s maybe fine if you are paying around £15 a bottle on average and you are going to get free delivery and you can send the rest back if you don’t like it! But in reality that’s not the way the fine wine game works. Is it worth the hype? – in the end it’s your choice.