You’re probably already sitting down. So, if you have a bottle of wine in the house, open it. For now, it doesn’t matter what kind it is. Pour yourself a glass and get ready, if you feel like it, for a brief introduction to a tasting course that will guide you into the magical world of wine.
Even people in very ancient history considered wine to be magical: the inebriation provided by wine was in fact thought of as a means of getting closer to the gods. We do not want you to get drunk but, on the contrary, to help you discover wine from the right perspective, getting rid of its clichéd images as the heavy drinker's inseparable companion or, on the other hand, as an elitist product just for a few snobs. We would like to pass on to you our love for this product, which is a gift from the earth and which has an extremely long history, and show you that a glass of wine represents the work of men and their struggle with, and sometimes against, nature.
We shall explain how, where and when wine is produced. We shall teach you to recognize a wine's characteristics from its color and aroma, even before you have tasted it. We shall suggest how, when and with what to drink it. In short, we wish to give you a background which, while not overwhelming, should certainly be enough to help you understand a great deal and to know exactly what you are drinking.
By the way, what does a bottle of wine contain? Mainly water (78-85%) and sweet-tasting substances (including alcohols and sugars), but there are smaller quantities of thousands of other substances that give the wine its distinctive character and these can be identified by means of what is known as organoleptic examination of the wine. This is maybe a rather grand-sounding expression for a procedure that you will get used to performing every time you taste a glass of wine: one that you have probably seen done many times, maybe to your amusement, by people who were very carefully assessing the color of the wine and its clarity, and trying to find ways to describe more or less recognizable aromas. It is not a game - or rather, it can become one - but it has a serious basis. The color of the wine can tell us about its age and the stage it has reached in its development, just as the bouquet or aromas which it gives off can tell us about its condition, the grape variety and the way the wine was made. The reference to well-known smells is just a way to recall suggestions that are common to all of us, but which actually correspond to well-defined chemical substances; it makes more impact to say that this wine smells of tobacco rather than give the name of the chemical which is responsible for the tobacco aroma.
This short course, then, will teach you to judge a wine’s color, bouquet and taste - along with many other things - but you can learn the first rule straight away: if the color is clear and attractive, the wine smells clean and pleasant and the taste is appealing, then what you are drinking is already a good wine.
Though it was probably easy for prehistoric man to appreciate and enjoy the edible fruit of the vine, the discovery that the juice of this fruit, left forgotten in some simple container, could change and take on a different taste was almost certainly an accident. Moreover, this strange drink had a pleasant, inebriating effect on those who drank it. In the past, for this reason, fermented grape juice was often used in religious ceremonies: in the absence of scientific ideas, the changes caused by alcohol were regarded as being in some way “magical” and linked to the gods.
But when did people “get drunk” for the first time? Various archaeological finds show that the climbing plant Vitis Vinifera was already growing wild 300,000 years ago. The first signs of vines cultivated by human beings appear around seven to eight thousand years B.C. in Asia, the cradle of vinegrowing, especially in the regions of Georgia and Armenia on the far side of the Caucasus. From there the culture of the vine spread east through Asia into China. Only later did it spread to the west, reaching Europe thanks to the Greeks some time between the 7th and 8th centuries before Christ.
The Romans then carried on the tradition, taking vines and wine everywhere. The Imperial legions which moved around mainland Europe were actually obliged to plant salads (reflected in the word 'romana' for a type of salad) and vines in their camps. With the Romans wine enjoyed a real boom, as trade developed and people started to study viticulture. Pliny the Elder wrote the first “wine guide” and his Natural History (Naturalis Historia) listed 80 prime viticultural areas and 185 wines. It is clear that the idea of terroir or special local areas is of ancient origin.
Meanwhile the Gauls learned about of the properties of vines and wine. They invented wooden barrels, which revolutionized the world of wine, and developed a more frost-resistant variety of vine, thus giving rise to the vineyards of Burgundy.
At the end of the third century A.D., peoples of Germanic stock swept away the Romans, along with their culture, habits and ideals, including their dietary tastes. Fruit and vegetables were replaced by meat, banquets became more “barbarian” and beer and mead, the traditional fermented drinks of northern Europe, took the place of wine.
These centuries and those that followed were unstable times for Europe. Vine-growing was abandoned and it is only thanks to Christian monks that wines continued to be made. For the Christian religion wine was a vital element in the Mass, which is why a vineyard was to be found next to every church and ecclesiastical cellars always held stocks of the important beverage. Wine “picked up” again in the 11th century, during the reign of Charlemagne, hand in hand with the beginning of a social and economic upturn in Europe. Threafter, wine consumption continued to grow, eventually becoming very widespread in feudal society: the poorest classes drank “to forget” while those who were wealthy made drinking a vice with its own refinements.
The era of the Communes and the period of of the Renaissance that followed, with its Dukedoms and various Signories, led to wine spreading yet further throughout Europe. Later, English, Portuguese and Dutch traders made the wines produced in specific areas – such as Bordeaux, Port, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala and Champagne – gain great popularity.
Also, from the 16th century onwards, there was a further expansion of wine production on the various continents; in subsequent periods, European colonization spread gradually to Chile and Argentina (16th century), North America (16th-18th century), South Africa (17th century), Australia (end of the 18th century) and even to New Zealand (20th century).
In the 17th century, other drinks that were alternatives to wine appeared on the market: coffee from Arabia and the Middle East, chocolate from the Americas, tea from China, as well as beer, gin, brandy and other spirits. The advent in many areas of “quality” production and the use of glass bottles and corks were of great impotance in helping wine overcome a potential crisis.
In the meantime, viticulture and enology developed, with techniques of grape-growing and winemaking becoming ever more sophisticated; wine lost some of its secrets and became ever more reliable. At the beginning of the 19th century, Chaptal introduced the concept of enriching wine with sugar in order to obtain a higher level of alcohol, but the real leap forward was made by Louis Pasteur, who discovered the role of yeasts and the danger of oxygen. Still largely unknown, however, were those enemies of the vine that ravaged the vineyards at the end of the 19th century. First to appear, around 1850, was powdery mildew (oidium) - a fungus that attacks the vines - which vinegrowers managed to defeat with sulphur, although this took around ten years. Similar problems were had with peronospora (downy mildew), a fungus that had come over from America and which was combatted by the use of “Bordeaux mixture” (copper sulphate and slaked lime). But the most devastating disease was phylloxera, a deadly parasite which was eventually defeated by grafting the desired grape varieties onto American rootstocks, which were immune.
Phylloxera revolutionized European winemaking by changing the geography of vineyards. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a rush to plant large numbers of vines to meet market needs, making wine with grapes from any part of Italy. This meant that the wine arriving on Italian tables was often of poor quality.
The end of the '60s saw the introduction of regulations in the form of the application of Controlled Appellations (Denominazioni di Origine Controllata). To be historically accurate, the first Italian “denomination of origin” may be dated back to 1716, when Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany regulated the production areas and methods of some of the wines of the area (Carmignano in particular). Another example that pre-dated the indications to be found in the D.O.C. regulations was that of the formula for Chianti (Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Malvasia Toscana), proposed by Baron Bettino Ricasoli in the middle of the 19th century, which remained unaltered for a century and a half.
What has undergone a substantial change, though, are consumers' tastes; today they demand a more sophisticated product. In years to come there will probably be more labelling of wines by grape variety - so-called “international wines”, produced all over the world – whose challenge Italy could face up to by focusing on its great heritage of indigenous grape varieties.
