THIS IS THE SHORTEST COURSE YOU WILL EVER FIND
A HELPING HAND
The vintner has some options to help his wine along. Here are three used mostly.
Jean A. Chaptal, a French Minister of Agriculture in the 1800's, suggested that sugar can be added to the grapes if they are low in natural sugar. This does not make the wine sweeter but raises the alcohol level so the wine is more stable. This practice is banned in California and Italy, where they use a grape juice concentrate instead.
COLD STABILIZATION. Helps remove tartrate crystals. The main acid of grapes is TARTARIC ACID. If the wine has a very high tartaric acid count, which the best ones do, it may crystallize. Some people mistakenly think that this is either ground glass floating the wine or sugar crystals that have formed on the cork. It is just cream of tartar.
MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION. The introduction of lactic-acid bacteria after the primary fermentation to change malic acid to lactic acid. This make for a smoother tasting wine. Malic acid is found in tart fruit such as apples. Lactic acid is a milder acid found in milk.
The crushed grapes ferment with their skins for up to two weeks. This allows the red color of the skin and the TANNIN (a natural preservative) to leech into the juice. This mess is called MUST. The filtered must is put into stainless steel or oak casks. Preferably from the Limousin forest in France. Some wine makers, particularly Californians, prefer the more subtle wood from Alliers, Nevers and Troncais or even American Redwood. The wine will wait here up to three years. The wine is then RACKED. This is the drawing off of clear wine to another cask for further aging. Some wines may be racked four or five times. Others may go into a bottle from here after being FINED Fining is the process to removing sediment from the wine. Whipped egg whites are one of the filtering mediums. The proteins coagulate around the suspended particles and settle to the bottom. Other fining mediums are isinglass (I'd tell you what it is but it's nasty) gelatin and Bentonite, a natural clay. Fuller bodied wines will go into other casks for further aging (about a year). The wine is filtered again to get it crystal clear. The wine is bottled and BINNED. Binning lets the wine age, on its side, for a year or two. This way the cork is kept moist, so it won't shrink or crack and spoil the wine. Wines that have a high tannin content will last for years, even decades, this way.
Much more simple than red. The harvested grapes are turned into must. The must is held for a day in a temperature controlled tank so that it does not ferment. The must is separated and the juice is put into another tank to ferment for approximately 14 days. Some of the best whites will "taste oak" for 16 to 18 months so they can absorb some tannin from the wood. Other whites are fined, filtered and bottled. They should be drunk within two or three years of bottling.
The red grape must sits for only a day or two and then is treated as white wine.
MADEIRA, MARSALA, PORT, SHERRY and VERMOUTH are fortified wines. Neutral spirits added to bring their alcohol level to 18 or 20 percent.
Starts off as a white wine, then bakes in glass lined cement vats at 1200F for three months. There are four Madeiras, named for their grapes SERCIAL. The driest. Is usually as an apéritif. VERDELHO. Has a bit more body than Sercial. Served with the soup. BUAL. Is sweeter and darker than those above. Served as a dessert wine MALMESY The darkest and sweetest of the four. Serve with simple desserts. MARSALA Made from the white CATARRAT, GRILL and INZOLIA grapes MARSALA FINE The least expensive has the sweetness fermented out. Then it's flavored with a reduced and caramelized must called MUSTA COTTA (cooked must). MARSALA SUPERIORE It has SIFONE added for sweetness. Sifone is a grape juice whose fermentation has been stopped by adding neutral spirits to it. This Marsala must age for at least two years in an oak cask. MARSALA VERGINE Has nothing added to it except neutral spirits. It must age in a cask for five years.
Made from NACIONAL, TINTA RORIZ, TINTA FRANCISCA, TINTA CAO and several other grapes to produce a sweet red wine served after the meal. A 48 hour old must is put into a vat. Then a neutral spirit, 154 proof, is added to stop the fermentation and bring the alcohol up to 20%. The wine ages for two years in oak vats. It is then bottled and binned. The intensity of Port is shown by the extreme age at which it can be drunk. Some people will not serve it until it reaches 20 or 30 years old.
Like Madeira, it starts as a white wine. It is made from the PALOMINO grape in the JEREZ region of Spain. Before 1970 harvested grapes were left in the sun for a day. Then they were put in a special trough and crushed by men wearing hob nail soled boots. Nowadays a machine crushes them. Oak casks are filled 5/8 full with the juice. Sherry is the one wine that needs air to start it off. After several weeks the juice will be covered by a mold called FLOR (Spanish for flower). The flor will determine what kind of sherry will be made from that cask. The FINO(light bodied and dry) and OLOROSOS (darker and fuller bodied) are then sent to their respective SOLERA (Spanish for floor). Casks are stored four or five high.
