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Wine | The perfect glass of wine, is there such a thing?

BY : Charles Poole | THE SOMMELIER

Champagne: In France, mostly Underground Cellars are used for the maturation of sparkling wine. Sitting in champagne bottles, the wine would react with yeast to create carbon dioxide during the second fermentation. Carbon dioxide makes for the bubbles. The wine would then sit on top of the dead yeast cells called the lees, these cells helping to create the more complex and developed smells and flavours associated with fine sparkling wine. It also makes for finer, tinier, quality bubbles.

Spoilage of Wine: Two things ruin cellared wine: temperature fluctuations and drunkenness. The first problem can be controlled and overcome; the second problem is completely hopeless. You have a few people around for dinner; it’s one of those nights; the music gets too loud and you keep opening bottles until they all run out. Then you go to your cellar… You end up drinking much-coveted wines and in the morning have no recollection of how they actually tasted.

Cellaring: Forget all the advice except for one piece of information: temperature. Temperature is the only thing you should worry yourself over. It is the serial killer of all wine, much of which is ill-fated, to begin with; thanks to the cork that seals the bottle’s neck. Temperatures above about 16°C will hasten the evolution of your wine- and the higher the temperature the quicker this evolution. Temperature spikes will cause even more damage. One summer’s heatwave can lift and lower your wine’s core temperature to such a jolting degree that it will never recover. The wine becomes cooked. It becomes flabby and inert and somehow loses its structure. A cellar full of wine needs only a half a dozen or so years of such treatment before it all ends up tasting the same.

Why Cellar Wine? Can you name any other food or drink-or any other product, whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral- that you buy in order not to use? People laugh at grown men who buy new-release stamps to put in their philatelic albums, but what about grown men who buy delicious bottles of wine to lock away under the house?

What helps the wine age? There are a few ingredients in wine that slow the visible signs of ageing and these are tannins, acids, carbon dioxide, alcohol, sugar. It’s the tannins in Cabernet and Bordeaux that make them last so long and slow developers. Riesling has its acidity. Ports have a bit more alcohol, and, like so many dessert wines, the help of sugar. It is always a race, however: all of these constituent parts race one another to the end. In the meantime, the wine’s signs of life and vigour all slowly drop out of the liquid equation: fresh fruit smells and tastes; purity of colour; natural grape aromas… Their death and the chemical transformation of the anti-ageing ingredients make for secondary and bottle-matured smells and flavours. In white wines, these are, more often than not, represented by nutty and honeyed flavours. In red wines, these are manifested as a kind of dry, controlled decay. When a tree falls over in the forest, it slowly becomes coal. An old red wine does something similar. But if no one’s there to hear it, does it make a sound?