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It's 2015, and it’s time for some new wine rules.

It's 2015, and it’s time for some new wine rules.If you are chilling your white wines but not your reds, pairing your fancy bottles with fancy food, skip right past anything with bubbles and are still in awe of famous-name châteaux’s. Then guess what? You're doing wine all wrong. It's 2015, time to rewrite the book on this fermented grape juice thing.


Don't worry.

If you didn't pick up those subtle hints of "kaffir lime" or "black currant confiture" or "burning vine clippings" when you expectantly put your nose into the glass, there’s no need for concern. Examine two different tasting notes for the same bottle of wine, same vineyard, same vintage, but by two different critics. They almost never taste or smell the same characteristics. Consequently, your guess is as good as theirs. So drink. Decide what you like. (And if you detect a hint of cat urine in a Sauvignon Blanc, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself!)


Forget Terroir.

The theory of terroir is the agricultural version of the theory of aristocracy - you are as born. Either you are the Duke of Norfolk, or you are not. People buy Château Margaux for its name, and it's allowed to be called Château Margaux because the grapes were grown on a particular piece of land. So much money is riding on this idea that it's imperative, from a financial point of view, to maintain this extremely profitable and unfair mystification of real estate. There's no traditional word for 'winemaker' in French, because they would like you to think that we humans are just humble servants of the soil's desire to express itself. Of course grapes grown in different places taste different. That's a banality no one disputes. But so much has to happen to those grapes before they end up in our glass, and someone (the winemaker) has to call those shots. Is the work of a winemaker really less complex than the work of a chef? Indeed it’s so strange that France, of all places, will not see that winemaking is very much like cooking. The chef bats last. And if they are to take the blame for bad results, they should get credit for good ones, too.


Learn to use the World Wine Web.

These days, there is no excuse for not being able to access wine information readily and easily. When browsing in a bottle shop, it's simple to look up any wine's pedigree, and read reviews, from both professionals and amateur enthusiasts. A website like wine-searcher.com can be a great help if you are looking for that killer 3 Ocean's "The Chairman" Shiraz you drank at someone's party. Wine Searcher will tell you exactly where to find it, and where to find it at the best possible prices. There are some worthwhile and useful wine apps, like "Hello Vino", "Wine Simplified" and "Plonk." All of which will help decode bottles and access tasting notes. It's even possible to snap a photo of a label and get all the information you need instantly.


Break out of your wine choice habits.

If you have become set in your ways (easily done, I know) and constantly choose Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as a matter of course, force yourself to mix it up more often. Try something different like the wonderful red wines from Portugal's Douro Valley. These deep, dry, soulful wines can wrestle with the fat in any steak. (They're made with the same grapes used in the fortified ports that no one drinks anymore.) A simple Sangiovese from Chianti Classico often blows away much of the competition that costs twice as much. And Pinot Bianco from north-eastern Italy, a happy medium between the mineral Chardonnays of Burgundy and the fruity full-blown wines of California. Sip some Riesling, the most under appreciated white wine in the world. Austrian versions are reliably dry, whereas German versions should say trocken (dry) on the label, unless you have a sweet tooth. And if you want a lighter inexpensive white wine with character, give France's Muscadet a chance. Zippy and wonderfully food-friendly Muscadet is resolutely unfashionable and way under-priced.


Don't keep fine wine for gourmet food or special occasions.

A cherished bottle should be enjoyed and appreciated in a relaxed friendly environment, preferably in the comfort of one's own home. Sometimes simple tasty foods can focus the palate on a more complex wine's finer subtler points. A slice of ripe Gorgonzola on soft white bread with a woody Pinot Noir, or steamed crab with a crisp Pinot Grigio is gastric bliss. And even quaffing fine Bordeaux with a slice of mushroom, olive and basil pizza from a box is a good reminder that the God of wine is Bacchus, not Apollo, and that drinking wine should be a lusty self-indulgent ritual.


Don’t dodge the bubbles.

And don't buy into the myth that Champagne is superior. In fact, there are plenty of non-champagne French sparkling wine bargains to be found, like Parigot & Richard Crémant de Bourgogne Blanc NV. These lesser-known sparkling wines give you champagne grapes, and serious pedigree, at a steep discount. Californian sparkling wines also offer great deals and gorgeous quality. And a personal favourite of mine is sparkling red wine. The Aussies are making fabulous sparkling Shirazes, that are not sweet, display lots of fruit, blackberry and occasional spots of pepper and chocolate. They drink exceptionally well as an aperitif, and match perfectly with rich foods like turkey, duck and game.


Glassware matters..

Yes, I know this is an old rule, but I firmly believe we should stick to it. I would love to say you can drink wine out of anything, but you can't. Good wine needs space to roam. Drink your Châteauneuf-du-Pape out of a chunky tumbler and it won't aerate, or express its fullest character. You don't necessarily need varietal-specific stemware, just a universal (oversized) glass for red wines and a large(ish) one for whites.

Oh, and finally, that cheap corkscrew is all you ever need. No need to get fancy, just make sure it has a hinged arm. And hopefully, everyone connected with the wine industry will soon wake up to the fact that corks are not classy, cool or practical. And in any case, the argument was won long ago - screw caps work!

          

Peter James


 


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