How to store wine at home

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Photograph: Simon Peel

Photograph: Simon Peel

Finding that perfect corner to squirrel away special bottles until they’ve reached drinking perfection can be tricky. If your flat didn’t happen to come with a charmingly cool and musty cellar (a modern plight, we’re sure), here are our tips for storing wine at home (an extract from our Wine School’s book, Exploring & Tasting Wine).

Few homes boast the ideal wine-storage conditions offered by a deep underground cellar. Such a gem will have equable temperature, moderate humidity and freedom from vibration. Wines “laid down” here (as the traditional term has it) will mature slowly to the best attainable peak.

Lacking such a cellar, some wine-lovers use commercial storage facilities, calling in wine when they need it. Others invest in sophisticated home “wine rooms” or storage cabinets.

What does wine need? The basics are:

  • Keep it dark
  • Keep the bottles lying down
  • Keep it still
  • Keep it at a cool, even temperature (and if possible, slightly humid)

Any wine will benefit from these conditions; fragile old wines really need them. Much can be done with negatives: don’t –

  • Store bottles upright: the corks will dry out and the wine will spoil
  • Store wine in the kitchen, where it will get too warm
  • Store wine in any space, be it cellar or no, that has hot pipes
  • Subject wine to vibration, for instance, beside a busy staircase
  • Store wine somewhere too humid or damp with no ventilation

Once you have avoided the “don’ts”, it is possible in most homes to achieve the basic needs. A dark cupboard can be insulated to keep it cool, as can an out-building, to stop it getting too hot or too cold.

TEMPERATURE

Wine is tolerant of most things – except sudden change. Ideally, the temperature should stay even over the year at around 10 to 12˚C (50 to 54˚F). In practice, nearly every cellar will be a little warmer in summer and cooler in winter. This seasonal change is fine: what wine hates is sudden swings.

BINS, BOXES AND RACKS

Most cellars today have single-bottle storage spaces – at their simplest, holes in a rack. It can be useful to have spaces that will store six or 12 bottles of the same wine together. The traditional cellar’s brick “bins” were designed for the bottles from a whole cask – a less common purchase today…

Wine that you buy in wooden cases can be stored in them until ready. Keep them off the floor with a wooden batten or two to allow air to circulate. This avoids rot or mould.

WHICH WINE IS WHERE?

The organised wine-lover will combine his or her cellar book with a record of which bottles are where. The less efficient will revel in the serendipitous discoveries a cluttered cellar provides – but will regret those overlooked wines that go past their peak, unopened and unloved.

Top tip: Damp or humid cellars can cause labels to peel off: elastic bands (or cling film) can help with this.

Find out more about Berry Bros. & Rudd’s wine storage facilities here.

Category: Miscellaneous

Summer serves: ginger julep

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Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

Photograph: Joakim Blockstrom

While a classic G&T never fails, sometimes there is call for something with a little more pizzazz. In the first of our series of summer serves, Amanda Baxter gives the julep a ginger twist.

A very basic combination of spirit, water, sugar and mint, the term “julep” – also known as a mint sling or smash – has written mentions as early as 900AD, though not as a cocktail, but referring to medicine. Julep originates from the Arabic “Julap” or “Julepe” meaning rosewater, often used to sweeten drinks.

Its rise to fame as a cocktail coincides with the arrival of commercially available ice, to which bruised mint, sugar and alcohol was added, with a straw to drink from. This was the ultimate cooler on a hot day and is often associated with the Kentucky Derby, although many areas of the American south claim to have concocted it first. A julep would originally have been made with Cognac, however, after phylloxera wiped out many vineyards in the 1850s, there was a move to use whisky instead, and – being an American creation – this meant Bourbon or rye. The drink dilutes and evolves over time as the drinker sips; perfect for long summer evenings.

The delightful simplicity of our version is that it doesn’t need any additional sugar, The King’s Ginger is already sweet enough!

Ginger julep

In the bottom of a “julep” cup very gently muddle the lower leaves from two tender mint sprigs with 15ml of The King’s Ginger liqueur. Add plenty of crushed ice, to the top of the cup, and add a further 35ml of The King’s Ginger liqueur. Insert a long handled spoon down the side of cup and swirl until the cup frosts on the outside. This also adds dilution. Top with more crushed ice and garnish with the top leaves from the mint sprig for aroma. For a longer drink, reduce The King’s Ginger liqueur to 15ml and then 20ml – see above – and then top with sparkling apple juice.

Category: Spirits

Has Claret lost its “cool”?

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

Deep into the much-vaunted Bordeaux 2015 en primeur campaign, Ben Hawkins talks to London’s restaurateurs about the region and its worth on their wine lists.

