How to select and enjoy fine wine

Posted on: 02 November 2009 by Mark O'haire

There’s more to drinking fine wine than you may first think. Gareth Birchley, from fine wine merchants Bordeaux Index, explains how to select and enjoy the best wine.

Sourcing fine wine

Price shouldn’t always be a factor when it comes to selecting fine wine. You can spend a lot of money, but if the taste doesn’t suit, there’s not much point. That said, real budget-priced wine, usually found on the lower supermarket shelves, is likely to disappoint; you have a greater chance of finding an excellent wine if you pay more.

Quality is key and, with a little homework on wine producers, it’s possible to establish the best regions and suppliers. It is also worth comparing your preferred taste – dry, fruity, strong - with wine critics to establish the closest to your taste.

Assessing vintages

Vintage is very important, particularly in the ‘old world’ producing regions like France and Italy. It’s all down to weather conditions and how they affect the different grape varieties; hence why vintages can change dramatically from one year to the next and differ between regions.

Vintage charts are widely available and are the simplest way to compare years. Some will even tell you the best year to drink certain wines. Comparative tastings of the same wine from a range of vintages highlights the stylistic differences as well as how a wine ages. Commit five vintages of your favourite wine region to memory before buying.

Deciding on a region

Wine is an exploration and you can go on a taste tour of the world to identify a grape variety or style of wine you like. Be adventurous and try new wines. Eventually you will find a favourite or several that match your taste.

The grape variety is the key, but its treatment will differ widely around the world and even in the same region. Weather conditions, soil, harvesting and production all play their part in the development of wine, resulting in a myriad of styles and tastes. Your journey will not be wasted. Keep notes and bon voyage!

Picking red or white

Even if you ‘don’t like red’ or ‘don’t like white’ be open to trying new examples because not all wines are the same. Often the quality is more important than the colour.

Most wine is made to accompany food; therefore the dish often dictates choice of colour. Try a crisp white (or even sparkling) with fish and white meat or a bold red with beef. It’s all about flavours that compliment one another. Consider wine as another taste ingredient adding to the meal. Often dry wines taste ghastly with sweet foods, although some reds match well with chocolate. So try a dessert wine instead, you’ll notice the difference.

Storing wine

All table wines should be stored horizontally to keep the cork wet and away from sunlight. If a cork dries out it shrinks and allows air to get at the wine causing it to spoil. Temperature and humidity should be constant. If it is stored at too hot a temperature, lots of flavours will evaporate. Too cold and the wine could possibly freeze and push the corks out.

A rough guide for storage is 11 – 16C. The lower the temperature, the slower the wine will evolve. There are now some good wine fridges on the market that are great for storage.

Preparing for drinking

Most young wines can be served into glasses straight from the bottle, although aeration in a decanter can be beneficial as this will encourage the wine’s bouquet to develop. Older wines need to be decanted because there will be sediment at the bottom of the bottle.

Decanting time depends on the wine; fully mature wines are fragile so should be decanted just before serving.  Older wines should be stood upright for a few days before serving to allow the sediment to settle. This will make it much easier to decant. Reds should be served at room temperature and whites lightly chilled.

Opening and pouring

Corks, plastic stoppers or screw caps? This is constantly debated within the wine industry. For young wines, there’s nothing in it really. However, for aging red wines, the popular view is cork as it is believed to add an intrinsic taste to the maturing process. Therefore, very fine wines are likely to have corks.

Once a cork is pulled, its condition isn’t necessarily indicative of the wine’s state. When pouring wine, don’t fill the glass to the top. Allow room for air as this will continue to expand flavours. A bottle dressed with a small serviette near the neck looks good and helps to catch any drops.

Examining a wine

A clean plain glass is best used when examining the colour of wine. Hold the glass by the stem and at eye level to check the colour is bright and vibrant. All wine tends to brown with age, and there are defined colour scales to map this process.

The red scale is purple, red, ruby, brick, brown. White wine goes from clear, lemon, yellow, gold, orange, brown. This, along with the width of the ‘watery rim’ (when you tip the glass away from you) is a good indicator of both ripeness of fruit and age of the wine.

Drinking it

The importance of smell should not be underestimated when it comes to tasting wine. It’s the first thing you should do to take in the flavours. Interestingly, most flavours come from smell rather than taste. Then take a mouthful of wine and wash around your mouth drawing air in at the same time to activate more of the flavour messages.

It is also important to notice the ‘length’ of a wine – how long the flavour lingers in your mouth after swallowing. But to drink a wine – that’s something different and altogether more enjoyable. It’s up to you how you do this!

Bordeaux Index – wine selection simplified

Bordeaux Index is one of the largest fine wine merchants in Europe, and prides itself on its no-nonsense, unstuffy approach to wine selection.

Passionate about only the finest, high-quality wines, Bordeaux Index has excellent contacts throughout the world, and can source the rarest, most sought-after wines. Every client receives a first-class, personalised service, from recommendations on the best wines for drinking, to in-depth market analysis and advice on investment.

Always keen to look to the future, Bordeaux Index has recently launched a revolutionary two-way trading platform - LiveTrade, a first in the world of fine wine trading. 

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