Chapter 1: Christian meets the new next-door neighbour, William, who happens to be a renowned wine writer and educator.
Chapter 2: Christian and his wife, Aimee, arrive at William’s home for their first wine lesson. They learn how to taste, and examine the four basic wine styles: Sparkling, White, Red, and Dessert.
Chapter 3: William lays out his master plan: a simple system that groups all wine into six basic styles --three for whites and three for red wines -- and explains how this knowledge takes much of the mystery out of table wine.
Chapter 4: As guests at a winery opening, the three friends go on a winery tour, learn how wine is grown and made, and enjoy a luncheon prepared by a gourmet chef with wines selected by the winemaker.
Chapter 5: To strengthen their sense memory and ability to recognize aromas, William leads the couple through a series of “nose training” exercises.
Chapter 6: Wine shows are a great place to sample and learn about many different wines, as Christian and Aimee discover. They finish their “lesson” with a bit of food and wine matching.
Chapter 7: Christian and Aimee are treated to insights into both old world and new world wine making traditions when they have a winemaker all to themselves.
William had said that he would arrange the transportation to his wine-collector friend’s house, but when the appointed day and time arrived, Christian and Aimee were surprised to see a limousine in front of their house, its driver waiting with the passenger door held open.
“I’m afraid my friend Ernst has a flair for the dramatic,” William said as they joined him and headed for the car, “but if you’re going to have a designated driver, a limousine is a pretty good way to go.”
“We’ve learned not to be surprised by anything when it comes to our wine lessons,” Aimee replied, “but this is definitely unexpected.”
“I think you’re going to have to tell us more about your friend Ernst,” Christian added as the three stepped into the waiting limo.
Once the friends had made themselves comfortable, William began to tell the story of how he met Ernst.
“Well I’m not sure whether I should tell you about Ernst as much as warn you about him,” William began. “You see, he’s quite ‘Old World’, and he insists that he comes from a culture where plain truth is highly valued. Moreover, he believes it should be shared, so you’ll find him very outspoken and opinionated. His saving graces are his generosity and the fact that he’s usually right.”
“How did he come by the limousine?” Christian asked.
“Lucky in business ... and hard work,” William replied. “He immigrated here about 35 years ago with an electrical engineering degree, and set up shop in the middle of a building boom. Within 10 years he had one of the most successful electrical contracting firms around. He showed up at a wine tasting I was giving about 15 years ago, and immediately let me know that he was not going to put up with any half efforts. He’s been peppering me with tough questions ever since.”
“Sounds like a bit of a ‘hard case’,” Aimee observed.
“No, not at all. In fact, he’s quite a pussycat,” William answered. “But he strongly feels that you ought not to open your mouth if you haven’t done your homework. For example, he will give a very hard time to a sommelier who has merely memorized the textbooks instead of getting to know the wine. And then he will just as easily delight in someone who is eager and willing to learn, which is why he was so happy to have me bring you two along tonight.”
“So he keeps you honest,” Christian remarked.
“Well put,” William said. “His business takes very little effort these days, so he spends a lot of his time visiting wine regions and, as you might expect, collecting wine. Ah, it looks like we’ve arrived. Did I mention that it wasn’t very far?”
Christian and Aimee looked out the car window as they pulled up in front of a modest but extremely well manicured stone house. An older fire-plug of a man was coming down the front steps, grinning profusely. Stepping out of the limo, William was greeted with a bear hug.
“I see you’re managing to keep your spirits up,” William joked as he extricated himself from his friend’s embrace. “This is the young couple I told you about. Aimee, Christian, this is Ernst – the most incurable wine collector I know.”
“Friends of William’s are always welcome in my cellar,” Ernst said as he gave the couple vigorous handshakes. “It’s not often I get to bring innocents into my cellar. I can’t wait to show you a few of my treasures.” With that, he led the way into the house.
The interior of the house mirrored the exterior – understated, but impeccably appointed. They descended to the lower level, which consisted of a comfortable family room with a conspicuous, ornate door at one end. “This is a lovely house,” Aimee commented. “Very tasteful.”
