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Wine Advice

Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions

Q. To decant or not to decant?

A. Decanting is all about removing sediment from a wine, and allowing the wine to breathe. These are things that tend to apply to older, red wines - young wines and white wines do not usually have to be decanted.

Sediment

First, the sediment. Wines have all sorts of organic things in them - yeast, grape skins, and so on. The wine naturally has very small particles of these things that, over the years that wine age, settle out of the wine. Many wines these days are filtered and won't throw a sediment, but for finer wines winemakers often like to leave the wine unfiltered as it preserves all the flavour. That's why with expensive, older wines you get more sediment.

Letting a Wine Breathe

Isn't wine and air a bad combination? Well, yes and no. Yes, during the years of aging you don't want air getting to the wine. However, now that you're about to drink it, air getting across a good surface area of a wine can bring out its aromas.

There is of course a point at which the air causes more damage than good. If you let the wine sit out for say 8 hours, it warm up to your ambient room temperature which in modern times is 70F or more, which is awful for wine flavor. When the French talked of Room Temperature in the 1800s, they meant in the 50s! Also, wine + air = vinegar. If you let it sit there for over 8 hours, the vinegar flavours are going to overpower any nice flavours the wine had, as it goes through this conversion. If you don't finish the wine over the course of your meal or discussion, seal the rest up and put it into the fridge.

This is true for vintage ports as well. While the port is fortified, it is still a delicate wine and not meant for a lot of air contact. You really can taste the flavour difference in a port that's been left open for too long.

Note that just taking a cork out of a bottle does very little as far as "breathing". The tiny amount of surface area touching the air in the bottle neck will cause no real change in the wine over even a few hours. You want a decanter that creates a lot of surface air, for the wine to interact with that air.

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Q. How to Decant

A. The trick is to pour the wine slowly into the decanter, keeping the same side down that was down during the aging process. Be sure not to let the sediment end up in the decanting glass. Some people, with a bottle full of sediment (i.e. an old port), pour "over a candle". The candle just helps you see the sediment in the bottle neck better as it begins to slide towards the opening. You can also purchase wine filter paper, or dampened coffee filter paper and even an old pair of stockings will also do the job.

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Q. What is a corked bottle?

A. A "corked" wine is one that has been spoiled by a cork contaminated by "Trichloranisole", or TCA, which can be detected at concentrations of just a few parts per trillion. The culprit is often the Chlorine solutions that ironically are used to sterilise corks. All wines sealed with a cork can be affected by cork taint and the prevalence of this fault can be as high as one in 20 bottles opened (although not at such a high rate for fine wines due to greater care being taken). A corked wine will have a musty, damp cardboard or sawdust aroma and will taste bitter. Contrary to popular belief, bits of cork floating in the top of the bottle is not a sign that the wine is 'corked'. It is simply a sign that the cork is dried out.

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Q. What are sulphites?

A. You may have noticed that wine labels now state 'contains sulphites'. Whilst this addition to the label is recent, wine has contained sulphites for decades.

Winemakers use sulphites as a preservative, to protect against micro organisms and oxygen. Winemakers add sulphites to wines throughout the winemaking process, topping up the sulphite level at bottling time. Without sulphites, wines would be attacked by all kinds of micro organisms, as well as oxygen from the air. Even organic producers use sulphites, and their rules permit it. All good winemakers nowadays use far less than they used to, because they properly understand the doses required to do the job.

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Q. Why is there a deposit in the bottle?

A. There are two main causes of deposits in wine:

Natural Sediment

All wines will throw a natural sediment as a by-product of the process of vinification. These days most wines commercially produced on a large scale will have been fined and filtered before bottling and so you won't often find sediment in your bottle. However, the process of filtration can strip some of the precious flavour and so most fine wines will not have been filtered and will throw some sediment. Wines that have been aged in bottle for ten years or more will also often throw a sediment. In both cases this is entirely harmless, but can be unpleasant in the glass. Sediment can be removed by pouring the wine into a decanter before serving, or simply by pouring slowly when you get to the end of the bottle so the sediment remains in the neck.

