Wine Drinking Pleasures- Cape, South Africa
PUBLISHED: 10:42 11 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
It's February, the month of Valentine's Day, so I'm going to get all romantic.
Once, when I was in the Cape in South Africa - and those who have been can vouch for me when I say it is one of the breathtakingly beautiful places in the world - I experienced one of those wonderful serendipitous combinations of circumstances that comes along all too infrequently in life.
I was sitting above a beautiful lake on a veranda outside a Cap Dutch bungalow in the Cape wine growing region. It was warm and quiet, with not a breath of breeze. The water was still, the vines stretched out ahead, heavy with ripening fruit, the mountains rose up majestically in front of me and the sun, splendid in red and orange and peach, was going down above them in spectacular fashion.
And grasped in my hand was an exquisite glass of white wine, redolent with fruity scents, soft on the tongue and delicately flavoursome. It doesn't matter what it was - it was just perfect. It doesn't get much better than that.
Oh, and my husband was there too. When it's right, it's right and good wine can enhance your life. You don't even need to know an awful lot about it. It's a bit like modern art - you know it's good, but you don't necessarily know why.And you know what you like, what stirs you and pleases you.
Wine is the same - it can make the difference between enjoying a romantic meal or a special occasion, and it being a very ordinary experience. But it's not just the quality of the wine which makes a difference to your winedrinking pleasure. All sorts of things can spoil it.
The wrong glasses. Okay, it's a bit fussy, but to appreciate fine wine, you need a good glass. They don't need to be cut glass crystal, but they do need to be of decent quality. I know the health and safety elves says you should take plastic glasses to those concerts in the park, but your wine will never taste the same - and don't ever drink it out of a mug. Please.
Corked wine. What a disappointment. That moment when that prize bottle of wine, which has been maturing slowly in the cellar, turns out to be corked. Up to seven per cent of wines are ruined by corkborne contaminants, so you're bound to come across some from time to time. Trouble is, you don't know until you've opened it.
The wrong temperature. The serving temperature of wines is crucial. Scientific studies have shown that at different temperatures, sweetness and bitterness are perceived differently by the tongue. So a new world Chardonnay might taste flabby and sweet when served at room temperature, but taut and savoury when chilled. And when it is ice-cold, it might taste of nothing at all. Reds served warm can taste unfocused and unstructured, yet when too cool might taste rather too bitter and quite tannic.
Competing smells. So distracting. You cannot appreciate a wine if you're seated next to someone wearing a strong perfume or an overpowering aftershave. Just as bad in those circumstances - but less prevalent these days - is being near someone who smokes. And you can tell can't you? Even if they don't actually light up, you can smell smoke on their clothes or hair. Each to their own, but it can ruin a wine-drinking experience.
Poor light. Surely one of the pleasures of wine is being able to see it properly. Deep reds, blonde whites, twinkly sparklings. I know Valentine's Day means candlelight, but dim restaurant lighting means you can't appreciate the delicate bubbles in champagne or the warm glow of a ruby wine. And what are they hiding?
Feeling under the weather. You can't appreciate your wine if you have a cold. It ruins the taste buds and you can't smell it properly. Leave the good stuff in the cellar until you feel a bit better and replace with honey and lemon...
Having to drive. Don't. It's never worth it.We all know someone who only had half a glass and was banned for a year. Make proper arrangements before you start.
Poor company. Drink wine with people you like.We've all stood round at some awful reception with a slowly warming glass of some indifferent white wine, making small talk with people we don't like much and are probably never going to see again. Keep it to a minimum. And keep your best wine for drinking with the ones you love. I told you I was getting all romantic.