Does it go in the kitchen rack for convenience?  Does it go in the slightly less accessible (and-more-obvious-when-it’s-missing-a-bottle) designer storage rack?  Or does it get whisked down the garden to safety under lock and key and the cool surroundings of the coal bunker?

Some friends visited recently and presented me with a very attractive magnum size bottle (150cl) of Bordeaux claret.  Taken back byChateautheir generosity, my dilemma continued as I realised that this was no ordinary claret….. it was a 2005 vintage – one of the most sought after and highly prized vintages of the modern era.  The question was, therefore, should we drink it, or should I rudely squirrel it away to allow it to be alone whilst it fully developed?   To make matters worse, a pungent garlic and rosemary infested shoulder of lamb was busy filling the room with its heart-melting aromas, desperate to be paired up with the enticing flavours of a mature Bordeaux Cabernet.

The bottom line is this….. red wine will always benefit from some bottle age.   Be it a screwcap everyday wine (a year or two), a delicate Burgundian pinot noir (three years and upwards) or a meaty Chateauneuf du Pape (three to 20 years), they’ll all settle down and flourish if given a chance.  My friends thought (understandably) that a 2005 was ‘plenty old’ to be drinking.  And why wouldn’t they?  But a vintage as considerable as the 2005 from Bordeaux is likely to see some of the very top chateaux last 50 years and beyond!  On the other hand, the medium ‘cru bourgeois’ wines (with honest, affordable price tags – and there are many) are as ready and as delicious now as they will be in, say, 10 years time.  There is much to be said for drinking wines at a younger age.  The French have always drunk fine wines at a younger age than the Brits, preferring the delicate, fruitier connotations associated with a more youthful wine.  And who can blame them?

Needless to say, we polished off the magnum and enjoyed it immensely.  Yes, it would have matured and developed with further ageing, but would it have been any more enjoyable?  Well, I doubt it, not because of the wine, but because the moment was right to crack that particular bottle open – and boy, did we have a fun evening!

As for the lamb, it packed its due punch (thanks to those genius folk who wrote the River Cafe cookbook!).  Lamb prices are pretty reasonable at the moment (plenty of hoggits around this year).  My advice is to fill your freezer and stock your shelves with affordable cru bourgeois Bordeaux.   Take some advice on what is ‘ready’ to drink and what needs a little more time to open up.  Go for 2005 Bordeaux if you can and drink in good spirits!

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