“Give my wife credit for that,” Ernst answered. “If it were up to me, we would probably be sitting on wine cases. Now, in here is the wine cellar. The designer I hired convinced me that this is what I needed. I’m sure he would have taken over the entire basement if I’d let him.”
Ernst opened the door to the cellar, and as they stepped into the room the lighting automatically switched on. The room looked more like a wine shop than a personal cellar. A dark wooden table dominated the room, with seating for eight. The walls flanking either side were floor-to-ceiling wine racks, filled nearly to capacity. Most were built to accommodate single bottles, although a number were diamond shaped, each holding a cluster of bottles nestled together. In one corner, just inside the door, stood a racking module dedicated to magnums and half-bottles.
The far wall was taken up by glass-fronted cupboards filled with all manner of wine glasses, decanters, decanting funnels, and other wine paraphernalia. Below the cupboards was a black slate counter with a small sink, a number of bottles and, off to one side, a computer workstation next to a wall-mounted corkscrew.
“This is quite the wine cellar,” Christian said, obviously impressed.
“Actually, this is the tasting room,” Ernst explained. “The cellar is in there.” He walked over to a second door and opened it. As he stepped inside the cellar proper, he was bathed in the glow of soft light. He beckoned the others to join him. “This is the actual cellar. I love the ambience in here, but it’s much too chilly to do any tasting for any length of time. That’s why the tasting room.”
“Um … how many bottles can you store in here,” Christian asked, his eyes widening considerably as he took in the sight of row upon row of racks and bottles.
“A little over 5000,” Ernst answered. “That includes the tasting room.”
“Now, why do you have wine stored in the tasting room?” Aimee asked. “Why isn’t it all in the cellar?”
“They both are cellars,” Ernst pointed out. “The tasting room is not a great deal warmer than the cellar – 66 degrees – cool but tolerable. I keep my ‘au courant’ wines there.”
“Which means?” Aimee asked.
“Wines for current use, everyday wines, wines that I’ve scheduled for opening – and a bit of overflow.”
“What’s the temperature in here,” Christian asked. “It’s certainly on the cool side.”
“Yes, it’s a constant 54 degrees,” Ernst replied as he took two sweaters off a nearby coat rack and offered them to his guests. (William wore a tweed jacket, which was his habit.) Aimee put on the proffered sweater and Christian put his over his arm, just in case.
“The last time I was here, you were still working out the electrical,” William recalled. “I see you went with LED lamp fixtures. Any other innovations I should know about?”
“Well the motion sensors, of course,” Ernst replied. “It’s amazing how much heat regular lighting throws off even at this level, and I would hate to forget to turn them off. The LED fixtures cost a bit more, but I’ll save considerably on refrigeration costs.”
“I assume you did the electrical yourself,” William continued.
“I did a lot of it myself, but I brought in teams for the heavy stuff. I’m getting too old to be lifting and setting tiles and such.”
“Speaking of tiles, this looks like slate on the floor,” William noted. “Is that to provide a heat sink?”
“Yes, totally functional,” Ernst replied. “If the power were to go off, this room will stay at this temperature for at least two days, even in the middle of July.”
“You’re right about the ambience,” Aimee observed, “except for the temperature, of course. I love being surrounded by all this wood.”
“And all this wine,” Christian added. “You seem to have a lot of white wine here. I didn’t think white wines aged all that well.”
“A common misconception,” Ernst countered. “This section of the cellar is mainly white wine. The reds are in the next two aisles. About a quarter of the cellar is white wine, in fact. As for ageing, there are a lot of white wines that age magnificently, and I’ve selected a couple for us to try.”
“How do you know what’s here?” Aimee asked. “It must be quite a job to keep track of it all.”
“That’s what the computer is for,” Ernst answered. “The last thing I want to do is discover a valuable bottle that’s over the hill. It’s all set up on a database.”