Some details about the origins of fine wines
We have already mentioned - just above – how Carmignano and Chianti came into being, anticipating to some extent the current denominations of origin. It is similarly interesting to give a brief outline of the “modern” origins of some other famous wines , both from Italy and elsewhere, some of which were very different in the past to how we know them today.
Barolo has been known and appreciated since medieval times, but it is only since the mid-19th century, thanks to the involvement of the French enologist Oudart and the impassioned efforts of Count Cavour, that this wine, once sweet and potentially unstable, has begun to be produced as a dry, stable wine that is suitable for aging.
Brunello di Montalcino
Brunello as we know it today was created around 1870 by Ferruccio Biondi Santi, who began to grow a clone of Sangiovese, called Sangiovese Grosso or Brunello, that was particularly resistant to phylloxera, thus producing a 100% varietal wine that was suitable for aging. Production of the Italian appellation that is best known around the world has grown only very recently, though, considering that until the 1950s there was just one producer selling wine under this name. When the first production regulations were drawn up at the end of the ‘60s there were only 13 companies producing it – from a little over 70 ha of vineyards – whereas today there are over two hundred producers and 1,800 hectares.
The origins of Chianti can be traced back to the important influence of Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany who, in the early decades of the 18th century – two hundred and fifty years before the creation of the D.O.C.s, set down rules regarding the production areas, cultivation methods and vinification of certain Tuscan wines, such as Carmignano and, indeed, Chianti. The real turning-point came, though, in the mid-19th century, when Baron Bettino Ricasoli proposed his famous “Chianti formula” (Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Malvasia Toscana). This remained unchanged for a century and a half and was only modified – with the possibility of not using any white grapes – just a few years ago.
Amarone della Valpolicella
One of the Italian wines that is enjoying the most success around the world did not even exist until a few decades ago. Or rather it did exist, but was not sold under this name and, especially, it often represented a case of ill luck for the careless producer who had not succeeded in keeping the wine sweet, for this was the traditional style of Recioto della Valpolicella, which was much more sought-after and commanded a higher price. The dry version, initially referred to as “Recioto scapa” (“the Recioto that got away”) and held in low esteem, started to be produced and sold as Amarone della Valpolicella only in the second half of the 20th century, growing in volume from just a few thousand bottles to the 10-12 million forecast for the 2006 and subsequent vintages.
As with Port, Sherry and Madeira, Marsala owes its international dissemination to the English. It was in fact John Woodhouse who, towards the end of the 18th century, began producing - in Marsala - a wine in the style of those from Madeira, Oporto and Jerez through fortification with alcohol and the adding of cooked wine (or wine/must), in line with the tastes of English consumers at the time. His example was then imitated and perfected by Ingham and his nephew Whitaker, followed by the Italian Florio and, in due course, by many other producers.
While we are on the subject of the English, the wines of Aquitaine also owe their success to British merchants (and drinkers). Even if they already existed during Roman times, the wines produced in the area around Bordeaux became very popular between the 12th and 15th centuries, as a result of their being exported to England, where they were known by the name of claret. Following French trading disputes with the Dutch (1672) and the English (1678), wines began to be sold under estate and vineyard names, a factor that would be fundamental for the famous classification of the châteaux in 1855, which is still used,with only tiny variations compared to the original.
According to legend, it was Dom Pérignon, abbot of Hautvillers near Épernay, who, almost by chance, “discovered” in 1668 how to make wines sparkling through a second fermentation in the bottle. It was also he who established the rules for obtaining a good base wine, such as the choice of the most appropriate variety (Pinot Noir), the application of the technique of blending and the use of cork closures, fixed to the neck of the bottle thanks to a small metal “cage”. It would be with the advent of more resistant bottles and with the technical innovations of Widow Clicquot and her winemakers (above all that of remuage in pupitres, which allows one to obtain a brighter, cleaner wine) that Champagne would obtain great success, first as a sweet and then as a dry sparkling wine.
Port and Sherry
What these two great wines have in common are not only the English, but especially ... wars. Because it was the war against the French at the end of the 17th century that transferred England’s commercial interests towards Portugal, with the beginning of production, in the Douro Valley, of wines to which alcohol (brandy) was added during fermentation with the aim of obtaining a full-bodied and alcoholic product with a certain amount of residual sugar (greater in the reds than in the whites). And it was again a war – but this time the end of one – that prompted the renaissance in the mid-18th century of a wine from southern Spain (in the area of Jerez de la Frontera): this too was fortified with alcohol, then aged using the solera system, with the special element of the intervention of flor, a layer of yeasts that “control” the wine’s oxydation.
The first of the “great fortified wines” to be made, its production developed on the island of Madeira following the substitution of the cultivation of sugar cane ( more profitable to grow in the recently-discovered Americas) with that of grape varieties of Greek origin. The wines’ low level of alcohol and high acidity led to the addition of alcohol and grape must to make transport by ship feasible. The oxidation to which they were subject made the wines more interesting, so they began to be made by subjecting them to enforced “madeirization“, due to storage at high temperatures in partly-filled barrels and, often, the famous “double crossing of the equator”. Today the heating process – and therefore that of accelerating the wines’ maturation – is carried out in special containers called estufas.
Although the origins of viticulture have been pinpointed in Asia, more or less in the area of Georgia in the Caucasus, over the centuries Europe has been the region that can boast the strongest vine-growing and winemaking traditions. First in Greece and, from there, in Italy and France, but also in Spain and Portugal, the vine has found its home and contributed over the centuries to the history, culture and traditions of these countries.
Colonization then took this tradition overseas and major new wine producing areas are now being developed in North America and Central and South America, while Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are also all emerging as major wine producers. One should not, of course, overlook the potential of China nor, to a much lesser extent, that of India.
Here, then, is a quick trip around the wine regions of the world. Statistics up to 1995 are from the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin, whereas more recent data is based on ISTAT statistics or those from other sources.
France (47 million hectoliters in 2007 – 52.9 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Italy’s chief competitor in terms of wine production, France boasts the largest number of wines with controlled denomination of origin in the world (for a complete list, please consult http://www.tigulliovino.it/francia/lista_aoc_francia.htm).
Vines are grown throughout the country, with"historic" areas such as:
- Champagne, home of the famous sparkling wine obtained by re-fermentation in bottleof base wines made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes;
- Burgundy, a region of great reds based on Pinot Noir and of splend, long-lived whites made from Chardonnay;
- Bordeaux, famous for reds produced from blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, with a majority of the former at the châteaux of the Left Bank of the Garonne (Médoc) and of the latter at those of the Right Bank (Saint Émilion and Pomerol);
- Alsace, renowned for perfumed white wines from Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewürztraminer grapes;
- the Loire Valley, producer of fine whites – aromatic from Sauvignon Blanc, very long-lived from Chenin Blanc and fragrantly yeasty from Muscadet sur lie – as well as fruity reds based on Cabernet Franc;
- the northern Rhône Valley, with its powerful reds made from Syrah,
- the southern Rhône with its wines made from blends of several grapes (Grenache, Cinsaut, Mourvèdre, Syrah, etc.);
- Provence with its fragrant and refreshing rosés, but also the red from Bandol;
- The deep south of Languedoc-Roussillon, the new frontier of winemaking, where producers are carrying out bold experiments with single-varietal wines or unusual blends.
Spain (40 million hectoliters in 2007 – 37.8 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Spain is the nation with the greatest area under vine in the world (around 1,100,000 hectares) though lying in third place in terms of volumes produced, behind France and Italy.
