1. Are competition medals worth anything or are they completely meaningless?

It depends on the competition, because all but a few are pretty worthless from a consumer point of view. In the UK, the Decanter World Wine Awards (with which I’m involved) and the International Wine Challenge (which I’m not) both have credibility. As a rule, gold medals, as roughly 2 – 3% of total entries, are a yardstick of quality, silver medals up to a point too. Commendeds are wooden spoons really.

2. Do you ever need to spend more than £6.99 on a bottle of wine?

You don’t need to, but beyond £6.99 there are some wonderful wines and wine quality generally improves in proportion to its price. You’d denying yourself champagne for a start, and think of all the other treats you’d be missing, most great wines to be honest. It’s a rather boring truism but the fact is that 98.5 per cent of the time you get what you pay for.

3. So you get twice the value with a Buy One Get One Free offer?

No. The BOGOF is a notorious ploy by the supermarkets to get footfall through their aisles, often by artificially inflating the price of a wine in order to discount it so make it look cheaper. It can happen but it’s rare when the value of the wine matches its so-called real price.

4. Cork or screwcap?

Screwcap. The screwcap guarantees freedom from troublesome cork taint, it keeps a wine better for longer and it’s more convenient.
To be fair to cork, it’s great when it works and wines under screwcap can pong a bit if there’s insufficient air in the wine when it’s bottled.

5. Are some regions and countries better value than others and if so which?

Generally the southern regions of France, Italy and Spain, much of Portugal, Chile and Argentina and parts of Australia offer better value than the so-called classic regions, especially of France and Italy where AC and DOC can be a price screen for producers to hide behind. Good value bets include Argentinian malbec, Australian shiraz, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, South African sauvignon/semillon blends, Chilean carmenère and Sicilian nero d’avola. At their best though, the classic regions of France, Spain and Italy still produce most of the greatest bottles.

6. How long can I keep a bottle of wine for once it’s been opened?

Once the bottle’s been opened, oxygen gets in and the wine starts to deteriorate because air causes it to oxidise. Keep a wine overnight in the fridge or under a nitrogen seal, but not much longer unless you have one of those expensive professional machines. Having said that, a wine that’s young or closed up can improve the next day.

7. How do I know what to order on a restaurant wine list?

In general steer away from the cheapest house wine and the most expensive luxury brand names. Trust the sommelier if the restaurant has one (but not if they’re snooty). Most of them are younger, less stuffy and so much more professional than they used to be.

8. Do wine glasses make a difference?

Yes. Maybe not quite the difference that some stemware manufacterers would have you believe, but a long stem to keep your warm hands off the ‘bowl’ and a thin glass crystal bowl for releasing the aroma, definitely enhance the experience.

9. Is it true that a silver spoon in the neck of the bottle of champagne helps to preserve the sparkle?

I’ve been trying to convince my mother that this is an old wives’ tale but she’s having none of it as she religiously uses the silver spoon method. Try it without the spoon and see what happens. Better still, preserve with a champagne stopper or clingfilm.

10. How do I choose the best high street, supermarket, wine club, online and independent wine merchant wines?

Consult www.thewinegang.com!

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