Monday, 23 February 2009

What to do with your leftovers

Some of us encounter the problem more frequently than others – how best to keep leftover wine from a bottle you haven’t finished. Some people tell me it’s a problem they never face, simply because they always finish the bottle. However, I’m sure we are all left with unfinished wine at some stage. My particular vice is having numerous bottles on the go at the same time: if you’re eating chilli con carne you can’t possibly have the same wine you opened to go with chicken risotto last night, can you? Well I can’t, anyway.

Once a bottle of wine is opened, the liquid inside is exposed to oxygen and the process of oxidation begins. A little bit of oxygen can be a good thing, but, left long enough, all wine will turn to vinegar as a result. Before you get to the vinegar stage, though, the wine becomes less lively, less aromatic and fruity and less enjoyable to drink.

Cheap and cheerful
So what’s the best way to keep an opened bottle of wine fresh?
The simplest solution is simply to put the cork back in the bottle. Cold delays oxidation, so white wines that go back in the fridge have a better chance of surviving intact for a while. And the more wine left in the bottle the better. Any bottle that has just a glass out of it and that you stopper and go back to the next day is generally not too affected. You also need to think about the style of wine: the lightest, most aromatic white wines will suffer most from being left around for more than a day or so, especially if they are left unstoppered and out of the fridge for any length of time. Whereas some full-bodied and young red wines (I’m thinking especially of Italian reds and the like), can positively benefit from being opened one day and drunk the next – the gentle oxidation is just what the wine needs to allow the wine to open out and show more of its range of flavours.

There’s an array of devices available for preserving wine, from the cheap to the vastly expensive. But a quick and potentially free solution is simply to have a range of smaller bottles with screwcaps on hand. Just decant the unfinished wine into a bottle that accommodates it and voilà – instant wine preservation.

Sparkling wines have an additional problem – preserving the fizz is essential to the enjoyment of these wines. There is a myth, which I believed for years, that putting a teaspoon (handle downwards, bowl sticking out of the top) in a bottle of Champagne will keep the sparkle for longer. Readers, I have to tell you, it’s utter rubbish. When I tried leaving an opened bottle in the fridge, without a spoon, I found no difference – all sparkling wines will stay fizzy for a while in the fridge, with the amount of wine left in the bottle the critical factor. If you want to be sure of coming back to a fizzy bottle, up to three days later, then invest in a special Champagne stopper, from around £5 a pop (ho, ho) online.

Top of the range
Many restaurants and bars now offer a wide range of wines – and more and more by the glass. This is great for wine drinkers, not just for providing more variety, but also for giving us the chance to order just one glass and drink sensibly, rather than having to order a whole bottle. It also gives greater scope for experimentation – you might want to play it safe and go for a wine you know and love if you have a bottle to get through. But if you can order a single glass then you might just give that Argentinian Torrontes a whirl.

But, when you order your single glass, how do you know if you’re getting the first glass from a new bottle, or the last one? And if it is the last one, can you be sure that your wine is going to be as fresh and lively as it should be? Especially if you’re going for something out of the ordinary, your bottle might have been hanging around for days, or longer. Pubs or restaurants that just re-cork cannot guarantee the quality of their wines by the glass.

There are a number of wine saving systems available to wine drinkers, but two which have earned respect in the high pressure environment of pubs, bars and restaurants are the Presorvac and the Enomatic. The Presorvac is a clever system which sucks air from the opened bottle of wine with a pump, keeping the oxygen out which causes oxidation. Conversely for sparkling wines the system pumps air into the bottle to preserve the bubbles. You can buy the Presorvac online from various suppliers, including Guildford-based Wine Gift Centre ( – but be prepared for the hefty price tag of £270!

