There are two topics that wine lovers seem to fret about endlessly – and, in my opinion, unnecessarily. The first is wine and food matching. The most important aspect of good wine and food matching is simply whether you like the wine.
No-one destroyed a steak by pairing it with their favourite Sancerre, and no-one got sick from enjoying a glass of Chilean Malbec with grilled fish. These matches might be frowned upon by the traditionalists, but if they work for you then they are the right choice. There is no point in politely sipping a wine you don’t care for, just because it’s supposed to be the perfect match.
The second topic is ageing. I’m often asked, in relation to wine x or wine y, “can this wine age? And for how long?”
As with food matching, it’s easy to shroud the answers in complexity when in truth there is none. To prove it, I will now simplify wine ageing to just two rules:
Rule 1. Age anything you like for between one to three years
Any well-made wine (and I mean that very broadly) is not going to be hurt by a year or three of additional bottle age after release. In fact, the vast majority will benefit – especially simple, unoaked white wines, which almost always gain in texture and depth given a further year of bottle age after you plucked them from the supermarket shelf. Hold those 2020s!
Natural wines made with no added sulphites are another category that cries out for patience. Bottles that taste weird or unstable nine months after harvest (or whatever insanely early release schedule the producer has opted for) will frequently resolve all of their teenaged angst given another year in the bottle.
The idea that wines made without sulphur cannot age is simply a myth invented by people who don’t like natural wine.
There are caveats: no wine ages well if the cork is faulty – and that can include structural failure, leading to mild oxidation, not just the more obvious TCA (corked wine taint). Luckily these issues are rare and getting rarer. Wine under screwcap, synthetic cork or glass stopper (eg: vinolok) is virtually guaranteed a safe passage for short-term ageing.
Storage is not something to obsess about for the short-term. Just keep your bottles away from direct sunlight or alcoholics.
And by the way, rule 1 absolutely applies to Champagne and other sparklers.
Rule 2. Age nothing for more than ten years
Very few wines are cut-out for serious ageing beyond a decade, although there can be nice surprises from time to time. But the risk of a bottle being past its best starts to increase exponentially as the years roll by – especially if it’s bottled with a cork.
In times past, serious beverages such as Barolo, left-bank claret or Naoussa reds were literally undrinkable for the first two decades of their lives. This is no longer the case. Not only have winemakers learnt how to vinify for earlier drinking, bank managers and wine importers have also lost patience with having to wait decades to see a financial return.
Even vintage port, which used famously to be purchased to be enjoyed by the following generation, is nowadays produced in a style which is broachable within a decade.
Ignore rule two if:
a) You are British (we are famed for our love of old and decrepit wines)
b) You really know what you are doing
c) You drink a lot of Madeira wine
One final piece of advice. Ageing never offers any guarantee that a wine will improve, or that you will like it more. Wines simply change and evolve, in some cases for the better, in some cases not.
Personal taste plays an important part here. If you adore youthfulness, vitality and primary fruit above all else, stick to rule 1.