Monday, May 22, 2006

Vino, Plonk, Wine wine wine

I love the stuff. Not in exclusion mind. I’m rather fond of my beer, think there is little better than a good whiskey or port at the end of an evening, an my wife’s family has wisely taught me that a good gin and tonic is a fine way to begin an evening. Yet wine started as my favourite tipple, and so it remains.

I am not a heavy drinker, a week can go by with no alcohol passing my lips. Particularly when we were trying for kids, and following when LL was breast feeding, we drank little if any booze for months at a time. This wasn’t an attempt at new age neo male solidarity with my wife. I just have a rule, never drink alone. Its not something I follow religiously, if I’m away on business I may have a glass of something with a meal, its just one of those things formed through the living of a life.

My father was an alcoholic you see. Not an outrageous one, indeed I’m not even sure it was a true physical addiction like most alcoholics. Most of his life he either stayed a tee totaler, or drank in social moderation. There was just a couple episodes when he drank too much. He wasn’t a good drunk. Wouldn’t get physically violent, or even verbally abusive (much), he’d just get hugely argumentative. It ruined a number of family meals and events. So I keep to my rule, and have LL on a promise to tap me on the arm if I head that way.

Which lets me drink with ease and pleasure. I tend towards being a happy drunk like my mum any way. So to wine. As an overly self conscious method of differentiating me as a youth, I drank wine at the requisite sizzled parties. What can I say, I was a nerd. Yet it started me off on the road to Rome, and I’ve stayed the course ever since.

I’m not a French ponce when it comes to wine, though my store has its share of Francophone wines. I’ll take it from anywhere that produces it. I’ve been going through a bit of a Spanish / Italian phase at the moment, but I store and buy wines from around the world.

Can’t say I have any formal training, though I’ve been to more than my fair share of wine tastings. I don’t use the odd language of the wine critics. I just know what I like and am pretty good at finding it. I started putting wine down a long while ago. Its just so easy I don’t know why more people don’t do it. Often that cheap harsh wine at £3 a bottle, when stored for a few years, transforms into a mellow beauty.

Not all wines keep, in particular the mass produced “brand” wines are designed to be drunk young and few age very well. You have to look around, and I’ve learned on tasting a wine to know if it will keep. That has been learned through a few failures. There is little worse than tipping bottle after bottle of a case turned to vinegar down the sink to depress a man. Yet I do well.

And here’s the thing, you don’t need a temperature & humidity controlled space to store wine. Sure, it helps, if you don’t you may loose a few bottles which cork or age badly out of a case, but just keep it out of the way somewhere. It helps if its not in a room where the temperature changes too much every day, living rooms which go from very warm in the day to very cool at night are probably not best, but even then, it won’t hurt much.

The benefit is extreme. At the weekend I found in a forgotten corner a bottle of 1984 Rioja. It probably cost me about £2 when I bought it, but lord… it had the most smooth caramel taste, absolutely delicious with the roast leg of lamb we’d done for Sunday tea.

My father in law is my inspiration in this. They have a rambling old wreck of a house, and over the years he’s put cases and bottles in nooks and crannies. When you visit he’ll go hunting, and you’ll hear a cry of delight as he unearths something. Thing is, it might be last years Australian plonk, or it might be a 1963 Chateau Rothschild. You never know, and its always delightful. He proved to me a truth I’d known, but had rarely seen so vibrantly. Wine is meant to be drunk and enjoyed. Storing it isn’t for investment purposes, its for the delight in finding and drinking it.

So I buy, and I hide and I store. At my house, and friends cellars, and a few in professional storage (which is also a good way, doesn’t cost much more than £7/case/year) some 800 bottles. It ranges from the cheapest of the cheap to some stellar labels. Each of the kids has three cases from the year of their birth put aside for when they turn 18. Not a one of my bottles will ever be resold. I intend for each and every one to be drunk (mostly by me (and friends (and family (just drunk)))).


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