Tartrate Crystals

These are potassium or calcium tartrate. They are naturally occurring, tasteless and harmless but they can look like shards of glass (or crystals) and so can cause concern. They crystalise when a wine is kept at low temperatures for more than a few days. Some winemakers will chill the wine to the extent that the crystals precipitate and can be filtered out before bottling, but like filtration this process, known as cold stabilisation, can have detrimental affects on the character of the wine, so not all winemakers choose to do this.

If you see tartrate crystals in the bottle just be careful how you pour the last few drops to keep the crystals in the bottle.

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Q. When is a wine ready to drink?

A. The question of when to drink wine causes far too much worry. Age alone does not give you the answer. There are guidelines but wine is not a precise science - more a matter of personal preference. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide when you drink your wines - but here are a few useful rules of thumb:

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Q. How long should white wines be kept?

A. Most white wines (particularly inexpensive bottles) are best drunk as young as possible - certainly within a year or two of the vintage. Their appeal is in their freshness and fruitiness. Leave them for much longer and those lovely fresh flavours fade away. There are exceptions however. Full-bodied whites like top-quality Burgundies, other big Chardonnays and fine Rieslings will usually gain complexity with age. Sweet Semillons (Sauternes and the like), Muscats and other dessert wines also reward keeping. Good Champagnes also evolve nicely in bottle.

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Q. Don't you have to keep red wines for years ?

A. The simple answer is no, not these days ... though, again, it depends. They contain more tannin, the stuff that's also present in long-brewed tea. It comes from grapeskins and acts as the wine's perfect natural preservative. You know when tannin is present because of its uncanny mouthpuckering effect. Big traditional reds (like those from some of Bordeaux's greatest estates) can have masses of tannin and do need to be stored for many years before they are soft enough to drink.

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Q. Which reds are ready to drink straight away?

A. Today we know how to make wine without much tannin and most is perfect for drinking quite soon after the vintage. The Australians are masters of this rounded, fruit-driven style ... but they are by no means alone. In France - Beaujolais, the Loire, the Rhône, and many areas of the south all produce lovely, early-drinking reds as do the more progressive estates of Spain and Italy.

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Q. So, there are no firm rules?

A. Absolutely not. If a wine is well-made - and all of ours are - it will not fall apart at some pre-determined date in the future. It's surprising how long a well-made wine will keep stored in the right conditions.

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Q. What if I open a bottle not quite at its peak?

A. All is not lost. If the wine seems a little young, try having a mouthful of food first - that will remove the bite, or try re-corking and leaving it a few days. You could also try 'refreshing' a bottle by mixing with a younger vintage.

Does all this help you? Not much, I suspect! But we do our best to let you know in our lists and features what we consider to be the 'ideal' drinking date for a wine. Please don't use these as exact 'best before' times but more as general guidelines so establish your own preferred style (vibrant and fruity or soft and mellow).

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Q. How should I store my wine?

A. Plan your ordering a little ahead of consumption, so you can give your wines a few days to rest before opening. They will taste better for it. Your Averys wines that are to be drunk within the next few months are fine left standing upright in the box. If, however, you want to keep them more than about six months, lay the bottles down so the corks don't dry out, which will let the air in and spoil the wine. Ideally, keep your bottles out of direct sunlight, away from vibration and at a constant temperature. The exact degree is not so important, as long as it's somewhere between freezing and 65° Fahrenheit/18° Celsius! Wine Storage is well worth thinking about for serious collectors and casual wine collectors alike. Not many people are lucky enough to have cellars and special temperature controlled cabinets are expensive. But following a few simple guidelines will help keep your wines in good condition and improve those that do not need time in bottle.

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Q. Why bother storing a wine?

A. Any wine will benefit from a little rest between its journey to you and being opened. It's often not a question of ageing ... just giving a living organism time to settle. Our advice is to keep a 'buffer stock' at home rather than plunge into the first bottle as soon as a new case hits the doormat. This is possible if your favourites happen to feature regularly in the Averys lists.