When you need some sherry you take it from the bottom cask. You top off the cask from the one above it and so on to the top. Nowadays, the first pressing is used for Fino and the second is for Olorosos. There are no vintage years for Sherry as they are all blends. FINO Is a dry sherry and served chilled as an aperitif. AMONTILLADO Is a medium sherry that goes well with soup OLOROSOS and GOLDEN CREAMS. Good with desserts. VERMOUTH Is a neutral white blended wine that is flavored with herbs and spices. RUSSO is red and sweet. BIANCO is white and dry. SECCO is white and sweet.
BRANDY and MARC from France and GRAPPA from Italy are distilled wines. The must is pressed one final time and the juice is distilled to get a clear 120 proof liquid. This ages for years in oak casks to get their color and smooth taste. COGNAC Is distilled twice in a special copper pot from the UGNI BLANC grape. Three star brandy is at least four years old. Very Special Old Pale is seven years old. X O is the best and the rarest of the Cognacs. ARMAGNAC Is a lighter and fruitier Cognac. It ages in black oak casks and is growing in popularity in the U.S.
Champagne is a blend grapes. A BLANC DE BLANC is a100% Chardonnay wine. There are three ways of making this of wine. CHARMAT BULK PROCESS. This takes about three months. The grapes are pressed and go for the first fermentation in large tanks. A second fermentation takes place in another vat. After the second fermentation the wine is filtered and a DOSAGE (a sugar and yeast mixture) is added and then the wine is bottled. This wine has large bubbles. Also known as CUVE CLOSE in France and AUTOCLAVE in Italy. TRANSFER METHOD. This takes from three to twelve months. The first fermentation takes place in a vat. A dosage is added and then the wine is fermented in a bottle for the second time. The bottles are dumped into a vat with other wines from the same pressing. After filtering another dosage is added and its then bottled and shipped. This wine has large bubbles. METHODE CHAMPENOISE. Takes two to five years and is the best way. The grapes are gently but quickly pressed and the juice are separated from their skins. The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel vat. During the winter the windows are thrown open and the fermentation stops until spring. After the first fermentation the various CUVEES (French for vat) are blended to create the style of the house. A dosage is added and the wine is bottled. The yeast will eat all the sugar and then die from the alcohol it produces. The dead yeast leaves a sediment, SUR LIE (pronounced sur lee), in the bottle and must be removed. This is known REMUAGE or RIDDLING. The bottles that were on their sides are put in racks at an angle. Over the next several weeks the bottles are gently agitated and the angle increased. The bottles finally end up upside down. The wine ages like this for one to three years. The sour lie is quickly frozen and disgorged. The bottle is topped off with some wine of the same vintage. Another dosage may be added for a sweeter champagne. A thick cork and wire hood are put on and the wine is shipped. The bubbles are very small.
As in real estate the rule of wine is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. There are two bands around the earth where the vine grows best. They lay between 30o and 50o in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. If you look at an atlas you will see that most of this is ocean. Other inhibiting factors for growing are the soil, temperature, sunlight and water requirements. The United States is in the northern band but the right conditions can only be found couple of states. Much of Europe is in the band but hardly any wine comes from east of Turkey. We'll start the tour in Europe
The most famous wine growing country in the world has many regions but we'll only tour the five most prominent.
On Atlantic coast and the left bank of the river GIRONDE. North of the city of BORDEAUX. The region is made up of, from north to south, MEDOC, GRAVES and SAUTERNES with POMEROL and ST. EMILION, to the east. The soil here is a deep gravely sand that forces a deep root growth in search of moisture and nutrients. This struggle reduces the quantity of grapes but improves the quality of wine.
The MEDOC has four famous COMMUNES (a township and its surrounding fields). From north to south they are St. ESTEPHE, PAUILLAC, St. JULIEN and MARGAUX. To the east of the city are the communes of POMEROL and ST. EMILION both are known for their smooth reds. To the south of the city are the communes of Graves, Sauternes and Barsac. The red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The whites are from Semillon, Sauvignon and a limited amount of Muscadelle grapes
At the 1855 Paris Exposition there was a classification of the Medoc and Sauternes based on their ability to produce quality wines year in and year out. There are 61 chateaux on the list, these were then broken down into five CRUS
(French for growth) based on their quality.