Spain has an extremely varied wine production scene and quality is constantly improving. Alongside winemaking milestones such as Jerez (whose wine is called Sherry in English), the Iberian peninsula is developing a deep-seated culture of wine. The leading regions are Rioja (an area that makes full-bodied reds from Tempranillo grapes); Catalonia (which, among other wines, produces Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine made with a second fermentation in bottle) with its famous Priorato zone (making wines of great power and intensity). However, there are also lesser-known areas such as “cold” Galicia, a land of pleasantly saline whites, and the more temperate zone around Valencia.
Germany (9.3 million hectoliters in 2005 – 9.3 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
White wines are predominant in Germany, chiefly from Rhine Riesling and Müller-Thurgau (this variety is rapidly losing favor), but also Sylvaner and Kerner grapes. Wine production is concentrated in the south-west of the country, with areas of very high quality along the Moselle and Rhine rivers. There are many wines produced from overripe, late-harvested grapes, yielding very sweet wines such as the Beerenausleses, Trockenbeerenausleses and Eisweins.
Portugal (7.3 million hectoliters in 2005 – 7.2 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Tradition is the key word here: Portugal has in fact always concentrated on its indigenous grape varieties, of which there are over 500. The main wines are the famous dessert wines (especially Port and Madeira), but also Vinho Verde, a light, slightly acidulous wine. There are many important reds, especially those from the Alentejo region.
Greece (4.0 million hectoliters in 2005 – 3.7 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Greece was among the countries that first began to cultivate vines and make wine, and it has an extraordinary patrimony of indigenous varieties. For years, however, winemaking techniques remained tethered to a rather too-distant past (such as the ancient habit of adding resin to the must during fermentation) and the country has only recently made decisive steps towards quality, especially in the north, one of the emerging areas.
Austria (2.3 million hectoliters in 2005 – 2.5 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Austria’s wine-producing regions lie along the country’s borders to the east. The climate and terrain are ideal for white wines with a particularly pronounced bouquet, made especially from Rhine Riesling and Müller-Thurgau. Mittelburgenland produces some important red wines.
Switzerland (1.2 million hectoliters in 2005)
Swiss wines are increasingly appreciated abroad. The most important variety for whites is Chasselas, which is mainly grown in western Switzerland. Pinot Noir dominates among the reds and is grown just about everywhere, along with Merlot, which has been brought into the spotlight by a number of producers in Canton Ticino.
Wine production in Eastern Europe is of major importance from the point of view of quantity . Russia leads with 5.0 million hectoliters (and has grown fast over the last few years, considering its average of 4.2 million between 2000 and 2005), followed by Hungary (one of the higher-quality countries, including as it does the internationally famous Tokay region) with 3.6 million hectoliters in 2005 but an average of 4.2 million between 2000 and 2005. Romania is a nation with enormous potential, but a backward-looking attitude to vine-growing and winemaking: it produced 2.6 million hectoliters of wine in 2005, halving its average over the last few years of around 5 million hectoliters. Hard on its heels comes Moldavia with 2.3 million hectoliters, followed by the Ukraine with 2.3 million hl (2 million on average in 2000-2005), by Bulgaria with 1.7 million hl (2.3 million its average between 2000 and 2005hectolitres), mostly of “decent”, easy-drinking reds), by Croatia also with 1.7 million hl (1.8 on average in 2000-2005) and by Serbia-Montenegro with 1.3 million hectoliters (2.0 on average between 2000 and 2005).
One should also bear in mind the emerging wine industries of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia.
South Africa (8.4 million hectoliters in 2005 – 7.9 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Viticulture in Africa has developed on that continent’s southern tip. Production is constantly increasing and is based largely on white wines (around 80% of production), headed by Chenin Blanc, Colombard and Sauvignon Blanc. Among the reds Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are growing strongly, but there is also strong interest in Pinotage, a Pinot Noir-Cinsaut crossing.
United States of America (22.9 million hectoliters in 2005 – 20.6 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Vine-growing and winemaking in the U.S.A. are relatively recent and are practically synonymous with California, where 95% of the entire country's wine is in fact produced. Other wine producing areas are in Oregon and Washington State (especially for “cold-climate” varieties such as aromatic white grapes and Pinot Noir), as well as in New York State. The so-called 'international' varieties dominate: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel among the reds and Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon,Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer for the white wines.
Mexico (1.5 million hectoliters)
Viticulture in Mexico is now picking up strongly after some difficult periods due to the country's political instability. There has been quite heavy investment recently and nowadays Mexico offers some distinguished wines (from Barbera, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds, with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Colombard and Chenin Blanc for the whites) which are selling worldwide, accompanying the spread of Mexican food.
Argentina (15.2 million hectoliters in 2005 – 14.2 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
One of the world's major wine producers, Argentina has not yet fully exploited its vast potential for making high-quality wines. Much of the wine produced is of poor quality and consumed within the country. The main grape variety (covering around 70% of the area under vine) is Malbec, which can even give substantial, well-structured red wines if they are produced in accordance with quality principles.
Chile (7.9 million hectoliters in 2005 – 6.4 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Internationally recognized as Latin America's best producer, Chile went through a real (but peaceful) revolution in wine production during the early 1980s. The results have not been long in coming: nowadays Chilean bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon win top prizes at international wine competitions. A peculiarity of Chile’s vineyards is that many of the vines are ungrafted, without any need for non-vitis vinifera rootstocks.
Brazil (3.2 million hectoliters in 2005 – 3.3 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
Brazil is a country that could really emerge over the next few years. Production is currently of average quality and concentrated largely in the Aurora Valley in the south of the country, where Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Welschriesling are grown.
Australia (14.3 million hectoliters in 2005 – 11.8 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
One of the toughest competitors in the wine market, Australia has really come to the forefront in recent years. Production is based on well-known varieties (Shiraz (Syrah), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscat Gordo Blanco) and is concentrated in the south of the country, mostly towards the east (South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania).
The 2007 harvest was disastrous in terms of quantity (10.3 million hectoliters, down 4 million hectoliters compared to 2005 and 2006), because of drought,fires and frosts.
New Zealand (1.2 million hectares on average)
Another emerging country that bases its production on “international” grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Traminer, Sauvignon Blanc and Müller-Thurgau. The grape-growing areas are in both the North Island and the South Island.
The two great French wine regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux, though they are both leading production areas from the point of view of quality, are substantially different, especially in the way in which they consider and interpret the concept of terroir.
In Burgundy, the system is based on the vineyard and on the individual parcel of land, and the best are themselves appellations (grand cru or premier cru), just as are – at a less exalted level and in more generic terms – village or commune denominations and then the sub-regional and regional ones.
Such distinctions are impossible in Bordeaux, where the AOC system follows administrative boundaries rather than actual differences in the terrains: it does not, therefore, go into any greater detail than the commune in question. Differences in soil may well be found within the same commune or property. At Château Latour, for instance, 80 different soil profiles have been identified! (And in St. Émilion, there are limestone soils in the plateau around the town itself, an alluvial sandy plain on the banks of the Dordogne, stony soils around Libourne, cooler muddy and clayey soils in the northern part of the appellation, but this too is a considerable simplification).
The difference is even more marked if one considers the properties and the way they are run. In Burgundy everyone bottles his wine according to the individual vineyard it comes from. In Bordeaux (especially on the Left Bank) the châteaux bottle under their own names (and that of a large appellation) wine from the various sites that they own, however scattered they may be and even though they may lie in different communes.
