To drink, or not to drink...

Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan

that is the question

Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan sheds some light on the meaning of drinking windows and how to decide when best to pull the cork

When to drink wines held in Reserves (or understair cupboards) is the question we get asked most often through our wine advice e-mail service. There isn't a scientific answer I'm afraid, and when I give advice to members I often say it's about your personal preference. I can provide a guide, but I might like wines at a different stage of maturity compared to the next person.

I know I'm lucky as I often get to try wines at different stages of maturity; very young wines, those with a few years' ageing and, if I'm very lucky, wines that are fully mature. But working out your own preference for mature wines is part of the fun of laying them down in the first place. I recently had real pleasure and excitement when I took from Reserves a case of mid-range 2003 clarets. I have been drinking them over the last year and every bottle has been super. I have tended to decant them early, three to four hours in advance of serving, and then watch them develop over the course of the evening. The wines are roughly mid-way through the drinking window that we provided. I could have taken a few bottles out at a time with our part-withdrawal facility option (which allows you to take out up to four different wines from stored unmixed dozens) but I gambled on all the wines being ready. I was interested to see if the wines already showed a lot of maturity as 2003 was an extremely hot vintage and I was worried that they may not have kept as well as some of the more classic vintages with more acidity. I need not have worried. I know I have hit them at the right time for my taste, at 12 years old; still young enough to have plenty of fruit, but old enough for the wines to have shed some tannin and have sweetened up. Experience tells me, though, that red wines will happily last well after the recommended drink date too and can provide a lot of fun charting them as they grow old gracefully. So, my advice would be to always take advantage of opportunities to try wines that you think may be well over the hill; after all you may be pleasantly surprised and if not, they can always be added to the gravy!

Fine wines on the rack

Ultimately, it's up to you when to pull the cork as only you will know what you like. But as this can take some practice we provide a guide by assigning 'drink windows', giving an indication as to when we think the wines will be at their best. If you prefer fresh, crunchy fruit flavours, err towards the start of the drinking window; for more earthy, mellow flavour, leave a little longer. En Primeur offers (where wines are offered for sale before they have been bottled) are a very easy way to start a small collection of wine. This is how I started, buying a case or two a year of wines at the cheaper end of the scale and then taking them out of Reserves years later; it is very exciting to see how they have developed. I tend to buy mixed cases from the Rhône or Bordeaux where cases often start at around £70 for wines which will happily keep for five to 15 years. This is a great way to start a cellar and begin to understand at what stage of maturity you like your wines.

Please don't hesitate to contact us if you'd like advice as to when to pull the cork on a particular bottle. You can do this online at or by contacting Member Services.

Drink windows for past en primeur offer wines (from 2000) can be found on our website and drink dates for specific wines can also be found under the 'My Wines' section of the website which provides drink dates on wines you have bought going back to 2009. There's more information on en primeur offers here.

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.