“Did you pick one of the commercial cellar management systems?” William asked.
“I looked at them, but I couldn’t get what I wanted so I created my own. I’ve been keeping records for so long and I’d already developed a fairly comprehensive system on the computer. I figured I could expand on what I had and it would be more to my liking in the end. It’s really just a basic database, with a few bells and whistles. Each wine gets logged when I purchase it, along with its bin number here in the cellar. There’s a reference database and a set of formulas that provide a range of dates for opening the wine, and the system will alert me when each wine is getting ready for opening. I can run reports that give me a number of views of the collection. The commercial programs do much the same, but this one’s a bit like a comfortable pair of slippers.
“Now, I understand that you’ve come to admire my wine, and the best way to do that is by opening the bottles, don’t you agree?” He led the group back into the tasting room.
“Please make yourselves comfortable and I’ll get us a few glasses and something to put in them.” Ernst pulled four glasses from one of the cupboards and put one at each place. He then reached into a mini-fridge below the counter and took out a bottle of champagne.
“I thought we might start with a vintage champagne,” he announced, opening the bottle almost soundlessly and pouring a couple of ounces into each glass. “This is the 1989 vintage – quite a good year.”
“William says you should always start with a sparkling wine,” Aimee noted.
“No argument here,” Ernst said, placing the bottle into an ice bucket and a basket of bread on the table before sitting down. “It’s also the perfect palate cleanser. I’m appalled that so few people know that.”
“Something that’s always annoyed me,” William added, “is that at many of the tastings I go to they put out strong cheeses, spicy cold cuts and other things that confuse the palate, and nothing to help revive it. A repair sip of sparkling wine is just the thing.”
“I didn’t realize that most champagne wasn’t vintage until I read about it recently,” Christian added. “Is there really that much of a difference?”
“Well, the word vintage literally means to harvest the grapes and make the wine,” Ernst said, with a smile. “So, really, all wine is vintage, because it all has been vintaged.”
“Then what’s the difference between vintage and non-vintage wines,” Amiee asked.
“It’s not so mysterious,” Ernst began. “For example, Champagne is in northern France, and the grapes don’t always ripen as well as the growers would like, so they blend several vintages to achieve a certain style. Those wines won’t carry a vintage date because it would be meaningless. But in good years, when the grapes reach their potential, the Champenoise will often ‘declare’ a vintage, and those wines will be released without any blending with other vintages.”
“So this whole idea of vintage in the sense of ‘quality’ just means that it was a good growing year?” Christian summarized.
“ … and that’s why the vintage date is so important,” Aimee exclaimed, “because some harvests are better than others!”
“Precisely,” Ernst agreed, “at least in the Old World. The same is done in Oporto. Most Port is blended, but in the best years they will declare a vintage. But that doesn’t mean you should pass by the non-vintage wines. In Champagne all their wines have been aged, sometimes to quite an extent. Vintage champagne is never released before its fifth year. But even non-vintage champagne will spend two years in barrels and then perhaps another two years in bottle. And these wines are all capable of ageing still more – two to five years for non-vintage and ten to fifteen for the vintage. Just be sure to record the purchase date before laying down non-vintage wines. This applies to both sparkling and still wines.
“Now, please attend to the wine at hand and let me know if I’ve been rewarded for my patience.”
“This will be a good test for Christian,” William noted. “We’ve been kidding him a lot about his penchant for red wines.”
“And have I complained about all this ribbing,” Christian shot back, “or have I politely listened and tasted?”
“I think you’ve been very well behaved,” Aimee said in her most comforting voice.
“But I must say, if you don’t like a well-aged vintage champagne, there may be no hope for you.”
With a good chuckle all around, the group turned their attention to the wine in their glasses.
“I’m getting some earthy Pinot notes in here,” William commented. “Somewhat barnyardy, and a luscious toastiness from the lees ageing.”
“Very smooth,” Aimee added, “and yet it’s still fresh tasting.”
“This is really complex,” Christian mused. “I think you’ve had a very good return on your investment with this one. Very nice.”
