Wine: Agony Anthony - Your wine questions answered

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Since Robert Parker decided to confer extra brownie points to unfiltered wines, the word `unfiltered', or even `non-filtre' on a wine label has become something of a marketing tool Illustration by Spike Gerrell

I'm about to come into a case of 1980 Chateau d'Yquem which my parents laid down for my 18th birthday. What would I get if I sold it and where is the best place to sell it?

The most recent auction price for a case of 1980 Chateau d'Yquem is pounds 1,265. This most famous of Sauternes in the hierarchy of sweet white Bordeaux is one of the few wines from the generally mediocre 1980 vintage with some commercial value on today's market. 1980 Ports, along with 1980 red Burgundy and Rhone, were better bets than red Bordeaux, but have little resale value. The two main auction houses are Christie's, 8 King St, London SW1 (0171-839 9060) and Sotheby's, 34-35 New Bond St, London W1 (0171-493 8080). Your wine will take around three months to sell and you will be liable for seller's commission of 10-15 per cent on the hammer price (note also that the published price includes 10 per cent buyer's commission).

You might be better off trying a wine merchant with a broking arm, who will pay you cash up-front, or, if you can wait a little, act as a broker and take 10 per cent of an agreed price. There's no risk, and because the bigger brokers have a large clientele, they're often speedier than auction houses. Try Farr Vintners, 19 Sussex St, London SW1 (0171-821 2000), Reid Wines (1992) Ltd, The Mill, Marsh Lane, Hallatrow, Bristol (01761 452645), or Bordeaux Index Ltd, 4th Floor, Eagle Court, 6-7 St John's Lane, London EC1 (0171-250 1982).

Why do you find dregs in red and not white wines, and are they an indication of the wine's potential for ageing?

Unlike white wines, red wines are fermented with their skins after the grapes are crushed. The sediment consists of the decomposed particles of grapeskin and yeast that have escaped the filtration process. They are not in themselves an indication of a wine's potential for ageing. Once a common feature in red wines, sediment has been more or less systematically eliminated from everyday wines. Latterly, the realisation that excessive filtration can also remove flavour has encouraged a tendency to lighter filtration or, in some cases, no filtration at all. Since the influential American critic, Robert Parker, decided to confer extra brownie points in his ratings to unfiltered wines, the word "unfiltered", or even "non- filtre" on a wine label has become something of a marketing tool.

What's the best method of cleaning glasses and decanters?

Ideally, glasses are normally best cleaned under a hot water tap. Stubborn greasemarks, though, normally need a mild washing-up liquid to remove them. Do be careful. My own collection of stemless bowls comes mainly from careless washing up. If you use washing-up liquid on glasses, make sure they are rinsed thoroughly, since even a small amount can ruin a wine's bouquet, and, in the case of champagne, its fizz. Air-dry glasses upside down and buff with a linen cloth. Decanters can be cleaned by dissolving a denture-cleaning tablet in water and leaving the solution in the decanter overnight, making sure the decanter is then thoroughly rinsed the next day and left to dry.

Living on my own, I sometimes find that I don't finish a full bottle of wine, and sometimes only feel in the mood for a glass or two. How long does a bottle of wine keep after opening?

Readers of moderate consumption, assuming we have the odd few, may have experienced the pleasant surprise of coming across a glassful of wine left in a bottle which is more enjoyable the day after. Opening a bottle and exposing the wine to the air speeds up the process of ageing, so a young red such as Barolo or a strapping southern French red may well give the impression of having benefited from being left overnight to soften. A wine that has already reached its peak, however, is likely to disintegrate rapidly. Keeping wine in the fridge door, preferably in a handy half-bottle to minimise the oxygen level, can help arrest the ageing process. Alternatively, try squirting with Winesaver, which dispels the oxygen and seals in the wine's freshness with a blanket of nitrogen.

Is there any truth in the theory that leaving the handle of a silver teaspoon in the neck of a bottle of sparkling wine helps to preserve its sparkle?

I used to think it was true, but according to a respected Master of Wine, the silver teaspoon trick is just an old wives' tale. Besides, if you leave a bottle of Champagne in the fridge overnight with just a teaspoon in it, it's going to pick up undesirable smells. A better way of keeping the liquid carbon dioxide gas in an unfinished bottle is to seal your fizz with a Champagne stopper, or, failing that, there's nothing wrong with shoving an ordinary cork in the neck of the bottle.

Now that I can buy just about any wine, I want at the supermarket, is there any point in laying wine down?

Yes and no. Roughly 90 per cent of the wine we drink costs under pounds 4 a bottle. Just like any other perishable product, everyday wines have a limited shelf life and are not designed to improve. One of the features of a fine wine is its capacity to improve with age. By a process known as reduction (the opposite of oxidation), the wine mingles with the air already

in the bottle to soften and produce complex secondary aromas and flavours. How can you tell if a wine's going to improve? You can't always, but the style, the quality of the vintage, the name of the producer - and, of course, the price - should all be helpful indicators. Laying down wine requires space, money and infinite patience, so as a general rule, don't lay anything down unless you're sure it will repay keeping. When is it ready? There's no easy answer, but the simple rule is to suck it and see

White of the week 1995 Alasia Arneis, Langhe, pounds 6.99 Safeway.

Arneis is a fragrant white grape variety native to the Alpine foothills in Italy's north-west. Made under the supervision of the original Australian flying winemaker, Martin Shaw, at one of Piedmont's best co-operatives, a quarter of this intriguingly perfumed dry white is fermented in oak casks. The delicately nutty tang is given added definition and crispness by elegant, cool-climate acidity.

Red of the week

1996 Old Winery Pinot Noir, Tyrrell's New South Wales/South Australia, pounds 6.99 Unwins, Wine Cellar. The Pinot Noir grape of Burgundy normally only performs well in marginal climates, especially in the New World, which, as often as not, fails in its attempts to recreate Burgundy in its own image. This is a juicy, moreish, red-berry style with a come-hither shade of oak spice adding complexity to the elegantly thirst-quenching raspberry fruitiness.