There are infinite ways to ruin a bottle of red. A few suggestions: Store it next to a furnace boiler for 10 years; drop it in the liquor store parking lot; forget it in a car trunk for a month in the Mojave Desert; pack it loosely in a hockey bag and entrust the item to the gentle care of airport baggage handlers.
Or you can simply do what most people do. Serve it with cheese.
Surprised by that last bit? Then you haven't been following the gospel that top wine experts have been preaching for decades. Most reds stink with cheese (especially stinky cheese). I'm talking not just about modest merlots and malbecs that may be paired with cubes of Cracker Barrel or Velveeta at low-budget office parties this holiday season. I also mean such classic European couplings as red Burgundy with Époisses de Bourgogne. Foodie felonies all.
I can hear the guffaws. People have been pairing red wine with cheese for millenniums. It's a gastronomic synergy rivalled only by Old-Fashioned-Glazed Timbits and a double-double. Who are these so-called experts, anyway?
The list of detractors includes none other than the world's three most influential wine writers, Robert M. Parker Jr., Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, all of whom have argued that white wines generally dance more deftly with fermented milk. But it's not just the position of effete critics. The red alert has been sounded by countless people with experience in the hospitality industry.
Such as Michel Roux Jr., a French-trained chef and long-time operator of London's two-Michelin-star Le Gavroche, who also ran the Élysée Palace kitchen for late French president and famous foodie François Mitterrand.
"The deep-rooted belief that red wine and cheese are the perfect match should be well and truly forgotten," Roux decreed in his 2005 book, Matching Food & Wine.
Next witness for the prosecution: Stephen Williams, chief executive of AWC Fine Wine, a London purveyor of luxury wines and cellar-advisory services to clients in more than 60 countries. I called him the other week and he told me that sweet, high-acid white wines, such as sauternes and Alsatian rieslings, make a better choice for many cheeses. (To that list I would add Canada's late-harvest rieslings, vidals and gewurztraminers.)
"I think that you need high levels of acidity to be able to cut through the fat," Williams said. Sugar also helps counterbalance lactic tang, the main reason cheeses are often accompanied by dried fruits, jellies or berry compotes.
Even science has weighed in. For a 2006 study, researchers at the University of California, Davis, served eight different wines with eight varieties of cheese to a group of trained tasters. In almost all cases, the wines were trampled by the fromage. Prized characters of fruit, acidity, tannins and oak all became obscured, throwing the wines off-kilter. The research suggested that, among other things, high salt content in many cheeses could suppress the perception of acidity. That's one reason red wines, which are generally less tart than whites, become dull and disjointed.
There are exceptions, yes, even if experts quibble over which reds suffer the least collateral damage. In my opinion, the best all-round red for cheese is amarone, a dry but extremely rich and raisiny Italian red, though it has the disadvantage of being pricey, starting at about $30. Port, the sweet fortified wine that's classically partnered with English Stilton, is another good option for many salty, crumbly cheeses.
And there's always malty beer, whisky, brandy or rum. You might be surprised at how well cheese goes with brown.