One of the joys of retirement is being able to enjoy a nice glass of wine with my meal without having to worry about driving home or the need to keep a clear head. In the UK we are fortunate in being able to choose wines from all over Europe and the New World and in Market Harborough we have six supermarkets and two specialists selling a huge range. Indeed the new M&S food store at East Langton has a big enough range to satisfy the requirements of all but the most discerning.
There is still much snobbery associated with wine, some of which is encouraged by wine writers, who refer to obscure aromas and flavours, and recommend expensive London merchants. All of the suppliers in Market Harborough sell enough to cater for a wide range of tastes and pockets and Majestic, Duncan Murray and Waitrose have trained staff who are usually very helpful: just tell them what you want the wine for and how much you want to spend.
One of the main lessons we have learned at the wine group over the last fifteen years is the importance of matching wine with food and the occasion. It would be silly to waste a fine bottle of red Burgundy on sausages and burgers at a barbecue; equally it would be a pity not to match a nice piece of salmon with something like a decent white Burgundy at a special birthday lunch. Our second lesson is never to choose wines because you like the pretty label. Labels are designed by artists and not wine makers; a beautiful wine may lurk behind a simple label. Our third lesson is not to judge a wine by its price or reputation. Finally, beware of huge discounts; the best bargains are usually found when you save 15% for buying four bottles or 25% for six. There are also good times of the year to buy. Supermarkets have to clear their stocks in April/May ready for the new vintage, and in October they clear their shelves for Christmas. Many enthusiasts buy wine via direct mail suppliers who send a selection at regular intervals. I have been disappointed by the two organisations I have used, and prefer wasting away half an hour in one of our supermarkets: the Co-op is a favourite haunt (15% discount for four bottles)!
There is still debate about the merits of screw tops over corks. Supermarkets like screw tops, but there is something satisfying about the pop of a cork and being able to sniff it. However, what is more important is to serve wine at the right temperature, and for some red wines ventilating is advised. This involves either decanting slowly a few hours before serving, or pouring into a jug before pouring back into the bottle and disposing of the sediment. It is surprising how this improves some ordinary reds. But for me much of the pleasure of wine tasting comes from choosing a wine that is right for the food and the occasion, and I am just looking forward to Christmas which provides so many opportunities to do this. Michael Switzer.