My neighbours, enviably, have a cellar where modest bordeaux and burgundies from the early noughties lie blanketed in dust – nice enough, but never destined to last the 17 or 18 years over which they’ve been lovingly hoarded. And my neighbours are not the only ones: many of us have wines that we think are too good to drink, so we keep them until they’re no good to drink. (I’m guilty, too, in case you think I’m being unconscionably smug.)
That is not an argument for chucking them out, but rather for starting to work our way through those bottles as a weekend treat, so long as you also have a back-up, because some will sadly have become utterly undrinkable. Yes, some may pleasantly surprise you, but you just can’t bank on it.
You get a similar phenomenon with bottles that have been opened: some stay fresh, others fall apart after 24 hours. The remaining third of a bottle of Newton Johnson Family Chardonnay I had forgotten about was still tasting good three weeks later, as was the grüner veltliner in today’s picks, which shows that whites as well as reds can age and stand exposure to air.
For the most part, cheaper wines – by which I mean ones that come in at under £10 and, arguably, under £15 – are not worth keeping for any length of time: a couple of years, at most. Not least because you may actually prefer the flavour of fresh, young wines to more elderly ones with their often funky flavours. For example, while the riesling in today’s pick, which I got from German wine specialist The Winery, will keep better than most, I find its intensely crisp, green apple flavour part of its current appeal. (Incidentally, the shop rather charmingly sells an “emergency riesling” case that can include both older and younger vintages.)
If you store any amount of wine, it’s worth labelling the bottles with drink-by dates. I employ a traffic-light system: green stickers for “drink now”’, amber to indicate “could drink, but will keep for a bit”, and red for “hang on to this”. (You need to recategorise your stash every 12 or so months, obviously).
If you want to preserve open wines that you might want to keep for a day or two (do I hear hollow laughter at the very idea?), keep them in the fridge, and decant any that are less than half full into a smaller bottle, if you have one. But please don’t save too many wines for that special occasion: if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to seize the day.
Four wines that will keep but are drinking well now
Steinfeder Grüner Veltliner Wachau Löss 2020 £9.50 The Wine Society, 11%. Fresh, zesty, Austrian white that should appeal to any lover of sauvignon blanc. Ideal with asparagus and other spring veg.
Migliarina Chenin Blanc 2019 £18.75 Yapp Brothers, 13.5%. Chenin, though not necessarily South African chenin, has a real capacity to age. This elegant example, made in tiny quantities by ex sommelier Carsten Migliarina, is an exception. Stunning. Think scallops.
Joachim Flick Wicker Riesling Trocken 2018/19 £16.99 The Winery, 12.5%. A great whoosh of crisp, green apple, fresh lemon juice and green grapes that would be perfect with smoked salmon or trout, and will evolve into limey deliciousness.
Morrisons The Best Chilean Pinot Noir 2020 £8.50, 14%. Inexpensive, yes, but given the recent vintage and relatively high abv, this vibrantly fruity Chilean pinot should still taste good through 2022 – if it lasts that long.