One should also bear in mind that while in Burgundy producers work with a single variety (Pinot Noir for the reds, Chardonnay for the whites), in the Bordeaux area there is also a certain variability linked to the grape mix (Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot in the Médoc , Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc on the Right Bank for the reds, Sauvignon Blanc /Sémillon for the whites), not to mention the different vinification methods that can result in wines with extreme styles, as in the case of the so-called vins de garage of Saint Émilion and Pomerol, wines with incredible concentration as a result of severe selection in both the vineyard and winery, extraction using modern techniques and maturation in new barriques.
Italy (42.6 million hectoliters in 2007 – 50.1 million hectoliters on average in 2000-2005)
In 2006 the area under vine was 713,.819 hectares, of which 679,000 ha were actually in production.
All of the Regions of Italy have thousands of hectares of vineyards planted with typical local grape varieties.
In 2007, the Region with the highest production was the Veneto with 7.8 million hectoliters, followed by Emilia Romagna with over 6.2 million hl, and then by Puglia and Sicily, with 5.7 million and 4.6 million hectoliters respectively (these two Regions, however, had abnormally small harvests).
Italy and its wine Regions:
Viticulture in the Valle d'Aosta is truly "heroic", yet in this Region producers succeed in making fine wines in spite of the difficulties (the climate, mountainous terrain and stony soils) that Nature puts in their way. The cold night temperatures at high altitude, though, favor the extraction of extraordinary perfumes, and the rugged indigenous varieties Fumin, Blanc de Morgex and Petite Arvine - cultivated using Guyot training in order to take advantage of every possible ray of sunshine - are grown alongside Chardonnay and Gamay to yield enological gems of extremely high quality.
The Alps and the plain, connected by mighty rivers: that, in brief, is a summary of the vine-growing situation in Piedmont, in which the contours of the Monferrato and Langhe hills, with their particular microclimates, represent the variables that gives distinctive characteristics to each wine. This is the land of Nebbiolo, the noble begetter of Barolo and Barbaresco, which produces wines of outstandingly high quality; but it is also that of Barbera and Dolcetto, grapes that have now been revalued by a new wave of young and innovative producers. Look out, too, for the emerging indigenous varieties, Favorita and Timorasso (a rare grape cultivated mainly in the area around Tortona) which, along with Cortese, Erbaluce and Arneis, lie behind this important wine Region’s whites.
This Region produces a broad range of wine styles, including as it does high mountains and wide valleys but also gentle hillsides that slope down towards the lakes. Each of these natural features has its own particular climate and soils, leading to a number of very diverse and distinctive terroirs. From the Valtellina to Franciacorta and from Lake Garda to the Oltrepò Pavese, Nebbiolo (here known as Chiavennasca), Chardonnay, Croatina and Groppello contribute towards creating wines that are sometimes inconsistent, but often unforgettable. The producers' decision to follow the quality path is clearly bearing its fruits.
As described in Italian law no. 164/92, the quality pyramid included – starting from the base and working up to the very peak of quality – the following classifications:
- vino da tavola (“table wine”)
- vino a Indicazione Geografica Tipica (I.G.T.)
- vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.)
- vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.)
- vino con indicazione di “sottozona” o di “vigna” (wine indicating a sub-zone or individual vineyard)
Whereas a vino da tavola is a generic wine, which has to conform to the general rules with regard to wine without, however, having to indicate its provenance, vintage or grape variety (at least up until 2009), and may therefore come from any type of grape and place of origin, in those with a geographical indication (I.G.T., D.O.C. and D.O.C.G.) the provenance of the grapes and perhaps also the type of grape used are clearly shown. (The wine must be made at least 85% from that variety). Even for I.G.T. wines there are production regulations that specify the production zone, the varieties to be used, the maximum grape yield per hectare, the percentage of the grapes that may actually be transformed into wine, the minimum natural alcohol level and that at the time of consumption. Moving on to D.O.C.wines, these parameters, normally more restrictive than for I.G.T.s, are supplemented by others that are designed to guarantee certainty of origin and of chemical and organoleptic quality, by means of much more stringent checks and controls. For D.O.C. wines, the production areas are very precisely defined and agricultural practices are specified (planting and training systems, vines/ha, yield per vine, percentages of individual varieties, etc..), as are vinification techniques (yield in wine, length of maturation, etc.), chemical characteristics (minimum net dry extract, total acidity, residual sugars) and taste characteristics (color, scent, flavor), as well as the various controls and analyses that the wines must undergo in order to obtain the D.O.C.
For D.O.C.G.s, the parameters indicated above are even more restrictive than for D.O.C.s. There are two compulsory taste tests (one during production and another at the time of bottling). Producers must also attach Italian State strips to their bottles: the number of these issued corresponds to the amount of hectoliters produced.
In Italy there are at present (August 2008):
- 40 D.O.C.G.s;
- 317 D.O.C.s;
- 118 I.G.T.s.
In particular, the D.O.C.G.s – which represent the summit of the pyramid – are currently (July 2008) the following:
Piedmont (11): Asti / Moscato d'Asti, Barbera d'Asti, Barbera del Monferrato Superiore, Barbaresco, Barolo, (Brachetto d') Acqui, (Cortese di) Gavi, (Dolcetto di) Dogliani Superiore, Gattinara, Ghemme, Roero / Roero Arneis
Lombardy (4): Franciacorta, Oltrepò Pavese Metodo Classico, Sforzato (or Sfursat) della Valtellina, Valtellina Superiore
The Veneto (4): Bardolino Superiore, Recioto di Gambellara, Recioto di Soave, Soave Classico Superiore,
Friuli Venezia Giulia (2): Picolit Colli Orientali del Friuli, Ramandolo
Emilia Romagna (1): Albana di Romagna
Tuscany (8): Brunello di Montalcino, Carmignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Elba Aleatico, Morellino di Scansano, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
The Marche (2): Rosso Conero, Vernaccia di Serrapetrona
Umbria (2): Montefalco Sagrantino, Torgiano Rosso Riserva
Abruzzo (1): Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane
Campania (3): Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Taurasi
Sicily (1): Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Sardinia (1): Vermentino di Gallura
As a result of the recent reforms regarding wine in the Common Market, from 1st August 2009 onwards this pyramid system will be altered radically, allowing for just two types of wines: wines with a geographical indication (Denominazione di Origine Protetta [“Protected Denomination of Origin”] and Indicazione Geografica Protetta [“Protected Geographical Indication”]) and wines without any geographical indication (with or without indication of the variety).
Essentially, our I.G.T, D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. indications will become D.O.P. or I.G.P. and will be assigned no longer by the individual countries, but directly from Brussels.
The major revolution particularly concerns vini da tavola (without specific origin) , for which it will be possible – unlike now – to indicate on the label both the year of the harvest and the grape variety/varieties used; in this latter regard there are certain exceptions as far as Italy is concerned, limiting the use of the name of the variety to grapes that consumers recognize as being of special worth.
"Good wine is made in the vineyard" is an old adage. And, in effect, no person, machine or additive can produce a wine that is better than the quality of the grapes that have been harvested. Wine, then, is produced out in the countryside, even before it reaches the cellar. A fundamental role is played by the “terroir”, as the French call it, a term that they have exported worldwide. The terroir is a combination of factors - geographical, climatic, geological and biological (the grape variety) - which is unique and unrepeatable. So, before getting to know a wine, it is important to know its roots.
The lower the latitude the higher you have to climb
You have to know, for example, that all the main vine-growing regions in the world are in countries which lie between latitudes 30° and 50°; the temperate zones. The next point to consider is the ideal height above sea-level for growing vines and this is closely related to the latitude. As a general rule, the lower the latitude the higher the altitude. The great vineyards of Burgundy, for example, lie no more than 50-60 meters above sea level, whereas in Chile, in an area much nearer the equator, the best results are obtained at 600 meters above sea level.