Aimee and William looked at each other and nodded their approval.
“Hey, I’m teachable,” Christian protested.
“Then you must be ready to tackle another white wine.” Ernst brought four more glasses out of the cupboard and placed them before his guests. He then fetched another bottle from the cooler, uncorked it and poured four samples.
“This is an off-dry vouvray, from the Loire region,” he announced.
“Also French?” Christian observed.
“It’s not the country of origin I’m interested in here,” Ernst explained. “Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc grapes, and some of these wines can age extraordinarily well. This is the 1995 vintage … just look at that colour!”
“Everyone I’ve talked to about ageing wine seems to have a different opinion,” Aimee pointed out. “Why do people age wine? What do they expect to happen?”
“Yes, that is the unexplained miracle of wine,” Ernst replied gleefully. “You see, wine never stops changing until it finally becomes vinegar. Some say that it is a living thing. I’m not quite so romantic, but you can certainly look at wine as having a ‘life cycle’. It begins life fresh and innocent. It has a vibrant youth, which slowly gives way to the elegance and maturity of middle age. Finally it lapses into old age and death, like any living thing. For some wines, the cycle takes just a few years; others are good for five, ten, fifteen years and more. And some wines will outlive us all! Did you know that the Romans dated their best wines and even put vineyard names on the storage jars? They knew that certain wines would improve with age.”
“So ageing is sometimes a good thing but not always,” Aimee summed up.
“Yes, but understand that ‘improve’ is a rather unspecific term,” Ernst continued.
“Some people prefer young wines. Others cherish the complexity that comes with age. It really is a matter of personal taste. And even though my cellar is filled with collectable and age-worthy wines, I often would rather have a young wine.
“But getting back to what happens; the most obvious change is colour. That vouvray is deep gold now. When it was young, it was at least three shades lighter. The aromas and the texture also change. This wine was dominated by simple lemon in its early days. Now it’s more honey and vegetation. Quite appetising.”
“I was wondering whether you think there’s a minimum amount of ageing that’s needed,” Christian asked.
“A very good point,” Ernst replied. “I’m glad you brought it up. First of all, there’s what they call ‘bottle shock’. The wine is traumatized by being forcibly confined in bottles. The general rule is that it will recover in about three months. There’s also the issue of being packaged and shipped. No one has ever studied this, but I think a month or so of rest would be agreeable after a long truck ride, assuming the wine travels well at all. And after that there’s the time required for the wine to ‘integrate’. That’s what we’re after in the cellar. For many wines, it happens in six months to a year, but some wines can take years for everything to come together.”
“It might be a good idea to talk about aroma versus bouquet at this point,” William noted.
“Yes, by all means, do,” Ernst replied, turning his attention to the wine in his glass.
William continued. “Simply put, we divide wine aromas into three classes. ‘Primary aromas’ are what you start out with in the freshly crushed juice. After fermentation, the wine takes on what we call ‘secondary aromas’. This is what you find in young wines – fresh fruits, simple spices, that sort of thing. Finally, after the requisite bottle ageing, you get what we call ‘tertiary aromas’, or ‘bouquet’. This is what we’re after when we cellar a wine.”
“Have we had enough discussion?” Ernst asked. “Because there’s a wine here that I’m sure has tertiary aromas for us all to enjoy.”
“Ah yes … the vouvray,” William agreed. “It’s showing that lovely honey aroma and texture.”
“I know that red wines develop sediment over time,” Christian pointed out. “Is that the case with white wines as well?”
“Not usually,” Ernst answered. “You may find some harmless tartrate crystals, but usually nothing else. You can see a few crystals on this cork here. In the case of red wines, the tannins combine with the colour components – the anthocyanins – and they form long-chain molecules and simply fall out. That’s what creates the sediment. This also accounts for red wines becoming lighter coloured and softer with age. And they go through a similar character change as the whites. They lose their youthful fruit and take on some very exciting aromas: spices, tobacco, cigar box, underbrush … and ‘animale’.
