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Storing wine

The facts on storing wine are mostly common sense, but serving wine is more subjective. Nevertheless, we offer some guidelines in case they are of help.

Where Should I Store My Wine?
Cellars are ideal because the wine will be kept at a fairly constant temperature, out of direct sunlight and away from vibration. They are also usually slightly damp, which is not very good for cardboard boxes, but great if you have wines that require several years to age. This is because the higher humidity will help to prevent traditional corks from drying out.

What If I Don’t Have A Cellar?
No need to panic. Just follow the basic principles of: no direct sunlight, no vibrations (so don’t store your wine next to the washing machine) and a constant temperature. The ideal temperature is 12-14 C but if it’s a bit higher or lower don’t worry. It’s always a good idea to find out where your central heating pipes are! You will need to be more precise about the exact location if you have fine wines that will be stored for several years, but if you’re just looking for short-term storage for your daily tipple, don’t worry too much.

Should I Keep My Bottles Lying Down?
For long term storage, yes. However, bottles with screw-caps or plastic corks can be kept standing up. If you’re only storing your wine for a few weeks then it really doesn’t matter.

How Long Should I Keep My Wine?
What a question! This depends entirely on the individual wine. Most wine available “off the shelf” through the multiples is intended for fairly immediate consumption. Specialist merchants will carry a wider selection which will include wines for laying down. Always ask the seller for advice on when a particular bottle will be ready to drink. It varies so much that it would be unhelpful to generalise too much.

Do I Need To Prepare My Wine Before I Drink It?
You’ll need to get it to the right temperature. This varies according to the wine. The French criticise us for freezing our whites and cooking our reds – and they have a point really. Most people chill all whites to the point that the flavours become dumb and then put the reds on the radiator. It is important to remember that the idea of serving reds at “room temperature” stems from more than 100 years ago, before the days of central heating, when room temperature was much lower than it is today. If this is you, why not try your whites a little less cold and your reds a little cooler? Some lighter, lower tannin reds (like Beaujolais) are much better if you pop them in the fridge for half an hour. Similarly some full, complex dry whites should not be served at anything less than cellar temperature.

Can You Give Me A Rough Idea About What Temperature To Serve At?
The general range for wines is 4 to 18 degrees Centigrade. Sweet whites at 4-6. Dry whites 6-10, with the lighter, crisper whites nearer 6 and the fuller whites nearer 10. Bigger whites like white Burgundies should be at 12-14 with lighter reds like Beaujolais at the same sort of temperatures. Medium bodied reds at 14-16 and the biggest reds at 16-18. Just ask your wine merchant if you’re unsure.

Anything Else?
Some reds and ports will require decanting. This is because they have thrown a sediment. This is perfectly natural, but not much fun to drink! You may also want to decant a wine to let the air get to it. This will open up the flavours.

How Do I Decant A Bottle Of Wine/Port?
You’ve got to think ahead. Stand the bottle up the day or two before you want to drink it so that the sediment has time to settle in the bottom. The idea is to pour the wine into a decanter and leave all the gunk in the bottle – it’s always best to be able to look through the bottle so that you can tell when to stop. Professional wine waiters will place a lighted candle behind the bottle to look through the neck at the wine they are decanting. Stop pouring when you see the sediment about to leave the bottle. An alternative is to have a spare glass handy to pour some wine into from time to time to see if it is still clear. This way should you make a mistake only the wine in the glass is clouded with sediment and not that which you have successfully already decanted. The secret is to pour slowly and steadily with a continuous flow of wine. If you stop and restart you will disturb the sediment.

White With Fish & Red With Meat?
This is a reasonable place to start, but use it only as a guideline. These days pretty much anything goes – it depends what you like! Let common sense prevail and don’t try light, delicate whites with big rich dishes, equally, don’t put big reds with delicate foods. If in doubt, ask!

What Should I Do If I Don’t Finish The Bottle?
Either drink more, or ask us round – we‘ll help! No, seriously, there are some excellent wine preservation systems about to ensure that your wine will be in good nick when you return to it a day or so later. The trick is to exclude any oxygen since that is what will make your wine lose its freshness. Some provide a special stopper and a hand pump to pump out the air leaving a near vacuum, but this system isn‘t suitable for fizz. This will keep still wine fresh for a few days. Others replace the air in the bottle with inert gas (which is what winemakers use). This is usually a mix of Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide and is heavier than air. You spray it into the bottle and it settles to form a protective layer on the surface of the wine. With this system you wine will stay fresh for several days. It is perfect for stuff like Sherry and Port where the bottle could be open, but untouched, for some time.

Do I Need Special Glasses?
Not really, though wine does tend to drink better out of good glasses. We would recommend clear, stemmed, slightly fluted glasses (which hold the smell of the wine in better). An Austrian gentleman called Riedel would have you believe that each style of wine requires a separate glass (and his are £20+ each) because different shapes show wines differently and deliver them onto different parts of your tongue when you drink them. His glasses are extremely fine and do enhance the pleasure of drinking, but it is doubtful that you need to lash out that sort of money on decent glasses.

What Sort Of Corkscrew Is Best?
One with a hollow helix (spiral screw). Many corkscrews (like the ones with the two levers that rise up) do not have a hollow helix. Many have a screw that looks more like a drill bit, and which can behave in much the same way, just drilling out the middle of the cork and not drawing the whole thing. The older the wine, the more fragile the cork will be and the better the corkscrew you’ll need.

What Do Wines Of Interest Think?
As far as storing wine is concerned there are some firm “do’s and don’ts” but serving wine can be rather more subjective. The basic guidelines on temperature are worth following, and it’s worth learning how to decant properly. We have tried out several of the wine preservation systems domestically and they work well – should you ever have need to use them (ahem)! Some glasses are better than others but you shouldn’t have to spend £20+ per glass to find one that works well. Personal preference comes into play with corkscrews and if you’ve got one that works well, why change?

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