Sun and rain, in the right proportions
In order to bring the grapes to the right degree of ripeness, the vine needs a temperate climate, with a spread of temperatures during the year between 10° C and 30° C (this is ideal for photosynthesis). It also needs sunshine (1,300-1,500 hours a year on average) and water (650-700 millimeters of rain during the course of the year). It is obviously preferable that climatic factors are evenly distributed throughout the year, in order to give constant ripening, without sudden hot spells. Likewise with rain: ideally it should come in winter and spring, or at least not during flowering or during the grape harvest.
Terrain or terroir
In fact, the two terms are not at all synonymous, as terroir is a much broader and complex concept than just the terrain, or soil.
By terroir one means the combination of soil and meso-climatic conditions which, interacting with a specific grape variety, give a particular and distinctive character to the wine obtained therefrom.
This definition, which forms the basis for the Italian system of denominations of origin – and even more so for the French AOCs – originates from the conviction of the particular influence that the place of origin exerts on the wines produced there, provided that viticultural and enological operations have been carried out with a view to extracting the maximum potential from the grapes. Genius loci or sense of place may be considered to be synonyms of terroir: both terms that underline n intimate link with the area of origin.
Various elements are encompassed by this definition, such as:
Tell me what soil you've got and I'll tell you which vine is best suited to it. This rule has long been understood by vine-growers, as each region's local wine-producing traditions demonstrate. However, it should be said that vines are capable of adapting to all types of terrain. Here we would like to cite Mario Fregoni, Professor of Wine at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza and one of the major figures in the world of Italian wine. He summarizes - and simplifies - the link between soil and wine thus:
• stony, permeable soils produce fine, high-quality wines with an intense bouquet and a high degree of alcoholic strength;
• sandy soils give wines that are elegant, delicate and perfumed, but with less structure: they should be drunk young;
• soils that are moderately clayey yield wines that are rich in extract, rounded, with good acidity and aging potential;
• heavy, very clayey soils give wines that are indeed rich in extract, aromatic and intensely colored, but they are often coarse and unbalanced;
• damp soils produce very acid wines that are low in alcohol and rich in proteins;
• calcareous (lime-rich) soils - and this group also includes marly areas (which are rich in mineral salts) and red soils - give wines of excellent quality, with high alcohol, good structure, low acidity and a good bouquet (and, if they come from marly terrain, a particularly tangy flavor);
• humus-rich soils have no great worth: they give wines that are coarse, unstable and low in extract;
• acid soils produce fine, delicate, tangy wines, even if they are especially rich in body or color.
For more info: terreni scissi e arenarie - Youtube video
For more info: terreni sabbiosi - Youtube video
Mother Nature may govern the climate but man can intervene to some extent with regard to cultivation systems and techniques. Vineyard layout, selection of training systems, the choice of rootstocks and varieties and agricultural techniques (such as fertilizing, leaving grass to grow between the vines, ploughing the soil and green pruning) are just some of the practices employed by growers in order to condition or follow the dictates of their terroir.
The operations in the viticulturalphase can be subdivided into two groups:
Planting and training operations
Grape production operations
These consist of the cultivation techniques used in the ordinary, everyday management of the vineyard, with the aim of achieving a satisfactory balance between vegetation and grape production. The main ones are:
The search for the ideal vine and terroir
Each type of vine has precise characteristics and geographical, climatic and geological requirements. Vine-growers have always understood the exact rapport between a given variety and its ideal habitat. This, in brief, is the idea of “zoning” which has been so talked about in recent years.
In just the same way, “terroir” is a term that is on everybody’s lips, to the extent that its real meaning is often ignored. In fact, its meaning is given a whole series of different interpretations even by those who believe wholeheartedly in its importance.
For more info look at the video: Loris Vazzoler: irrigazione
What we find in our wineglass is just grape juice that has been transformed by fermentation, cellar work and time. As we have already said, no technology is capable of changing mediocre grapes into a great wine, so it is the quality of the fruit which holds the key to the production of great bottles of wine. The choice of variety best suited to a geographical and environmental context is therefore fundamental. This is a difficult choice for the vine-grower, who also has to take account of market trends and try to anticipate them (because a new vineyard does not start to produce grapes suitable for quality wine until its third year).
It is important to choose the right clone as well as an appropriate training system, and to carry out all vineyard operations in accordance with the type of wines you are seeking to produce. The case of Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) illustrates the different elements which are necessary for high-quality vine-growing. This vine, which has black grapes, is one of the most important for Champagne and many sparkling wines produced by the classic method. However, it is also the vine which produces some of the best red wines in the world (those of Burgundy, for example, but many Italian wines as well). In the case of the sparkling wines the skins of the grapes (which are responsible for the color of the wine) are removed before winemaking, whereas for the red wines they are left in. The clones are not the same, though: there are varieties of Pinot Noir which are particularly good for sparkling wines, while others are ideal for producing great red wines. In the first case the bunches of grapes are larger, with bigger grapes. In the second case it is the reverse: the bunches are smaller and the grapes are smaller too, with a better pulp/skin ratio. It is in fact the skins that provide most of the phenolic substances which are so important for red wines.
The training systems and the operations carried out in the vineyard are different too. If the vine is destined for producing sparkling wine, production can be higher and the vines are grown in such a way as to allow this. In order to produce great red wines, on the other hand, the vines must be tended so as to produce low yields and try to concentrate the nutrients in a smaller number of bunches. In its growth cycle the vine transfers a certain number of substances to its fruit. Therefore, by reducing the number of bunches, the grapes will be richer.
Using the “wrong” clone has a radical effect on the finished product. If, for example, Pinot Noir grapes destined for sparkling wine are made into red wine by leaving the skins in, the wines will be lacking in structure, have little color, few tannins and high acidity. On the other hand, if Pinot Noir grapes destined for making red wine are vinified without the skins, they will give a base wine (for sparkling wine) that will lack acidity, a key element in sparkling wines.
Our example is valid wherever vines are grown: for each type of wine there are suitable clones and suitable ways of growing them. The most important thing is to decide what type of wine is to be made from each vineyard and pursue that particular style. The aim in the cellar, then, is to “not ruin” the raw material that nature has produced.
It is impossible in just a few lines to make a comprehensive list of grape varieties and their characteristics, considering both their number (there are over 400 just in Italy) and the different ways they taste depending on the area, terroir and production techniques.