Bordeaux, even within the current dynamic and continually evolving wine scene, is still unquestionably the greatest fine wine region in the world. While it may be the antithesis to the natural wine movement, or hip new wave producers, its success speaks for itself. The region has a grand and long history, with aristocratic stand-alone properties all classified in the brilliantly marketable and easy to understand 1855 classification. Not only is its wine famous for both ageing elegantly and being incredibly food-friendly, particularly with classic cuisine, but the sheer volume of high quality wine is remarkable. Thanks to this, Bordeaux dominates the secondary market, providing a relatively easy source of mature wine. Therefore you’d expect to find its place on quality restaurant lists to remain unchallenged, particularly as mature wine is so revered.

At The Clove Club, one of London’s most progressive and revered restaurants, Bordeaux is still seen as crucial and they particularly like “lesser” vintages, sometimes known as “restaurant” vintages. The sommelier, Guy Palmer Brown, says, “Although Bordeaux has an old-school image it will always have a position on a well put-together wine list. We have at least two references to each major Bordeaux appellation. Guests naturally tend to gravitate towards Bordeaux as a classic and versatile wine which pairs well with many different dishes. Great value can be found in so-called ‘shoulder vintages’ such as 2006 which are sometimes overshadowed by the blockbuster vintages such as 2005 and 2009 or ‘10.”

Noble Rot’s Mark Andrew was keen to stress the availability of older wines is crucial when sourcing Bordeaux for restaurants. “There are plenty of great young wines to drink from all over the world, but very few regions come close to Bordeaux for offering that particular type of complexity that only comes with bottle age. We make it our business to track down parcels of great value mature Claret (and not necessarily from the top châteaux in the best vintages), as we want give our customers the chance to drink older wines at their peak.”

Michael Peng from Hunan, the much-loved Chinese in Pimlico, also mentioned the importance of age when considering Bordeaux for his list. However, not just the age of the wine, which in Hunan’s case is generally all over 10 years old, but the age of the consumer too, “Claret is unquestionably more popular with our older clientele.”

Jackson Boxer (aged 30), from Brunswick House, feels that when his generation came of age Bordeaux epitomised something which didn’t resonate with the artisanal, less commercial approach of the times. “I am the wrong age for Bordeaux,” Jackson says. “Too young, definitely; too old, maybe. By the time my palate was developing to a place where I could step up to serious bottles, the region was at the zenith of its grandiose exercise in auto-gilting, crowing about its blue-chip investment value and luxury goods status.” He went on to suggest that younger consumers are turning away from Bordeaux because the châteaux are victims of their own success, “Many châteaux have been bought up by luxury brands or investment groups. In a contemporary culture which privileges and romanticises the farmer/producer/artisan, Bordeaux lacks that accordant sense of authenticity, which Burgundy for instance, now just as rarefied and unachievable, but a decade ago within reach and accessible for me, is so adept at putting at the centre of its story.”

Although, as a reassuring nod to the magic of great Bordeaux, Jackson was quick to add that, “There are a couple of bottles the memory of which I’ll always treasure. An ’82 Conseillante, a ’90 Lafleur, both of which destroyed in a moment all my misgivings and prejudice about the wines of the Gironde.”

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Photograph: Jason Lowe

Of course, it’s not just the wow factor of famous old bottles, or the easy access that made Bordeaux so successful for many years. Reliability has always been considered one of Bordeaux’s greatest assets. In a fast paced, busy brasserie, a customer who doesn’t want or have time to overthink the wine list feels reassured by a mid-priced St Emilion or Cru Bourgeois, for instance. It probably wouldn’t blow their mind but, crucially, it wouldn’t let them down either, and that explains why Bordeaux at this price point is such an important listing in many mainstream restaurants.

However, as the restaurant and bar scene has become more dynamic over the past few years, it seems to have coincided with a decrease in the popularity of Bordeaux. For Mark Andrew this was fairly predictable: “To be honest, this isn’t a great surprise – the embracing of more natural wines and a preference for the authentic, artisanal and traditional has rendered Bordeaux’s conservative and uber-commercial approach decidedly unfashionable.”

Matilda Jarevik, the on-trade buyer for the Harvey Nichols restaurants, stressed how the young sommeliers are forging their own path and it’s up to the smaller, less expensive châteaux to respond with a more artisanal approach, and stop trying to be like the famous properties. “There is a major issue with how the wines are being perceived, and as long as the ‘lesser’ châteaux of Bordeaux are continuing to try and be like the ‘grander’, I don’t think this will change. Sommeliers are young and are setting their own rules […] I think most young drinkers are looking for fun wines, from remote regions. With good stories and – just as anything else in the food scene at the moment – they need to be genuine and hand-made.”

Another problem facing Bordeaux is the style of food in the new generation of trendy restaurants popping up across the city. They tend to be tapas-style establishments serving small plates, often with a heavy Middle Eastern or Asian influence, or they’re influenced by the Nordic scene with its emphasis on fresh, seasonal vegetables and much less meat, none of which are natural bedfellows for Claret. Although it probably does provide a great opportunity for dry white Bordeaux, as Matilda believes, “There’s a move towards people looking for fuller white wines.” Being relatively unknown, the region’s whites also carry less baggage than the reds.

