Watch out! There’s a wine pervert in your neighbourhood

I’m a wine pervert. As I walk to work in the morning, while you may still be in your dressing-gown, I like to peer into your recycling bins and peek at your bottles. I get my kicks when I see something daring, a titillating glimpse of tipple to stir the imagination and satisfy my fantasy that, behind closed doors, you are all having the wine of your lives. But what do I see? The vinous equivalent of granny’s bloomers hanging on the washing line. At best, I would describe what I see as ‘safe’. Brand after famous brand poking their shiny capsule above the newspapers and cereal packets. And if it isn’t a well-known brand, it’s the generic equivalent, like a supermarket Rioja or a ‘Taste the Similarity’ Bordeaux Supérieur.

You will argue that an independent wine merchant is bound to rail against brand names, because they are our adversaries in business, but it is not for commercial reasons that they sadden me. I think that one of the great joys of wine is that it can capture a liquid snapshot of the time and place in which it was made. Mass-produced brands never do this, they are blended to achieve consistency from year to year, so that while they may be palatable, they lack the idiosyncrasies that give a wine its personality, or, to use a more contentious word, soul.

A few simple ideas to enhance your wine drinking experience

Wine is a performer and it merits a little respect. Violinists tend not to play in mittens and ballerinas don’t perform in hob-nailed boots, yet everyday I see wines being handicapped by simple blunders that prevent them showing their best.

If I could change one thing about the way people experience wine, it would be to ensure that everyone owned suitable glasses. My soul sinks when I see wine poured rim-high into those miserable Paris goblets, which are to wine appreciation as trees are to rally-driving. You don’t have to splash out on expensive glasses, just find something with a wide enough bowl for swirling, tapered towards the rim to capture the aromas, and of reasonably thin, clear glass so that the wine alters the temperature of the glass not the other way round. As long as you fill it no further than half-way, I believe that a decent glass improves the quality of a wine by about fifty percent.

The idea of decanting wine seems to petrify the inexperienced, as if it were a ritual only to be performed by sardonic butlers, but a quick splash and dash can unclench an immature wine and bring it out of its shell. Pour the wine into an inert container and give it a good shake to force some air between its tight molecules – advice which applies to whites as well as reds. Decanting to remove sediment from an old bottle, however, is an entirely different affair and must only be attempted by members of the aristocracy.

Another important issue is temperature. Refreshing, aromatic white wines and rosés should be served at around 8º C, whereas fuller, more contemplative whites should be served at about 12º C. Powerful, tannic reds show their true colours just below room temperature at about 18 º C, whereas more delicate reds, including mature clarets and Burgundies, are more expressive at a lower temperature, around 16º C. Beaujolais and Loire reds can be enjoyed as low as 10º C as a refreshing lunchtime reviver and Champagne must be served ice cold, unless it’s vintage, in which case it deserves a slightly higher temperature that allows its subtleties to shine.

However, the most significant external factor affecting wine is you. My advice is always to drink wine in a good mood. The chemical balance in our mouth is affected by mood, which is the primary reason for the familiar claim: “Well it tasted better in Greece!”

- James Bloom

If you are taking your first steps along the wine path, here are a few pointers …

Pottery fragments unearthed in China show that winemaking was practiced in the 7th century BC, so one might think that in the ensuing nine thousand years, we humans might have reached some sort of consensus on how best to enjoy a glass of fermented grape juice. Not so. Choice, the great paralyser, presents us with an interminable range of options and opens the way for the invisible hand that guides so many of our decisions: fashion.

Keeping track of what’s in vogue is vital now that wine has become a lifestyle supplement. Wine appreciation is integral to the dinner party circuit and guests arriving with a bottle of Chateau Faux Pas will be welcomed as if there were something untoward on their shoe.

So, what’s ‘in’ at the moment? For red wine, you will rarely embarrass yourself if you choose a bottle of Pinot Noir. It’s the little black dress of the wine world, perennially fashionable and always alluring, thanks to its unique fragrance and subtle, delicate qualities. Burgundy is its birthplace, but you can impress your peers by selecting one from any of the latest buzz regions, such as New Zealand’s Central Otago, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Australia’s Mornington Peninsula or Chile’s Leyda Valley.

Merlot has taken an unjust beating ever since the film ‘Sideways’ offered audiences the line: “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving! I am NOT drinking any f*****g Merlot! ”, but those in the know still consider it to be one of the world’s most noble varieties – particularly those shelling out £24,000 for a case of Petrus 1982, a wine made exclusively from Merlot. Keep an eye out for some fine examples emanating from Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Supposedly, Merlot’s early popularity had a lot to do with the fact that it was easy to pronounce, so surely the time is right for Malbec to follow in its footsteps. Like Merlot, its origins are in Bordeaux, but this deeply-coloured, rich and spicy variety has found an affinity with Argentina’s terroir and there are many great examples emerging in Mendoza. Look out for names like Pascual Toso, Bianchi and Cielo y Tierra for great value.

As for white wine, Pinot Grigio is like one of those songs that stays in the singles charts for years. You wonder who is still buying it and why, yet it survives by virtue of its lack of virtues; its persistent inability to offend is its unique selling point.

Chardonnay goes in and out of fashion quicker than you can pour it. It is the blank canvas whose quality depends upon the skill of the artist, so you might end up with a Caravaggio from someone like Domaine Leflaive or you might equally find yourself drinking something from the Rolf Harris school of winemaking.

You won’t win a rosette for originality if you choose Sauvignon Blanc, so why not try some equally refreshing whites made from lesser known varieties. Try an aromatic Albarino from Rias Baixas in Spain, a zesty Austrian Grüner Veltliner or a minerally Bical from Portugal’s Bairrada region.

Whatever you choose, just remember that this year’s essential accessory is an open mind.

- James Bloom