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Q. But what if I can't wait?

A. Being patient is difficult but, like us, wine is not at its best after a long journey. If you do open a bottle early any slight disappointment will usually evaporate when re-tasting a week or so later, after the wine has settled.

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Q. Where should I keep a small stock of wine?

A. Wherever you like, as long as it is not at the mercy of strong light and extremes of temperature. Make sure it is a dark place away from hot water pipes or heaters. Under stairs, the bottom of cupboards or small spare rooms are all popular resting places for wine and insulation will help to maintain a more constant temperature. Keeping your wines in their box is not a bad idea either.

The cardboard does a reasonable insulating job and the bottles are away from bright light. For the above reasons, an attic or greenhouse are both non-starters. If you are keeping bottles for more than a few weeks, store them horizontally. Keeping the cork damp prevents it from drying out and letting in wine's great foe, oxygen. Standard inexpensive wine racks are ideal.

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Q. What about wines that need keeping for years?

A. For long term storage, frankly, unless you have a cellar or somewhere with cellar-like conditions (a constant cool temperature and humidity) it would be better to have your wines professionally stored.

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Q. Can Averys cellar my wines for me?

A. Yes. For a low annual charge of just £10.80 per case (inc.VAT) we will store wine bought from Averys in temperature controlled cellars and send you an annual statement listing wines you have stored. You can request your wines be removed from storage and sent to you at any time. For further details telephone 03330 148 208.

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Q. What is En Primeur?

A. En Primeur - or 'pre-release' buying - is the easiest and most economical way to buy fine wine. When you buy en primeur, you pay a first instalment, "cellar door" price for a wine while it is still maturing in cask, in order to secure your allocation at a guaranteed price.

A second instalment covering shipping, duty and VAT is payable just prior to delivery, 12-24 months after the harvest.

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Q. Why Buy En Primeur?

A. As fine wine production is strictly limited, buying en primeur gives you the opportunity to be first in the market, with the experts. You can secure the wines you want in advance at fixed "cellar door" prices in the secure knowledge that if the value rises when the wine is bottled and shipped, your price will stay the same.

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Q. What exactly do I pay?

A. The first payment is for the wine alone, which at that point would be in tank at the Chateau. This is the "cellar door" price. You will be issued with a statement advising what wine you have bought and how much you paid for it.

The second instalment would be due when the wine is ready to be shipped to the UK. Then, all you pay is the excise duty and VAT at the prevailing rate (as a guide, currently £25.01 + vat per 12 bottles) and the delivery charge, currently £7.99 per delivery address.

What happens when the wine arrives?

  1. When the wine arrives in the UK, we will send you a letter advising of the delivery date. At this point you can either pay the duty, VAT and delivery and arrange for the wine to be delivered to your home.
  2. Pay the duty and VAT and arrange for the wines to be stored in our duty paid warehouse in Bristol (current charges are £10.80 including VAT, per case per year, invoiced in advance).
  3. You can arrange for the wine to be stored in our customs approved bonded warehouse in Bristol (current charges are £10.80 including VAT, per case per year, invoiced in advance). The duty, VAT and delivery would be due when the wine was removed from bond at the prevailing rate at that time.

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Q. Why do you charge for delivery?

A. We make a one-off delivery charge for any number of cases to single address. We prefer to be transparent with this charge, rather than to amortise the delivery charge into the cost of the wine. This way you see what the actual cost of the wine is, and what you are really paying for delivery.

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Q. Can I buy single bottles from Averys?

A. Yes, of course. You can order in any quantity from Averys, there is no minimum (or maximum!) purchase. Although, as our delivery charge of £7.99 is applicable to each order- whether that is one bottle or 100 cases, many customers choose to order by the case or more to spread this cost.

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Q. Can you supply wine for weddings?

A. Certainly. With our extensive range of wines, expert advice, and reliable nationwide delivery service, Averys is an ideal choice to supply wine for your wedding or other event. To discuss your requirements in detail, please telephone our personal wine advisor team on 03330 148 210.

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