“Now, I thought it might be fun to see what happens when you don’t manage your cellar very well.” Ernst fetched two handfuls of glasses from the cupboard and put three at each place. He pulled a bottle from one of the racks and extracted the cork.
“This is an Oregon Pinot Noir,” he explained. “I was thrilled when they began producing some very good Pinots there, and I’ve been stocking them for a while. This one was released just two years ago, so it should be relatively young and fresh tasting.”
He poured samples for each of them and sat down.
“This is really delightful,” William commented, burying his nose in his glass.
“Young, fresh, with lots of red fruits and just a hint of beetroot. This has been one of your favourite makers for some time, if I’m not mistaken.”
“Yes, very good work here,” Ernst agreed. “I think Pinot is one to watch in quite a few regions besides Burgundy. Which brings me to our next bottle.”
Ernst uncorked one of the bottles that had been standing on the counter, and carefully poured four glasses. “This one is from the same winery, and it’s been in my cellar for six years. There are those who say Pinot cannot age. Perhaps not the same way as the bigger reds, but its evolution can be extraordinary, as you will see here.”
The second glass was lighter coloured than the first, showing more mahogany or brick than ruby.
“Tobacco, right off the top,” William observed, “brought about by the age, no doubt.”
“I’m smelling mushroom and leather,” Aimee added.
“Quite so. Now, let’s see what happens when a wine doesn’t stand up so well.” One of the bottles standing on the counter had its cork partially reinserted, which Ernst removed as he brought the bottle to the table. “My original analysis suggested that this wine would hold, which it did not, and here is the evidence – at just five years of age.”
The wine was pale and dull looking, with a tell-tale brownish cast.
“Smells pretty weak,” Christian noted. “Not actually bad, though.”
“No, this wine hasn’t turned on us … yet,” Ernst affirmed. “It just has collapsed. None of those red berries of youth or the spice of mid-life. Flat and tasteless – money down the drain!”
“Now, you’ve used the same glasses for all these wines,” Aimee noted. “We met a winemaker friend of William’s who introduced us to some fancy glasses that were designed for each of the wines. What do you think of the theory that the wineglass should match the wine? And would one of those glasses help a wine like this one?”
“Ah, someone has been filling your head with ideas,” Ernst joked. “Actually I have a number of those glasses, and I often use them. But for a tasting such as this I don’t want their influence. These glasses are a version of the standard tasting glass, and they give a clear image of what the wine truly is. Those designer glasses are good, but they can affect a wine’s aromatics and they soften the palate. I have nothing against them, although I do think many of them were created in the marketing department rather than the tasting lab.”
“What I’d like to know is how you determine what to put into your cellar,” Christian asked. “If someone with your experience can end up with a wine like this, how can any of us hope to avoid having failures?”
“I’m convinced you can’t avoid them,” Ernst began. “But it’s not so very hard to pick promising candidates. You don’t even need experience. Just do some research. Many wine reviews will give some indication of a wine’s ageing potential. And, in fact, the list of grapes and wines to learn is quite short. Most of the ageable wines are the big reds: Cabernet, Bordeaux, Barolo, and some of the better Spanish wines. But even modest reds can improve for a year or two. The most ageable white wines are the better Chardonnays, some Chenin, Rieslings, obviously the better sparkling wines, and many dessert wines. And quality is always a factor. In general, the better the wine, the better the odds. But watch out for over-priced wines. They’re often over-rated as well. I’ve had far too many $100 and $200 wines that turned to $10 wines in the glass.”
“Actually, one of the best exercises you can try is to buy a case of something you think will age well,” William added, “and open one bottle every six months or one bottle every year. That will give you a very good grounding in the effects of ageing and of the wine’s life expectancy. At the very least, buy two or three bottles at a time and then open them at least six months apart. I should also mention that there are consultants around who will be glad to help you set up a cellar and stock it with suitable wines.”