The PREMIRE CRU has the five best houses
Ch. Haut-Brion Graves
Ch. Lafite-Rothschil Pauillac
Ch. Latour Pauillac
Ch. Margaux Margaux
Ch. Mouton-Rothschild Pauillac
A Sauternes from Chateau d'Yquem won a Premier Cru SupZrieure title.The Premier Crus are:
Ch. Climate Barsac
Ch. Coutet Barsac
Ch. Guiraud Sauternes
Ch. Latour-Blanche Sauternes
Ch. Peryraguey Sauternes
Ch. Rayne-Vigneau Sauternes
Ch. Suduiraut Sauternes
Ch. Rieussec Sauternes
The only change since then has been the moving of Ch. Mouton-Rothschild from 2nd to Premier Cru in 1973. The chateaux that did not make the top grades are labeled CRU BOURGEOIS. There are about 240 of them in the Medoc
and Haut-Medoc. POMEROLS have never been classified. ST. EMILION were in 1955 in either PREMIER GRAND CRU CLASSE or GRAND CRU CLASSE. 1959 saw the GRAVES get classified. In 1935 the French passed the APPELLATION d'ORIGINE CONTROLEE (controlled name of the place of origin) laws to protect the more famous houses from knock off brands. The three categories of wine are
1. APPELLATION CONTROLEE - the highest rank
2. VINS DELIMITES de QUALITE SUPERIEURE - are also strictly regulated but less well known
3. VIN de PAYS - Replaced APPELLATION d'ORIGINE SIMPLE in 1973 to bring French laws in line with the Common Market. This wine was made in a stated area.
4. VINS de TABLE - the lowest standard. You know that it is made from grapes and that is about it. If the label reads "Product of France" then you know that they are French grapes.
This region is in the middle of the country. It follows the Saone River from Dijon south to Chagny. There is a great diversity in the soil. It starts off with limestone and clay in the north and finishes with granite and sand down south. Some say that the best reds come from Burgundy but due to the different nomenclature of these wines you have to know the individual vineyards to get a great wine. A Bordeaux vineyard has a single owner who oversees the entire process. In Burgundy several people may own one vineyard and each will treat the grapes in a different way. The APPELLATION CONTROLEE laws are more complex here than anywhere else, since they single out the best vineyards. There are 31 in the region. The GRAND CRU's have hyphenated a famous vineyard on to their village named to befuddle the buyer in thinking they're buying a better wine. The PERMIRE CRUS are equal to a Second or Third Cru Bordeaux. The name of the commune comes first followed by the village name. The AOC also limits the type of grape in the wine. For reds it's 100% PINOT NOIR and for white its PINOT CHARDONNAY. Even though a little PINOT BLANC is planted. Burgundy is made up of several growing areas.
A city in the north part of the region. A Chablis, by law, is 100% Chardonnay grapes. The soil has both limestone and chalk to give these whites the tart, slightly acidic taste that compliments seafood. The Grand Cru vineyards are Blanchots, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Les Preuses, Valmur and Vaudesir. There are dozens of other vineyards in the region.
A100% Piont Noir wine. The best of the Burgundies is pressed here on the "GOLD SLOPE". The Cote d'Or is made up of the COTE de BEAUNE and the COTE de NUIT. In an area 36 miles long and a mile wide, the yield is very limited and thus the prices are very high. The big names in reds are Chambertin. Clos de la Roche, Echezeaux, Grand Echezeaux, Romanee-Conti and La Tache.
COTE CHALONNAISE & MACONNAIS
Known for their Chardonnay. This area starts to the south of CHAGNY and extends to MACON. The best of the wine is labeled "Macon-Village". The other names to look for are Macon, Macon-Superieur, Pouilly-Fusse(one of the best French whites), Pouilly-Vinzelles, and Pouilly-Loch.
The southern most region of Burgundy starts below Macon and ends in Lyons. A 100% Gamy wine. The grapes are not crushed but dumped into large vat. The weight crushes the grapes on the bottom and the fermentation starts The grapes that are not burst start to ferment in their skins. This process make a robust, intensely fruity wine. The BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU style is meant to be drunk as soon as possible. It goes on sale November 19th and should be finished off by late January. All other Beaujolais; Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Fleurie and Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais-village should be
drunk with five years of bottling.