When I raised the subject of Bordeaux with Eric Texier, one of the most respected low-interventionist growers in the Rhône Valley, he was quick to point out that despite the more challenging Atlantic-influenced growing season in Bordeaux, many properties are now embracing a more holistic, biodynamic approach to viticulture, such as Ch. Pontet-Canet, and, encouragingly, at the lesser châteaux, minimal intervention in the cellar to  produce wines of stunning energy, clarity and elegance, if not the opulence of their Cru Classé neighbours. One such example, cited by both Eric Texier and Jack Lewens from Ellory, is Clos du Jaugueyron in Margaux, whose low-intervention wines are frequently found in many of London and Paris’s most hip eateries. Jackson, another fan of this style of more affordable Bordeaux, believes that, “As people become more familiar with this style of honest, enchanting and affordable wine, not dressed up to resemble pale imitations of First Growths, but speaking absolutely of themselves only, then we will see a growing presence on the wine lists of forward thinking bars and restaurants.”

It might seem like Bordeaux has an image problem, but there are clearly opportunities for this to be tackled – whether through lesser-known styles or new approaches. And it is undeniable that – even without the “cool” factor – Claret, especially with its unique ability to offer consumers a taste of maturity, still holds a certain cachet: reliable and food-friendly, the world’s finest wine region won’t be disappearing from wine lists anytime soon.

Category: Bordeaux Wine

On the table: Verden

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Verden-interior

This month we head east, putting Verden – a wine bar and restaurant in Clapton, E5 – under the microscope. After due inspection, Sophie Thorpe finds a local hotspot that doesn’t disappoint.

For a south London resident, Clapton isn’t the most convenient dinner destination. While a 10-mile cycle home might offer the chance to work off six courses of indulgence, my vinous inclinations mean it might also result in a visit to A&E, and restraint in the face of a wine list… well, it’s a question of professionalism. So it has taken me a while to make it as far east as Verden, despite its taunting ubiquity on my Instagram feed.

Basking in a little pre-supper sun on Hackney Downs, I was able to settle into pre-arrival menu musing, an essential stage for the indecisive, but something that – for those for whom a good menu is a form of sustenance in itself – offers hours of satisfaction (not to mention salivation).

With soaring ceilings and clean-cut design, the main dining space manages to feel both homely and gloriously airy. When I arrived, the last few shards of evening sun were glimmering on the glassware, a siren-song for the bibulous if ever I saw one.

A bottle of Hambledon’s delightfully greengage-laden non-vintage Classic Cuvée offered the perfect opener, a celebration of the first days of summer (which seem a little distant in the current downpour) and the perfect revivifying refreshment. Alongside, we gobbled steaming anchovy fritters, cooled only by a slathering of squid ink mayo and sips of fizz. The sweetness of courgette and batter tempered the moreishly salty fish, while the bracing English acidity cleansed the palate rather perfectly.

Sampling just one of the items from their extensive charcuterie and cheese list, we tried the carne salata from Lombardy, unbelievably tender, almost silky, salted and smoked beef silverside that was ethereal and intense. Alongside the crusty bread and creamily salted butter (the first hurdle for any establishment to leap, which was cleared with plenty of room here), the meat also came with some of the tastiest, most bulbous capers I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Verden-charcuterie

Whipped broad beans, goat’s curd & harissa provided a change of pace, a generous plateful that was clean, cool and soothing with just a spike of spice to create a calming, almost soulful moment in the meal.

Next, in swooped the mains: sea trout, asparagus, samphire & crab bisque felt both earnest and indulgent, the luscious, fragrant bisque sating my greed while the decent level of sweet and salty greenery offset its richness to a tee. Of course, I also helped myself to a decent chunk of roast wood pigeon, fresh peas, lardo & pickled radish, which sat neatly alongside a bottle of Arianna Occhipinti’s extraordinarily tasty Cerasuolo di Vittoria that has a habit of slipping down rather easily, its juicy sour-cherry fruit a perfect partner for the sweet, gamey meat.

The service was just casual enough to feel relaxed, but polished enough that not a moment was wasted wondering when the next dish would arrive or where that bottle was. Not that you would have guessed, but the charming duo which owns the joint were those running to the kitchen, pulling the pints and pouring glasses that evening – happily playing to a crowd who seemed equally content with their lot.

While it may not be local to me, Verden was cracking. Great food with a compact little wine list comprised solely of irresistible options; it’s an establishment that raises the bar for E5’s eateries. If it was just round the corner, I’d be popping in most nights – a glass of Prüm, or Duncan Savage’s Follow the Line, a slither of Wigmore, perhaps a little more carne salata… dinner would be sorted. As it is, I’ll have to go back for pudding, just to make sure I have a complete picture.

What we drank:

Verden, 181 Clarence Road, Clapton, E5 8EE

Category: Food & Wine