Limiting ourselves only to the most important and famous ones, we can cite:
|Variety||Production area||Taste characteristics|
|Chardonnay||Of French origin (Burgundy is the premium area), but grown all over the world to make all kinds of wines (still/sparkling – varietal/blend – unoaked/oaked).||Characteristic aromas of ripe white fruits (bananas, apples); good structure and acidity. Extremely dependable.|
|Riesling (Rhine Riesling)||The top-quality variety of the Rhine and Moselle valleys, it is also to be found in Alsace, in Austria and in Italy, as well as in the cooler areas of the New World countries (New Zealand, South Africa, California).||An aromatic variety, it displays floral and citrus-like aromas when young, evolving towards spicy and decidedly mineral notes (kerosene, petroleum) over time.|
|Sauvignon Blanc||Grown in cool areas, such as Bordeaux and the Loire valley in France, the Alto Adige and Friuli VG in Italy; it has developed a very interesting and distinctive style in New Zealand.||An aromatic variety, it gives wines with attractive hints of peaches and especially of aromatic and officinal herbs (sage, nettles, tomato leaves).|
|Moscato (Muscat)||Found in various types (Zibibbo in Pantelleria, Bianco di Canelli in Piedmont and in France), it reaches the heights when vinified as a sweet wine (Asti, various French Muscats).||A very aromatic variety thanks to the high level of terpenic compounds it contains. It gives the wine intense aromas of flowers and sweet fruits.|
|Gewürztraminer||Cultivated in Alsace, Germany, the Alto Adige and Trentino, the North-Pacific states of the USA and New Zealand.||A highly aromatic grape, with scents of rose petals, grapefruit, lichees and spices.|
|Viognier||Originally from the Rhône valley (Condrieu), but now grown in many other countries.||It develops its characteristic aroma only when fully ripe and needs good acidity to be well-balanced. Evident aromas of ripe yellow fruits (apricots, peaches) and white flowers.|
|Chenin Blanc||Itexpresses itself at its best in its area of origin (Anjou and Vouvray in the Loire valley), but is also widely grown in other regions, with South Africa and New Zealand being among the most interesting.||A variety with very marked acidity, it is therefore suitable for producing wines both with varying levels of sweetness (dry/semi-sweet/sweet) and also very good aging potential.|
|Sémillon||The most widely grown grape in the Bordeaux region and used for the production of the sweet wines of Sauternes and Barsac, it is also to be found in Australia (Hunter Valley) and in Washington State (North-Pacific USA).||Subject to attack by noble rot because of its particularly thin skin, it is therefore especially suitable for making sweet wines.|
|Malvasia||Grown all over the world under various names and in different biotypes, it makes wines with very varied characteristics, from dry to semi-sweet and sweet, from simple to highly aromatic, from still to semi- or fully sparkling, and from white to red (from the black-skinned varieties).||It is difficult to define its characteristics given its differentiation in many varieties. When it is white and aromatic (the most widely grown) it gives wines with scents of flowers and citrus fruits, with hints of herbs.|
|Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris)
||A grape that is particularly widely grown in the Regions of north-eastern Italy (Trentino AA, the Veneto and FriuliVG), it is known in Alsace as Tokay d'Alsace (an appellation that is no longer permitted), in Germany as Ruländer, in the Valais zone of Switzerland as Malvoisie and in Hungary as Szürkebarát. In view of its success, it is now cultivated in nearly all of the world’s wine regions.
||If vinified in contact with the skins, it gives a copper-colored wine (as the grape skins are pink). A wine of considerable structure, even when vinified without the skins, it displays marked fruity perfumes (particularly of pears), which are especially persistent.|
|Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc)
|| A genetic variant of Pinot Nero and often confused with Chardonnay, it is widely grown in France (Alsace), in Italy in Trentino Alto Adige, FriuliVG and Franciacorta, in the United States and in Australia.
||Many characteristics that are similar to Chardonnay, including a natural predisposition for being made into sparkling wine. It makes wines that are particularly well-structured and delicately aomatic, as long as yields are kept low.|
This is the most important event of the year: the payoff after twelve months of hard work. It is not easy to choose the right moment for the harvest. This depends, firstly, on the grape variety, the zone and the type of wine that is to be made from it. As far as the varieties are concerned, the “marker” is the Chasselas table grape, which is taken as a reference and usually harvested between the end of August and the beginning of September. This starts what is known as the first stage of the harvest, involving the various Pinots from which white wines are made, Traminer and Chardonnay. Around two weeks later the second stage begins. This is for other white grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Riesling and Sylvaner, as well as the first reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Dolcetto. A fortnight after that the third stage of the harvest starts, bringing in Barbera, Lambrusco, Grignolino, Trebbiano and Sangiovese grapes. These are obviously only rough indications as there are differences between individual areas and from year to year. The vine-grower's decision as to the right moment to pick is even more variable because it depends on the style of wine that he wishes to produce.
As grapes ripen there is a gradual increase in sugars (which will be transformed into alcohol) and a consequential decrease in acidity. The vine-grower's decisions will depend on this evolution within the grapes. For example, whoever wants to produce a white (perhaps even semi-sparkling) wine to be drunk young, which calls for a certain amount of acidity in order to enhance its fragrance and aromatic freshness, will pick the grapes early.
Those, on the other hand, who wish to produce a big red wine that is suitable for aging will focus on obtaining full maturation of the polyphenols and on concentrating the sugars, factors that guarantee good structure and complexity over the course of time. A separate issue is the production of wines made from overripe grapes or dessert wines: in this case the harvest is postponed in order to allow the grapes to dry out, thus concentrating the sugars.
In order to ascertain the right moment for the harvest, sample bunches are picked and their sugar and acidity levels are analysed. It is extremely important during this phase to pay attention to the weather conditions, because rain or excessive humidity can have adverse effects on the grapes’ state of health. Indeed, mold (botrytis) and rot are the two fundamental elements that can have a major influence on the quality of the fruit.
Recent research, as we have already mentioned, has identified another element that it is important to take into account in deciding when to harvest the grapes, especially when these are to be used for red wine. This is the phonological maturity of the grapes: in other words, the “state of health” of the polyphenols, substances which are essential to the colour and structure of red wine. The balance of a wine is the result of the combination of a number of factors; it may, therefore, be counterproductive to pick the grapes late in order to raise the sugar levels if this delay has a negative influence on the stability of the polyphenols.
The most quality-conscious vine-growers pick the grapes by hand, using small containers, so as to select just the best bunches and make sure that the grapes are not broken before they arrive at the winery. Mechanical harvesters can only be used on certain types of terrain and with certain vine training systems. Even though they are continually improving, especially in term of bunch selection, they do not guarantee the ability to choose only the best quality grapes - something which only a careful human eye can ensure.
The composition of the grapes and, consequently, of the must represents the element that undoubtedly has the most significant effect on the production of quality wines.
The components that make up the must, obtained by “squeezing” the grapes (crushing, pressing, etc.), are essentially the same in all cases. What varies considerably, thus resulting in fruit that is completely different from the point of view of quality, is the quantity of each constituent and the variability in the relationships between them, depending on the degree of ripeness of the grapes, the growing area, the clone and grape variety, the weather conditions, cultivation techniques and extraction methods used (many of these elements will be conditioned by both enological and commercial factors).
Broadly speaking, then, we can identify the following components:
As soon as the grapes have been picked they are taken to the cellar. Those destined for use in red wine are crushed and de-stemmed, using special equipment that does not damage the skins and pips of the grapes. It is in the skins, in fact, that we find the noble polyphenols that are responsible for the wine’s color and also –in part – for its structure. The stems and pips, on the other hand, are normally discarded, because they give rise to aggressive and unpleasant taste sensations.
The must or juice is then transferred to the tank where the alcoholic fermentation will take place: this is filled to four-fifths of its capacity. An appropriate dose of sulphur dioxide is then added which, besides having an anti-oxidant and disinfectant role, also helps to loosen the coloring matter contained in the skins as well as to determine the selection of the yeasts.
The activity of the yeasts (Saccaromices Cerevisiae), which are responsible principally for the transformation of the sugars into alcohol, also leads – during the fermentation – to an increase in temperature. Modern technology allows for this to be controlled (at 24°–28° C), in order to favor the vitality of the yeasts and encourage the preservation/formation of fragrant aromas. Another product of the transformation is carbon dioxide, which is clearly perceptible because of the gurgling of the must. This is the “tumultuous” stage of the fermentation: the solids, pushed upwards by the gas, start to rise to the surface, forming a layer – referred to as the “cap” - on top of the wine. This cap has to be continually broken up and re-immersed in the must so as to encourage the extraction of the coloring matter.
