“Wine is sunlight, held together by water!"
Galileo Gallilei

As the long winter nights draw in, what could be more comforting than sitting by an open log fire as you take your time to savour a glass of heart-warming rouge?

These days, good wine is becoming increasingly accessible with online merchants such as The Cardinal’s Cellar offering a wide variety of fine wines from around the world. The vast array afforded to the discerning drinker makes choosing wines a bit more fun, but it can also be a bit more of a gamble.

Although the range of wines is vast, the way in which one stores one’s purchases should always remain constant. The aim is to maintain a stable environment in which the wine can mature in the bottle until the time is right for consumption. By following the simple rules below, you can ensure that all your wines will be enjoyed at their best.

Keep it cool: it is essential that one maintains a consistent, cool temperature for the wine. Too hot and the wine will age prematurely and spoil. Too cold and the cork will shrink and the wine will not develop into the rich and sumptuous treat you are expecting. The optimum temperature for wine storage is around 10 - 16ºC. Fluctuations over or under this will prove unsettling for the wine.

Keep it dark: avoid direct sunlight. Harmful UV rays will damage the wine. Many bottles are UV resistant these days, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

Keep it quiet: although there is little scientific proof for it, common sense dictates that keeping your wine near a source of vibration will upset the sediment and diminish the likelihood of a stress-free maturation.

Keep it horizontal: perhaps the defining factor whether your wine will mature or spoil is the cork. So keep it - as you might well find yourself after a bottle of fine port too many - horizontal. If your bottle is sealed with a natural cork then you will need to keep your wine on its side. This keeps the cork moist and therefore swollen. By maintaining its moisture, a good natural cork will not crack, crumble or dry out. Wine bottles are stopped with some air remaining in the neck. This gives the wine a soupçon of oxygen to work with for a slow maturation. Oxidisation caused by the wine coming into contact with this air pocket naturally mellows the intense flavours and initial punch of the wine.

A “corked” bottle will have a musty smell and taste. Rendered unpalatable, the wine will lack all the subtleties that the grapes have been nurtured to release. Roughly 5 - 10% of wines are corked. The viable and still slightly controversial alternative to a natural cork is the screw cap. A decade ago, screw caps were used for wines of inferior quality. Nowadays, although the relatively unsightly twist-tops have none of the drama of uncorking a fine bottle of wine, they have proved to be of inestimable value in maintaining freshness and allowing consistency in the ageing process.

Keep it safe: In all instances, wherever you decide to store your prized collection, keeping the key hidden from thirsty wives (or husbands!), children and friends is of vital importance!

The main rule, with regard to drinking one's precious wine is to pay scant attention to wine snobbery - the beauty of wine is that it all depends on whether it is pleasing to you. The gustatory and olfactory senses form part of a completely subjective sphere - one's wine drinking career should be based on personal preference and should not be influenced by others. You must embark on your own wine odyssey and look for the aromas and flavours which are pleasing to your own particular taste.

So, for all the other dos and don’ts, when stumbling through the great minefield of oenology, the ultimate cardinal sin is to amass a collection of fine wine and not drink it!