A system which is surely beyond the scope of all but Russian oligarchs for use at home is something called the Enomatic, which has been put to good use by the recently re-launched Old Bear in Cobham ( These machines cost a cool £4,000 each and The Old Bear has invested in two of them, allowing them to serve 8 different wines in a range of measures (50, 75 and 125ml). Each wine is blanketed in a layer of inert argon gas, which preserves the just-opened freshness of wines for up to three weeks, apparently. They change the wines available each month – January was Australian whites and Italian reds – and my sampling of a days old red wine was every bit as good as if it was the first glass from a newly-opened bottle.

The cheap and cheerful home versions of these two systems are things like Private Preserve, which uses inert gas to blanket the wine; and Vacu-vin, which uses the vacuum system – but of course neither is going to work for sparkling wines. You can pick up either of them for under a tenner online and, while their performance is not up to the level of the Enomatic or Presorvac, they are an improvement on simply sticking the cork back in the bottle.

Friday, 6 February 2009

What's love got to do with it? Fizz for Valentine's Day

I seem to recall from my younger days that St Valentine’s Day was all about getting a card (or not, in which case cue moodiness and feelings of desolation) from a mystery admirer on 14th February. In other words, it was a day for the free and single, whether young or not. Now, however, it seems to have turned into something that involves couples celebrating their togetherness, to the exclusion of all the singletons. It’s one of the busiest nights of the year for the restaurant trade (not to mention the rose sellers), as couples across the land pay through the nose to eat a special “valentine’s menu”, surrounded by other couples all doing the same.

Frankly I’d rather stick needles in my eyes, so, as usual, I’ll be marking the event by staying home. With more and more of us having to count the pennies, maybe you will be joining me – so to speak.

One of the joys of staying in for Valentine’s Day is that you can splash out on special food – and wine of course – and know that you’ll still be hard-pressed to spend a fraction of what it would cost you to go out.

If you want to make someone feel special, then what can say it better that something sparkling? Champagne is top of the list, if your budget stretches to it – and pink champagne seems to have become de rigueur in recent years.

Laurent-Perrier Rosé NV (£79.99 for a single bottle from Wine Rack, or £59.99 if you buy 3; £62.99 from Oddbins, or check on-line at for independent stockists from around £44)
This is the classic pink fizz lover’s fizz. Unlike many rosé champagnes its pink colour comes from letting the skins of the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes stay in contact with the grape juice – rather than just mixing in a little red wine to a regular champagne. It’s got delicious, crisp, aromatic red fruit – and it’s not cheap.

For cash-strapped romantics you can’t do better than Lindauer Brut Special Reserve NV (£11.99 each or £7.99 if you buy 3 from Wine Rack; £9.99 from Waitrose and Oddbins; £9.99 at Majestic, down to £7.49 if you buy two). Technically not a rosé, but it does have a delicious hint of salmon pink from the high proportion of pinot noir in the blend. The quality of the New Zealand fruit shines through, giving strawberry and cream hints to the nose, but a thoroughly grown-up, savoury palate to follow – great as an aperitif or with smoked salmon and the like.

Of course fizz doesn’t have to be pink, so here are a couple of recommendations that I find give reliable value for money.

Taittinger Brut Réserve NV has a higher than normal amount of chardonnay in its blend, which gives it extra elegance and poise. This champagne is fairly widely available, but for the best prices at the moment head to Majestic, who have it for £36.65 or £27.49 if you buy two bottles; or Waitrose, where you can buy a single bottle for £25.59.

If you’re looking for a sparkling bargain, it’s probably best to avoid the very cheapest champagne, which you can pick up for say £11-12. While it may live up to “cheap”, it is likely to throw in “nasty” for good measure. It’s better to spend your money on a decent New World interpretation of champagne, or a French crémant – made in the same way as champagne, but outside the Champagne region.

Green Point Brut Vintage 2004 gives a hint of champagne style and substance – it is Moet & Chandon’s Australian operation after all. Pick it up at Majestic for £19.49 a bottle, or just £12.99 if you buy two.

From France you could give Cuvée Royale Crémant de Limoux Brut NV a whirl. At £6.36 on offer from Waitrose, it’s money well-spent.