24 Dec 2011

How to get rid of undrinkable wines over Christmas and the New Year

Usually wine writers use the festive period to try to persuade you to part with plenty of hard-earned cash by suggesting some wildly expensive wines, most of which are so rare that you can't find them anyway. I am going to adopt another approach and show you how this is in fact the ideal moment in the year to clear your cellar (or cupboard, or kitchen shelf) of some of those bottles of wine that have been hanging around and which you haven't yet resigned yourself to pouring down the drain.

Since many of you will be stuck with sizeable chunks of your respective families for a few days, and since the majority of these either do not care that much about wine, or else will be too pissed most of the time to pay great attention to the finer points of the vino that you are serving them, this is the time to get shot of those wines that you have kept too long, or are slightly ashamed of, or indeed those sorts of wine that you love in theory, but can never find anybody else who likes them enough to get around to pulling the cork.

Serve from the decanter and, if anyone asks you what it is, say that the label fell off but it was given to you by your grandfather, uncle, a cousin in the wine trade or whatever comes to mind.
Let's start with the case of a red wine that you have had for ages and which is well over the top. In other words its colour has faded to something close to an autumn leaf, its smell reminds you of old horse manure (or perhaps vinegar), and its taste is both watery and acidic. You need to find a decanter (or an empty bottle with a smart label on it) and grab a bottle of ruby port or other red fortified wine. Don't waste your vintage port on this job, but LBV or Ruby Reserve will do fine. You pour about 3 or 4 centilitres of port (this will amount to around 5% of the final volume) into the decanter and then add the red wine in question. Taste the result and, if it hasn't yet become palatable, add a bit more port.
Another situation could be that you have a bottle or two of wines that nobody ever drinks because they think they are too weird, too sweet, too acidic, or whatever. In this instance it is best to have two bottles, each one of a different category. For example a bottle of Vin Jaune (dry Sherry will do also), and a bottle of Sauternes (any sweet white wine will do here). These are two types of wines whose consumption is on the decline, presumable because fewer and fewer people like them, but you can substitute anything else you have lying around and whose taste does not suit your guests. Liebfraumilch is usually a good bet ! Anyway, find a large decanter or jug and pour both wines into it. Stir well and taste. If the result is awful then you can pour in down the sink and that settles the problem. If it is decent, then you have invented a new wine and your guests/family will either think you are a genius, or will just drink it without paying any attention (more likely).

Yet another situation, which calls for diplomatic skills beyond most of us, is the bottle that was given to you a year ago by mother/father-in-law (or out of law, as the case may be), or by some other significant and elder member of the family. You are not sure about the merits of the wine the bottle contains but you fear the worst. If the person who has given you this bottle is present, this is the moment you have been waiting for!  Open the bottle with some ceremony, pour a little into your glass, and ostensibly sniff it. Smile (yes, you can), but say nothing at this point. Pour it for the guests (those that drink at least) and then carefully watch the person who gave it to you as they taste it. The scenario can go different ways at this point:
1). If the wine is awful, the chances are that they won't say anything. This is the worst option as you will be forced to taste it. If they then ask you what you think of it, you can kick for touch by saying that you "find it very interesting/complex/unusual" or "this wine takes me on a journey" (this will probably confirm their opinion of you as a pretentious twat). In any event avoid taking more than that first sip, since you can always drink some water and wait for better times.
2). If they are honest and say it is awful, then the problem is solved and you can pour it down the sink and find something drinkable.
3). If the wine turns out to be good, then the problem is also solved and everyone is happy. You then have the added option of going sycophantic and saying something like "I have been waiting since .... to share this wonderful present with you". This will win you brownie points.

There are many other situations that one can think of, but I am sure that you get the general idea. Be creative, and Happy Christmas to you all!


  1. So good, David that I wish I had written it... Only slight niggle (and I realize your tongue was stuck firmly in your cheek) is that both Sherry and Jura wines including Vin Jaune are becoming quite fashionable in certain circles, so I would recommend your readers save these bottles to impress someone on another occasion.

    Have a great Christmas with your leftovers/relatives!

  2. Well Written. No doubt a great post to read yet

  3. Thank you Wink, and you are perfectly right about the position of my tongue. I had a glorious bottle of a 1983 vin jaune from Puffeny (I think) recently. Then again, last night I tried a 1973 Vin de Voile from Plageoles and it was awful! These things come and go. Maybe I'll try my cocktail recipe on the remains?

  4. Finally, the holiday drinking problems solved. All except one, which is not necessarily a holiday problem. I have another bottle problem: people, when they want to be particularly kind, give us magnums. But we never drink magnums. It's generally rather too much at dinner for two, or even for more if you want have some other wines at the same dinner. Can you please help? With a future Dear David column here on MTJW? (or by helping finish the bottles)

  5. I have two solutions for you Per. One is to invite me of course! The other is to remember the answer of Winston S. Churchill when asked what, in his opinion would be the ideal size for a bottle of Champagne. His reply went something like this: "In the event of a luncheon shared by 2 gentlemen, a magnum would be ideal, especially when one of the two gentlemen does not drink"

  6. A story often told, which I’ve been narrated by the visual witness himself, a well distinguished professor at the famous Louvain University (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), wine journalist during his free-time.

    Venue: a top class Dutch Hotel
    Main actor: father Prats himself
    Victim: attenders
    Facts : prior to a comprehensive vertical tasting, bottles of older Cos d’Estournel are being decanted by the owner in an adjacent room and every decanter is “improved” by the addition of some ruby port. He is unaware of a closed-circuit video system broadcasting everything to the participants to the tasting.

    General uproar and disapprobation ensues !

  7. Yes.
    But I always thought the famous « calcaire à huîtres » famous for that part of Saint-Estèphe and responsible for its “terroir” would merit the label “Made in Portugal”.

  8. Indeed. But we all know that this "terroir" thing is a highly moveable feast.