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Hidden Gems

It seems a little strange to follow Richard’s post on the extraordinary world of Bordeaux wines and their associated pomp and ceremony with a thought on slightly more ‘everyday’ wines, but I guess that, eventually, will be my point.

The great thing about taking care (and seeking good advice) when buying wine is that you can uncover those hidden gems which have the capacity to ‘cellar’ effectively for a few years. Many wines at around £8-£15, especially those from the New World, can benefit from a few months or years lying in a quiet, dark corner – they will soften out around the edges, lose the harshness of their tannin and gain a more plump, rounded character. Of course, there’s no need to actually build yourself a cellar (that shows a whole different level of commitment!) as your understairs cupboard will do just fine. Basically, anywhere out of direct light where you don’t have too much variation in temperature.

There’s no simple way to tell which wines will benefit from short ageing and which won’t – but the advantage of buying by the case is that you buy a few bottles and try one straight away. If it feels a little too robust, a bit chewy or the acidity sticks out a bit too much, then simply stick the rest in your secret stashing place and dig one out in 6 months time. If it’s no better after this time, try one in another 6 months. Chances are, if it’s a well-made wine, it will eventually reach a balancing point where it can deliver way above expectations, and usually wines will stay at this point (the ‘plateau’) for a good few months.

Get into a habit of shopping like this, and before you know it, you’re always drinking wine with a few years’ age and replacing them as you go on.

I had one of those very special occurrences on Friday night when planning a supper for my parents and in-laws. A few years back I purchased 6 bottles of 2003 Clos de Los Siete made by famous consultant winemaker Michel Rolland in Mendoza, Argentina. It cost me about £11 a bottle but displayed such immense structure and power of fruit in its youth that I suppose I thought it would benefit from a little keeping. I promptly forgot about it and eventually it got buried in the stash in, yes, you guessed it, the cupboard under the stairs.

So when taking some time to find something nice to serve with a very simple slow-cooked chicken casserole, I stumbled upon this box of wine which had passed me by for the last 3 years and thought it might be worth a go. And would you believe it, it was completely delicious. It had retained its lovely muscular structure and power of blackcurrant and raspberry fruit but it had also developed a silky, soft palate and a smoky, meaty aroma which made it a truly rewarding glass of wine.

I suppose the point is that you don’t have to spend anywhere near a fortune to develop a store of wines which, given a little time, will punch well above their weight. The challenge is not drinking them too soon.