“I think one thing we need to keep in mind,” Aimee observed, “is the cost. This cellar must have cost a fortune, even without any wine in it!”
Ernst broke into a rollicking laugh. “Oh, I try never to think about the cost. It would just spoil my fun.”
“What you should focus on,” William interjected, “is the value of the wine itself. The best insurance policy you can buy is a good storage system. That way you know your value is preserved.”
“Quite true, quite true,” Ernst agreed. “Actually, the cellar didn’t cost as much as you might think. If you’re at all handy you can do a lot of the work yourself – and the materials really aren’t that expensive. I paid less than $5 per bottle for this entire storage space – about what you’d pay for a decent winerack.”
“Good point,” Aimee replied. “We have a simple wine rack that cost more than that – per bottle, I mean.”
“What I was wondering is whether you consider this a collection or an investment,” Christian asked.
“Oh, never an investment,” Ernst answered firmly. “Never invest in something you can drink! It would only be an investment if my goal were to sell at a profit. No, this cellar is purely for enjoyment.”
“Have you looked into investing in wine,” Christian asked, pressing the point.
“I think I can field this one,” William jumped in. “Top quality wines – wines that are bound to improve with age – generally will get more valuable over time. But a problem in many areas is that you can’t sell it, the areas where they have liquor control boards, mainly. And even in an open market you might realize just single-digit returns from highly desirable wines. But I agree with Ernst: wine is for drinking. As an investment, it’s really not usually that good and, I think, quite impractical for most people.”
“I’d go further,” Ernst summed up, “and say that until you’ve pulled the cork, the wine has no value at all. But I will tell you one thing: a wine that you’ve held on to for too long is worthless. Too many wines are opened too late rather than too early. So err on the side of youth! And if its unopened value is greater, well then, more fool you. Sell it, give it to a charity auction for a tax receipt, but spare yourself the drinking of it.”
“There’s a restaurant we like to go to that has a world famous wine cellar,” Christian said. “Would it be a good idea to buy older wines there rather than creating a cellar ourselves?”
“This is one of Ernst’s favourite topics,” William declared. “I suggest you brace yourselves.”
“Yes, I’m quite outspoken on this matter,” Ernst replied. “Of course my answer is an emphatic no. I really don’t know what the business rationale is with some restaurants. They feel that it serves their customers well to charge punitive mark-ups on wine. If I marked my products up by 300% or more, I’d be out of business in a week. And it gets worse when the restaurant has an impressive cellar. I’ve seen margins in excess of 500% on wines that are little better than ‘very good’. I can’t imagine what makes a wine worth a thousand dollars served at the table when the same wine might sell for perhaps a few hundred dollars at auction. No, I believe that those wine lists have only one purpose: to allow people with more money than imaginatiuon to impress their dining companions. There, is that outspoken enough for you?”
“That will do nicely,” William kidded. “But you’re absolutely right about unreasonable mark-ups. It’s something I’ve been railing against for many years.”
“Good. Now I have one more wine to show you.” Ernst took a decanter and a funnel from one of the cabinets and set them up near the last bottle standing on the counter. He extracted the cork as gently as possible, gave the cork a quick sniff and a squeeze, and put it off to one side. He then placed a small lamp next to the decanter and began to pour the wine slowly into the funnel. He stopped pouring when there were still a few ounces in the bottle, set the bottle down and brought the decanter to the table.
“I shall let you make the determination,” he said, pouring William a sample from the decanter.
William plunged his nose deep into the glass. “Ah, Brunello,” he announced with glee. “And what year are you gracing us with?”
“I thought you might know the ‘84,” Ernst replied. “A fabulous vintage. I’ve been opening them for about five years now and this, sadly, is my second to last bottle. I’m glad you approve.” He poured generous samples for Christian, Aimee and himself. He then took out a cell phone and made a call, which consisted merely of ‘We’re ready’.
“Brunello, from Tuscany?” Christian asked.
“The same,” Ernst replied.
“I’ve had Brunello before, but never something this old,” Christian added. “I see what the fuss is about. This is incredible!”
