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When can I drink up?
10:07am Tuesday 11th September 2007 in Leisure
My parents-in-law are, to all intents and purposes, teetotallers.
So I was more than a bit surprised when Brian's mother popped her head round her conservatory door this weekend asking, 'how long does champagne normally last for?' Of course, it all depends on how it's been stored (on its side, cork kept moist); where (in a nice cool, dark cupboard); and for how long (about five years she thought).
The signs were encouraging. As long as it was reasonably respectable I had a feeling my changes of exchanging squash for champagne were good.
As it turned out, it was a rather delicious bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut R serve Particuli re. The Feuillatte website tells you that it'll age for about three years but the extra two in the hall cupboard had done it no harm.
It was soft and elegant with a hazelnut and cheese-rind finish. I - indeed we - thoroughly enjoyed it.
It is though one of the questions I am most commonly asked at wine tastings: 'How long will this keep for?' The answer is that it should be drunk when the fruit is vibrant, the acidity refreshing and the wine is in balance.
The majority of the wines that are on your local wine merchant's shelf now are for drinking in the short term.
But how do you know what's for keeping and how long you should keep it for? It's not the easiest question to tackle.
There are a myriad of factors which will impact the ability of a wine to mature: the conditions of the vintage; the grape variety and whether the wine has been fermented or matured in oak for starters.
If we're thinking about reds, then the intensity and breadth of flavours and the presence of tannins are critical qualities in a wine that is being made specifically with its ability to age in mind.
It makes sense then that wines made from a variety such as cabernet sauvignon will generally age for longer than a red made from say, pinot noir.
With white wines, acidity is all important and varieties such as riesling and chenin blanc will age magnificently - though sometimes quite slowly - in comparison to chardonnay-based wines.
The small numbers of wines that I'm waiting patiently to enjoy are stored in my garage. It's hardly ideal but it's my only option.
It's cooler than 'optimum' cellar conditions in winter and warmer than it should be in summer. Over the years I've learnt that the wines mature more slowly than I might expect and this is because overall the temperatures are lower than the accepted average and so the wines mature more slowly.
That's great for the wines I forget about but not so good for the ones I'm in a hurry to drink!
The other thing not to forget is the size of the bottle. Wines in half bottles will always mature more quickly than those in standard, or indeed, magnum bottles.
If I impart but one piece of useful advice to you, it is this: it is much, much better to drink a little bit too soon than to keep a wine and open it once it's faded.
There's nothing more gutting than a pale, expressionless liquid being poured into your glass and wishing that you'd opened it last year instead.
Always take advice for the merchant you buy from and, if in doubt, drink up!
Happily, The Oxford Times Wine Club mixed case this week contains no such traumas. My advice is to buy now, drink and enjoy.
There's a dirty rumour going around that we're in for an Indian summer (fingers crossed, eh?) and both the sauvignon blanc and chardonnay are just the ticket for warmer autumnal days.
And, if you've the heart to wheel out the BBQ for a last turn before we batten down the hatches for winter, the Wild Pig Merlot will be just the ticket.