Heaven knows who came up with the statistic, but the word in the booze business is that 9 out of 10 wines are drunk within 48 hours of purchase. Do people in white coats stand, clipboard primed, beside the nation’s bottle banks, quizzing punters about when and where they bought their Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay or Shiraz? Or are we such a bunch of lushes that the idea of leaving a bottle in the fridge or a wine rack for more than two days gives us the shakes?
Whatever the answer, the figure sounds plausible enough to me. Keeping wine, let alone laying it down to mature and develop in bottle, is increasingly rare. Patience is something that most of us have run out of. As Richard E Grant says in Withnail & I: “We want the finest wines available to humanity, we want them here and we want them now.”
In one sense, this is perfectly understandable. The overwhelming majority of modern wine is made to be quaffed in its infancy. The trend towards immediacy started in the New World, particularly Australia, but it has spread across the globe. Even Bordeaux, the area that produces the most age-worthy wines, has changed its style since 1982. Tannic reds that used to take 20 years to soften are now approachable within five.
These days, fewer and fewer wines are worth ageing, for the simple reason that they won’t develop added depth and complexity with time. They are as good in the first five years of their lives as they will ever be. If you doubt this, have a look at the shelves of your local supermarket or off-licence. How many of them, apart from the odd Port or Vintage Champagne, were made before 2004?
I used to be a paid-up member of the DIY (Drink It Young) club, but I’ve changed my mind since I’ve had a decent cellar of my own. Keeping wine is always a risk – leave it too long and it’ll turn into a shagged-out disappointment – but when you drink something with the right amount of bottle age, it can be truly delicious. I’m always coming across forgotten wines that I didn’t expect to have matured so interestingly.
There are two misconceptions about storing wine. The first is that you need a huge cellar festooned with cobwebs to do so; the second is that only really expensive wines are worth keeping. A wine rack at the back of a cupboard (provided it isn’t next to a central heating pipe) is all you need to get going, although you may want to invest in a EuroCave or even a Spiral Cellar in due course. And if you’re prepared to buy a handful of bottles between £8 and £25, you can call yourself a wine collector.
What should you buy? It’s really up to you, but I would avoid whites (with the exception of fizz, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay) and lighter reds and concentrate on wines with structure and depth of flavour. One further tip is to purchase something that tastes good now, but which hints at riches to come. If it seems a little firm or oaky, but has plenty of fruit, you’re in business.
To simplify things, I’ve picked four red wines with ageing potential: the dense, chocolatey 2007 De Martino 347 Vineyards Carmenère Reserva (£7.49, or £5.99 each for two, 13.5%, Majestic); the austere, yet beautifully balanced 2006 Château d’Aydie, Madiran (£11.99, 13.6%, Waitrose); the bold, voluptuous 2006 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gonnet Frères (£18.99, 14.5%, selected branches of Tesco) and the savoury, restrained 2004 Contino Rioja Reserva (£22, 14%, Marks & Spencer)
How long should you keep them? It depends on you, but why not buy three bottles of the same wine? Drink one within 48 hours, one in two years’ time and one in five. It may just change the way you drink and enjoy wine.
Originally published in the Observer.