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Last month we covered vines, wine making, terroir and how to taste wine. Hopefully you’ll agree its not  complicated and if you managed to follow one or two of the  exercises you should be well on your way to being able to assess the quality of the wine with confidence. 

Wine and Food Matching

This month let’s start with wine and food matching, perhaps because so much tosh is written about it.

I remember when I was starting out on wine, ordering a bottle of sweet Sauterne with our fish! I didn’t know what Sauterne was; I knew it was French and it was white simply because it was under WHITE WINES on the menu. Seeing it was reasonably expensive I assumed it would be a great match for our fish. Perhaps I wouldn’t repeat but  it was far from a disaster and it did make us laugh. When the cheese arrived, the wine became particularly flavoursome with the salty cheese. 

Let’s face it, no one wants to appear foolish. 

The point is, don’t get too hung up trying to find out the perfect wine for any particular dish – it probably doesn’t exist. If you like rules, try heavy dishes with heavier wine and lighter dishes with lighter wines. Experiment with red wine and fish and  whites with chicken or curries. It’s up to you. I can’t recall a single meal spoilt because the wine and food were ill-matched! 

Letting Wine Breathe

Some people do and some people don’t. Very tannic red wine may  soften after a couple of hours of being opened. In a restaurant, of course, wine may be opened and served immediately so the whole thing is academic. If you have a decanter try decanting both reds and white an hour or two before tasting.  No harm will be done, and the wine may improve especially if they are young wine. 

Decanting Wines

Some wines do require decanting. No ifs, no buts. Older red wines and ports develop sediments and deposits and must be decanted even if it’s into another empty bottle of wine. Take care to leave some wines behind to ensure you are not decanting sediments as well! Nobody wants to drink cloudy wine which is exactly what will happen by not decanting older wines. This will spoil the wine.

Uncorking Wines

I hate bad corkscrews simply because they tear the cork when pulled. A good corkscrew has a very well-defined helical shape as if a thick wire had simply been twisted into the shape of a helix. A bad corkscrew ( the majority out there) has an ill-defined helix as if it had been stamped from a single piece of metal. Usually comes with two arms which you push down in expectations of cork coming up. Hopeless especially with older corks which will always disintegrate. Older corks may break irrespective of corkscrew used. It will occasionally happen and there’s nothing to be done. 

Serving Temperature of Wine

As a general I find rule red wines in are served too warm. The mantra has always been to serve red at room temperature – room temperature being pre-central heating days in Northern Europe! Around 16°C. Gibraltar climate will require reds to be cooled before serving especially in summer. A cooler and ice will soon sort that one out. White wines and sparkling wines should be served cool of course. Pros wont chill white wines when assessing them. It’s  easier to assess quality in warm wine as they have nowhere to hide when warm. Good luck to them. I’ll have my white wines and Champagne nicely chilled. 

I am a strong believer fine winery is best practiced at home.

Storing Wines

If you intend to mature wines at home, you will need some sort of cooling. High temperature will kill wines. You could of course get your wines store professionally. 

Wine Faults

This can be tricky as we all have individual thresholds where we can detect faults in wine. My threshold is low, and I can unfortunately detect low levels of ‘corkiness’ in wine. This can make me look like a wine snob in a restaurant. I therefore rarely buy expensive wine there  which tend to be older and more likely to be faulty. I don’t want to drink a faulty wine because the sommelier can detect the wine is corked! 

Contaminated corks and barrels are major contributors to faults in wine. They have been described as smelling of bad corks, rotten eggs, wet cardboards, soggy dogs etc. Sometime bottle stink will disappear after the wine has been opened for a while.  If it tastes of cork it’s off, I’m afraid. (Bits of cork in the wine usually harmless and is not a fault.)

Alcohol Levels

With global warming, alcohol levels have been rising steadily over the last few years. It’s not uncommon to come across wine 14% or more! It’s a real problem for producers as high levels of alcohol do impinge on wine quality. Efforts have been made to remove alcohol from finished wines, unsuccessfully as far as I know. 

Types of Wine 

There are so many wines out there it would take an encyclopaedia just to list them let alone describe them. Below are some of the major regions in Europe. Their grape varieties and the type of wine they make. 

Bordeaux

French region of course. Produces red  and white  wines. 

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot mainly for reds. Produces sweet Sauternes as we have already mentioned. From uber expensive such as Chateaux Margaux  and Chateaux  D’Yquem ( Sauterne)  to incredible value reds and whites. Tend to be long lived wines. Vintages important here as weather variable.

Price is no guarantee of quality – keep an open mind.

Burgundy

French region again. Ethereal wines. Best white wines in the world. Reds can be lean and mean but can be hauntingly good and eye-wateringly expensive. Small production sometimes one or two barrels only. Wines tend to disappear into collectors’ cellars never to be seen again. Thousands of tiny vineyards each with own designations and potential prices.  Very complicated region to understand due to tiny vineyards and low yields.  

Reds are always Pinot Noir. Whites always Chardonnay. Reds tend to be light in colour.

Champagne

Sparkling wines par excellence. Vintage  Champagne a distinct step up from non-vintage. 

Pink Champagne made by adding red wine!  I always store champagne for a few years even non-vintage. The improvement can be remarkable.

Loire Valley

Muscadet at one end and Sauvignon Blanc at the other ( Sancerre) , Chenin Blanc in between. Beautiful part of France. Muscadet, which is made from Melon de Bourgogne, grapes  very underrated in my opinion. Inexpensive. Very dry. Usually served in Paris eateries with shellfish. 

Rioja

Red and white wine. Reds mostly Tempranillo. Brilliant region. Very long-lived wines. Can be amazing value. Whites not particularly distinguished. Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva designation not as meaningful as some would have us believe. Vintage not that important.

It’s an intermingling of flavours much like an orchestra playing.

Jerez

Most underrated wine region in the world. Fino accounts for bulk of production. Region going through difficult times due to decreasing demand. World class wines for peanuts.

Very complex wines.

Portugal

Hefty reds, mediocre whites. (I have just ploughed through 12 different bottes of sub £10 whites. Very average.) Ports however a different story. Brilliant wines. Very, very long-lived. Great value at all price points types. Wonderful!

Italy

Fantastic wines. Best known for Barolos (Nebbiolo) and Chianti (Sangiovese).  Massive range of wines and grape varieties. Prosecco of course which is made in industrial quantities in stainless tell tanks. 

Germany 

One of my favourite regions. Whites from Riesling is the wine par excellence here. Very long lived. Can have sweet edge which some may not like but essential due to high acidity. Alcohol levels can be as low as 7%. German  Pinot Noir can be very Burgundy-like at a fraction of the price. Very impressive. Dessert wines can be eye-wateringly expensive! Hundreds of pounds for a half bottle. Generally, though, prices are good though creeping up. A good bottle of Riesling can be had for around £12.00

It’s What You Enjoy

Finally, don’t forget to drink what you like. You don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy good wines. Lots of bargains out there for under a tenner. Spend a bit of time researching undiscovered wines. Cellar Tracker is a great place to start. Happy hunting.

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