This may be done using the following methods:
When the daily measurements (which are usually carried out in the morning and the evening) show that the percentage of alcohol in the wine has stabilised, it is more than likely that the fermentation is over. This usually occurs when all the fermentable sugars have been transformed into alcohol, but it is possible (in the case of musts that are very rich in sugars, such as those from partially-dried grapes) that a certain quantity of sugars is still present and that the yeasts – partly because of the antagonistic activity of the alcohol that they have produced – will become less efficient and eventually be unable to continue doing their job.
The wine that has been obtained is cloudy and is full of gas and solid matter. The liquid must therefore be separated from the solids. This stage is referred to as draining, or drawing, off.
After this operation is concluded, the wine is clear and clean and may be transferred into stainless steel tanks (if the wine is to be drunk young) or into wooden barrels if it is to be aged.
Nearly always, especially for wines which are to be aged, the alcoholic fermentation is followed by malolactic fermentation, a process which transforms malic acid into (the gentler) lactic acid, thereby softening the wine and giving it a more mature, complex bouquet.
As already mentioned, the substances which give a wine its color are mainly in the skins of the grapes; in order to obtain a white wine, the skins must therefore be removed before vinification. This means that it is possible to obtain white wines from both white and dark-skinned grapes. From the skins one can extract, thanks to special techniques such as cryomaceration (maceration carried out at very low temperatures), the primary aromatic substances that are typical of high-quality white grape varieties. This system calls for the must and skins to be chilled in order to inhibit fermentation but allows these substances to pass into the must.
Soft pressing also enables one to obtain a must that is as “clean” as possible. Settling, followed perhaps by filtration or centrifuging will make it absolutely clear and ready to be fermented.
During the alcoholic fermentation the tanks are only filled to four-fifths of their capacity so that the gas that develops during fermentation can occupy the space left above the must, protecting it from any damage which could result from contact with oxygen. Using special equipment, the temperature of the fermentation is maintained at 16°-20° C, i.e. much lower than that for red wines.
It is essential, in order to guarantee the finesse and the integrity of the primary characteristics of the original grape variety, to exercise very careful control over the whole of the fermentation process, by means of the systems mentioned above and perhaps also the use of specially selected yeasts.
For most white wines, or at least those designed for drinking young, the malolactic fermentation, which transforms malic acid into lactic acid, is prevented from taking place, so as to maintain fresh aromas and vibrant acidity.
When the yeasts have used up all the sugars contained in the must - between ten and twenty days for white wines - the wine thus obtained goes either into stainless steel or wood, depending on the style of wine the producer is seeking to make.
Prior to bottling, the wine is filtered using particular equipment that guarantees that it is absolutely clear and clean, thus avoiding bacteria or undesired yeast cells from causing refermentation.
Sparkling wines can be produced by two different methods: the classic method (which until recently was referred to – even in Italy - as the Champagne method), which involves a second fermentation in the bottle and the Charmat or Martinotti method where the second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank.
For both methods the first stage is to obtain a base wine, following traditional vinification procedures for making white wine. Various grapes may be used for the production of sparkling wines: either those with white berries (such as Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Riesling, Moscato and Prosecco) or dark-skinned grapes (such as Pinot Noir). The grapes to be used for sparkling wines are usually harvested just before they are completely ripe so they have the most fragrant aromas possible and good acidity which will give the wine freshness and longevity.
In the classic method the base wine is bottled and undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. To start this, the “liqueur de tirage” is added: this is a syrup made up of selected yeasts, cane sugar (up to 24g/bottle, given that 4 grams provide around 1 atmosphere of pressure) and mineral salts.
Once they have been filled, the bottles are closed with a special stopper, a cylinder (the so-called “bidule”, or cartridge) placed with the opening facing down towards the wine, over which the better-known crown cork is applied. The bottles are then arranged horizontally in racks for the so-called “prise de mousse”, which results from the second fermentation in bottle.
After around 40 days the “prise de mousse” is complete which means that the right pressure (normally 5-6 atmospheres) has been reached: the sparkling wine will have become dry again and will have a higher alcoholic strength. At the end of this period the bottles are moved to special wooden trestles in the shape of a capital A, with holes to hold the bottles. These structures are known as “pupitres” and are used to bring the bottles from an initially horizontal position to a vertical one, head down. By means of the operation called “remuage” (riddling), which is carried out by hand, the lees (yeasts) that have amassed along the inside of the bottle are gradually moved towards the “bidule”; the whole of this process takes place very slowly over the course of several months.
The next stage is that of disgorgement (“dégorgement”): the neck of the bottle is immersed in a liquid solution cooled to -25° C. After a short time the part of the wine immersed in the solution freezes and forms a cylinder of ice, containing all of the deposit that has formed whilst the wine has been maturing on its lees. The bottle is then uncorked mechanically and the little cylinder is expelled.
Now the bottle has to be filled up to replace the liquid which has been lost. This is done either with some of the base wine kept for the purpose or by adding the so-called “liqueur d'expédition”, a sugary syrup, the exact composition of which is each producer's secret formula. In the former case, when just base wine is added, the sparkling wine is referred to as “pas dosé” or “dosage zéro”; in the latter it is defined as “extra-brut” or “brut”, depending on the amount of sugar in the syrup used for topping-up.
Now the proper champagne cork can be fitted, immediately covered with its little metal cage, or “muzzle”. This process is known as “habillage”.
Charmat o Martinotti?
With the Charmat or Martinotti method (there is some argument about exactly who invented this method, which appears to have been invented by the Italian Martinotti and then perfected – and registered - by the Frenchman Charmat) the base wine, with added sugar and selected yeasts, is placed in stainless steel pressurized tanks which are hermetically sealed and can resist high pressures. After around 10-15 days the “prise de mousse” has taken place, so the activity of the yeasts has to be stopped. This is done by bringing the wine temperature from +14° C to -4° C. This causes the yeasts to die and fall to the bottom. The sparkling wine is left for a period of between 1 and 6-9 months (the “extended” Charmat method) on the lees and then filtered, cleaned and transferred to a second (“hyperbaric”) tank from where it is bottled. Corking and muzzling take place immediately afterwards.
Prior to the alcoholic fermentation, must is essentially sugary water. The action of the yeasts changes the sugars into alcohol. In order to obtain sweet wines, therefore, all that is required is to limit this process. The most commonly used technique is to interrupt the fermentation when the desired alcohol level has been reached and there is still a substantial quantity of unfermented sugars. The must is filtered using a very fine mesh to trap the yeasts, then the fermentation is allowed to start up once again: this operation is repeated several times and gradually becomes weaker and slower.
The process for wines made from dried grapes (“vini passiti”) is rather different. In this case, the grapes undergo natural or artificial drying, and their sugars thus become more concentrated because of the evaporation of their water content.
Once they have reached the required degree of drying, the grapes are vinified as for white wine (or for red wine, if the grapes are dark-skinned) with a fairly slow fermentation at low temperatures so as not to cause the aromas to be affected. The wine will also have to remain quite a long time in the cellar in order to refine its character. These types of wine may be considered mature after three to four years.
One of the most famous examples is Tuscan Vin Santo, which is made from the best bunches of grapes. These are allowed to dry on mats or trelliswork, generally in attics which are well aired all year round and where temperatures vary markedly. The wine’s long maturation takes at least three years, in small barrels (“caratelli”).
Moscato Rosa (a sweet red wine from the Trentino and Friuli areas) is, on the other hand, left to overripen on the vine. The alcoholic fermentation takes place in small vessels and, after the malolactic fermentation, the young wine is sweetened with concentrated must. The wine is then left to age in small barrels for 2-3 years.