“I should caution you that tasting old wine is often not an earth shattering experience,” Ernst explained. “The changes are mostly subtle: tannins recede; young fruit gives way to mature fruit; simple spices become more complex. Now, at one time Brunello was notorious for taking years to soften. I think, these days, the makers are approaching a more modern style. The wines are not so hard on release – less tannic and ready to drink sooner. That would be a good guideline for a cellaring candidate: massive tannins means years to go!”
“Just be sure the wine has something to offer besides tannins,” William added. “If there’s no fruit now – no character – there won’t be any later either.”
“I’m curious,” Christian continued. “You decanted the Brunello but not the two older Pinots. And you also sniffed that cork, but none of the others. Why is that?”
“Ah, that’s because Brunello is a big tannic wine,” Ernst replied, “and at this age is bound to have thrown a crust, so decanting is almost a given. It’s also a very robust wine. Pinot is not robust and I find that decanting seems to drain them. As for the cork, with a wine of this age the cork can show problems. If it were dried out or crumbly, that could be a bad sign. But usually smelling the cork tells you nothing.”
“We have some friends who always decant their wine,” Aimee noted. “And another couple we know opens the bottle hours ahead of time to let it ‘breathe’. Do either of these help the wine?”
“I’m afraid we’re getting into the realm of psychology and ‘old wives tales’,” Ernst explained. “Removing the cork and letting the bottle stand does absolutely nothing. But many people insist on doing it, even people who ought to know better.
“As for this ruthless approach to decanting, I’ve never understood it. I decant a wine only if I know it has a sediment, and I do it immediately before serving. That way you preserve what’s in the bottle. Very fine, very old wines can collapse quite quickly, so you don’t want to let it sit for any length of time. Air is the enemy of wine! If you want to aerate the wine, all you need to do is to swirl it in your glass. Slow down, and give the wine a chance to open up at its own pace.”
“Still, don’t you find that decanting can soften a young wine?” William countered.
“Perhaps,” Ernst replied. “But why would you be opening a wine that wasn’t ready? I also think decanting can rob a wine of some of its character and vigour. But that’s personal preference. Incidentally, if you plan to decant an older wine, you must stand it up for at least 24 hours to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom of the bottle.”
“What about decanting a white wine,” Aimee asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone decant a white wine. Or a sweet wine.”
“Well I would never decant a white wine, unless tartrate crystals were an issue,” Ernst replied. “I find most white wines too delicate to benefit from the process, but I know that others would disagree.”
“Here again, I think personal preference rules,” William added. “I happen to like the freshness of an undecanted wine, but I know people who will decant the dickens out of a wine they think is ‘tight’. I’ve even seen people pick up the decanter and shake it like a rag doll … yes, to each his own.”
Just then, the door to the tasting room opened and in walked Ernst’s ‘chauffeur’ carrying a tray.
“Ah, you’re just in time for the Brunello. I believe you’ve already met my grandson Keith,” Ernst announced. “And to complement the wines, Keith has brought us a bit of pecorino, plus a few other morsels I found in the pantry.”
“I hope my grandfather hasn’t overloaded you with his wine talk,” Keith said as he fetched a glass and poured himself some of the Brunello.
“Far from it,” Aimee objected. “We’re having a wonderful time – and learning so much!”
Ernst raised his glass. “Now, we have wine and we have food, so I recommend we spend the remainder of our time together enjoying them and this good company.”
“Do you have any words of wisdom to sum up?” William asked, reaching for a piece of the cheese.
“Let’s see,” Ernst began. “First, I see no point in storing and cataloguing a lot of wine just for the sake of having it. I enjoy buying wine, and I look forward to opening it, but as you can see, I have far more wine than I can possibly do justice to, and often I have to perform a purge such as this. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Second, I confess that this probably is my favourite way to spend an evening: sharing my wines with people who can appreciate them. And lastly, I have to say that having a good wine cellar seems to attract the most interesting people. Salut!”