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Storing and serving Wine

It is very easy to becoming boring about serving and storing wine. Wine buffs can talk for hours about the perfect temperature for serving mature claret or which shae of hand-blown crystal glass is best for serving a fine German Riesling.

However, some basic guidelines are useful for everyone, particularly when it comes to the sometimes tricky issue of matching wines to food. We've put together what we hope is a fairly comprehensive and useful guide, but nothing we can do online could better the personal advice you'll receive if you ask in your local Majestic store!

As well as food and wine, we briefly cover tips on storing wine, including which wines to keep and how to keep them.

Wine and food

Anyone who has visited wine regions in Europe will have been struck by how well matched the local food and wines tend to be. For instance the simple but full flavoured cuisine of northern Spain is absolutely perfect as a foil to Rioja. And where is Rioja? Northern Spain. Similarly the marriage of fresh seafood and Muscadet, although a terrible cliché, has never been bettered with its light apple fruit and noticeable acidity perfectly complementing the understated, clean, but rich flavours of shellfish.

However in our ever shrinking world, food and wine matching has had to move forward about 200 years in a very short space of time. What we will do here is to take some of the very strong flavours around today and have a look at how best to drink pleasurably at the same time. The truth is that there are no set rules, the aim is simply to find flavours that, mutually, enhance the experience rather than detracting from it.

Rule number one is: drink wine you like. Is this too obvious? Second, try to match the general weight and power of the flavours with the wine. For example, a light Sancerre will make a much better partner for poached fish rather than a big, oaky Australian Chardonnay which would kill all the delicate flavours of the food. However, the same rich, oaky Chardonnay would be ideal with Mexican chicken wings or barbecued poultry.

Specific characters in the food can be considered too. A sweet fruity sauce as served with many North African dishes will affect the flavours of wine so try a similarly fruity wine, perhaps Beaujolais. Similarly the salty savoury characters of, say, crispy duck are complemented by a fruity wine, but perhaps balanced with a touch of sweetness, as in a German Riesling - they can be brilliant value for money and go startlingly well with Chinese.

Earthiness is another thing to consider. Roast meats cooked traditionally need traditional flavours. So perhaps the old world is where to look - Rioja, Burgundy and claret. These wines move from light to full-bodied, in that order, so again you can match them to the weight of the food.   Finally, should you look to the new world or old world? Well, in general your Mum's recipes are more likely to match European wines because that sort of food was what was around when these wines were "invented". Similarly, the full, spicy, rich flavours of cuisines from the Americas, Africa or Asia are often complemented by the big, bold, fruit flavours of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Storing Wines

Many wines are designed to be drunk within a few months of purchase, and most are. However, if you intend to keep any wine longer than a few months, a few basic rules should help.

Firstly, why store wine at all? The answer is that a surprisingly wide range of wine on the market will make a nicer drink if it is stored for a short period of time after being purchased. Ageing a wine in the bottle allows it to evolve very slowly, acquiring complexity and mellowness.

Wines to keep

Suitable wines have several things in common. They will be relatively concentrated (although not necessarily full-bodied). They will have good acidity and, for red wines, plenty of tannin to provide structure.

The obvious candidates for extended cellaring (more than just a couple of years) are the traditional "fine" wines – Cru Classé claret (especially if purchased en primeur), Sauternes, top-end Burgundies (red and white), Rhône wines, Tuscan and Piedmontese reds, top-end Rioja, Ribera de Duero, Australian and Californian wines, as well as Champagne and Port. These wines have established track-records for cellaring, and with good reason.

However, there are other wines that will benefit – that is, actually improve, rather than just "keep" – from a few years bottle-ageing, and they needn't cost the earth. German Riesling is the most notable example – Majestic sells single-estate Mosels for little more than £5 that will continue improving into their second decade. The better reds from the Languedoc, Bergerac, and Cahors will benefit from a year or two in the cellar. You don't have to spend big bucks to find a Rioja Reserva or Cru Bourgeois Bordeaux that will repay some cellaring either. And almost all Champagne will benefit from 6 months to a year extra bottle age after release.

Wines not to keep

Wines that definitely don't benefit from much bottle age are those where their very appeal lies in their freshness. This includes most "modern" white wines such as those made from Sauvignon Blanc (even the relatively expensive Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés), pretty much all rosé wine, Beaujolais and New World reds. Screwcaps, a relatively recent innovation for wine, might be considered a good clue that the wine they contain is not intended for extended cellaring, although increasingly even very fine wines such as top Clare Valley Rieslings and New Zealand Pinot Noirs are being released with screwcaps.

Storage conditions

Wines you are going to keep for a long period of time need and deserve proper storage conditions. The ideal conditions are in the dark with a consistent temperature (somewhere around 10-12°C) and humidity (a little damp), where bottles can lay undisturbed on their sides. It is pretty obvious from this why a cellar is considered the ideal! Champagne is particularly fragile and needs pretty perfect cellaring conditions if it is not to spoil.

If you don't have a ready-made cellar, there are a few options. For storage at home, you could get a spiral cellar installed, or look at investing in a dedicated temperature controlled storage unit (like a special fridge), although neither of these options is cheap.

It may be more convenient to store your wines elsewhere. Specialist companies offer wine storage for private clients.

The advantage of using these services is that you can store wines "in bond", meaning that they are regulated by Customs for storing wine that has had no VAT or duty charged on it. This can be advantageous, especially if you are considering selling on your investment.

However, for shorter-term storage of up to a year then anywhere out-of-the-way and consistently relatively cool is fine.

 

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