Household Essentials: Wine

A well-stocked wine cellar

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A well-stocked wine cellar

A well-stocked wine cellar

© shutterstock

Larder staples 

Everyone has a handful of larder staples guaranteed to deliver a swift, tasty emergency meal. A tin of tuna, a jar of harissa paste: individual ingredients that can sit happily for months until suddenly that moment comes when there’s no time to go shopping, the fridge is bare and that joint of meat in the freezer will never defrost in time.

It’s useful to apply the same approach to wine. That’s not to undermine the pleasure of peacefully planning a delicious match between plate and glass, or gearing a dish around that special bottle in the cellar; but sometimes life just gallops ahead and you need to improvise. There are some wines that are either so versatile, crowd pleasing or perfect for certain occasions that it’s wise to keep a bottle or two on permanent standby.

Pouring a glass of celebratory fizz

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Let’s start with fizz

There’s certain stage in life when friends get engaged at a bewildering pace. They come round for supper with that secretive glint of big news in their eye, an even bigger glint on their finger, and suddenly your welcoming G&T looks rather underpowered. Or there’s that promotion, a birthday, sometimes simply getting through a tough week. No drink says celebration or lifts the spirits like a glass of good quality sparkling wine so it’s always worth having a ready chilled bottle in the fridge.

Quality fizz

Champagne is the obvious candidate, but don’t let the French have you believe it’s the only acceptable option. Think Franciacorta, Sekt, proper Cava, the new wave of exciting English fizz, good Crémant and that’s before you get to the Southern Hemisphere’s Cap Classique from South Africa or serious Tasmanian sparklers. Make it a good bottle though: there’s nothing celebratory about those cloying, soapy bubbles someone left behind after last year’s summer barbecue.   

A glass of Pinot Blanc aka Weissburgunder

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The next friendly bottle you need on permanent standby is the inexpensive but respectable and adaptable white wine. Something you can crack open if a friend drops round and it’s too late in the day to offer them a cup of tea or coffee (everyone has their own cut-off for exactly when this moment lies). Anything too highly aromatic or oaky leaves you at the mercy of personal taste, but nor do you want to play it too safe with a bland supermarket Pinot Grigio. It’s also helpful if the wine can earn its keep beyond aperitif duties to a light lunch or starter. 

There are several candidates for this important role of “fridge door white”, but Pinot Blanc is an all too often overlooked option that deserves greater appreciation. Consistently overshadowed by other more fashionable members of the Pinot family, this Cinderella variety rarely wins top accolades or tops a producers’ portfolio – in fact, it’s more usually offered as a palate cleanser before the serious tasting begins.

Refreshment

That said, it’s an arguably more useful grape, at least for those who prize refreshment over ratings. Those examples made with love and reasonably low yields can deliver lively, mouth-filling satisfaction for a modest price. Alsace has today become the grape’s main home in France – if only those long, elegant bottles fitted more easily into a fridge door – but look out also for its synonyms: the Pinot Bianco of Friuli and neighbouring Slovenia, or the Weissburgunder of Germany and Austria.

The glow of Tawny Port

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Finally, there’s that moment during dinner with friends when you really don’t want the evening to end just yet. Spirits can be too fierce a gear change, so instead keep everyone lingering around the table over a bottle of Port. This sort of unplanned scenario is no time for that expensive vintage Port that really needed to be stood up and then carefully decanted hours ago.

What you need here is a bottle that’s ready to go, both in terms of breathing and maturity. The answer is tawny Port: no sediment and no bottle age required. The 20-year-old styles are most versatile of all, showing greater depth and intensity than younger tawnies, pairing happily with a wide array of either cheese or dessert, and with a price tag that won’t leave a headache the next morning as you review the wisdom of such spontaneous hospitality.

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