The so-called botrytized wines are another matter again: these are obtained from grapes attacked by Botrytis Cynerea or “noble rot”. This mold causes changes inside the berries themselves that alter the grapes' metabolism, causing a substantial increase in aromatic substances. In certain cases it is possible to add ethyl alcohol or concentrated must to these wines in order to increase their alcoholic strength. The vinification is similar to the process used for wines made from dried grapes.
If, for fermentation, stainless steel tanks have become the most commonly used vessels because they are practical and hygienic, wood still remains an extremely effective – and indeed absolutely irreplaceable - material for the maturation of wines. Stainless steel tanks, as well as fiberglass or glass-lined cement containers, may however be used for storage or for specific production tasks.
The properties of wood
The first thing to bear in mind is that not all wines are suitable for aging in wood. Indeed, this material, apart from allowing the wine to interact very gradually with the external environment (micro- oxygenation), yields aromatic substances and/or others belonging to the family of tannins. So certain wines, made from high-quality grapes and particular varieties, derive elements which give them greater structure, complexity and aging qualities from their time in contact with wood, as well as very specific aromatic notes.
In any case, the degree of this type of contact is of great importance, so as to prevent excessive scents of wood from overpowering the primary aromas of the wine.
Not only the origin of the wood, but also its cut, seasoning, toasting and even washing have an influence on the aromas that the barrel will impart to the wine , as do other fundamental variables such as its size, its newness and for how long it is used.
Large barrels or small barrels?
The “legendary” barrique is a small barrel with a capacity of 225 liters. It belongs to the French tradition of winemaking and is usually made of oak from the forests of Allier, Limousin, Tronçais, Nevers, Vosges and the Massif Central and, more recently, from the Rocky Mountains or even from wood from Eastern Europe. Compared with a large barrel – normally made of Slavonian oak - in the barrique more of the surface area of the wine is in contact with the wood, which means that there is a greater exchange of substances with the wood. This does not necessarily mean, however, that small barrels are preferable to big ones. It is up to the skill of the cellarman, based on the grapes at his disposal and the type of wine he is aiming to make, to decide the correct “dose” of wood and choose the size, type and time required for maturation.
The type of wood
There are innumerable variables involved in barrel production which lead to differences, sometimes quite marked, in the aromas the wood will give the wine.
The first factor to consider is the area the wood is from: the soil where the trees used for barrels grow plays a fundamental role in the aromas that a wine can acquire from contact with the wood.
In lighter, damper soils (in the Limousin, for example) the wood is more porous and with more aggressive tannins, so it is more suitable for brandy. The opposite is the case in more lime-rich terrain (in the Allier, but also in the Tronçais and the Vosges); the wood will be milder and less porous.
The first stage is choosing the wood. Here the cooper’s experience is crucial; the best quality wood must be selected, concentrating on the straightest trunks and those that are less knarled. The trunk is cut to obtain the strips of wood for the staves. The best technique is to split the wood. Compared with sawing, this has the advantage of preserving and respecting the fibers, keeping them intact. The staves must be seasoned and then dried: when the wood is cut its moisture level is about 70%, rendering it impossible to make barrels which will have a good seal after assembly. The wood may be dried in the open air or in special rooms, with obvious differences in the time required. Drying in air-conditioned, well-ventilated rooms can give the required moisture level in a short time, but care is required: if the fibers lose their water content too quickly the wood is liable to crack and split.
Natural drying occurs by simply leaving the strips of wood stacked in a large area in the open air. The producers work on the rule of thumb of a minimum of one year for each centimeter of thickness of the wood. In the case of barriques, this means two or three years, or sometimes more. Natural seasoning not only results in a normal drying process, but the action of the atmosphere and of micro-organisms means that the wood has an increased capacity for releasing a vast range of aromatic substances.
There are many substances that make up the various types of wine and which consequently have an effect on their different taste profiles. These depend not only on the quantity in which the various components are present but (especially) on their reciprocal interrelationships. The substances themselves are the consequence of many factors, such as the grape variety, pedo-climatic conditions, viticultural techniques, methods of vinification and maturation, etc.
If one carries out a physical and chemical analysis of a wine, one will undoubtedly find – in varying quantities – the following substances:
The starting point for the entire process is the grapes themselves, whose chemical and physical composition can be measured when they reach the winery and after they have been transformed into must. This “raw material” is then transformed by the metabolic activity of yeasts and bacteria during the alcoholic fermentation, creating the fundamental alteration of must into wine, with the formation of ethyl alcohol, carbon dioxide, heat and other secondary compounds. The options of malolactic fermentation and storage in wooden barrels – as well as a whole host of other winery operations – will also create further compounds that characterize the wine in various ways.
Among the main components of a wine we undoubtedly find:
If we exclude water, which on average makes up between 80% and 85%, and dessert wines with residual sugar of over 130-140 g/liter, the major component in wine is ethyl alcohol, which represents on average between 11% and 14%.
The wine’s potential quantity of ethyl alcohol has always been considered (though nowadays a little less) as a quality factor, to the extent that it represents the basis for calculating the price of bulk wine: this is partly because it expresses the sugar level of the grapes, which naturally depends on their degree of ripeness (but also on the variety, the cultivation zone, etc.).
In order to calculate the total level of alcohol one has to multiply the percentage of (fermentable) sugars in the must by a coefficient of 0.6. Essentially, a must with 200 g/l of sugar (i.e. 20% of its total weight) should, when fermentation is completed, give a wine with around 12% vol. (20 x 0.6). The % vol. indicates the quantity of alcohol in milliliters (cubic centimeters) contained in 100 milliliters of wine.
The total alcohol level results from the sum of the actual alcohol and that which can potentially be developed by the transformation of fermentable sugars that are still present (medium-sweet or sweet wines).
If it is present to a high degree, ethyl alcohol provokes a pungent sensation on the nose. It gives a generally sweet, rounded flavor on the palate and, especially if it is high, a sensation of apparent warmth.
These are the dominant element in the must following the crushing of the grapes: they are normally present in quantities that vary between 160 and 220 g/liter, sometimes reaching over 300 g/liter in musts obtained from dried grapes. Following the alcoholic fermentation and the metabolic activity of the yeasts, the sugars vanish almost completely in dry wines, remaining in quantities of below 4 g/liter, whereas more appreciable amounts are to be found in medium (“abboccato”) wines (up to 12 g/l), still more in medium-sweet (“amabile”) ones (from 12 to 45 g/l), and a high level is present in sweet wines (residual sugar > 45 g/l).
The presence of sugars causes a particular sensation of sweetness, balancing out both bitterness and acidity, and increasing the roundedness and softness one perceives in the wine. In the case of truly sweet wines, these sensations have to be balanced by marked acidity in order for the wine not to appear cloying.
The acidity of a wine is a very significant factor in terms of its sensory characteristics (freshness of taste, brightness of color) and of its keeping potential.
A wine’s acidity can be measured in real terms by its pH (hydrogen ions liberated in solution) or in titratable terms, when it is expressed in g/l of equivalent tartaric acid (presence of various organic acids, which are potentially separable, in a hydro-alcoholic solution).
Total acidity can be divided up between fixed acidity (acids that do not evaporate if the wine is distilled) and volatile acidity (acids that volatilize when the wine is boiled). When one talks in general terms about the acidity of a wine one means just its fixed acidity, unless one specifies its volatile acidity as well.
Among the fixed acids are tartaric, malic, citric (all present in the must) as well as succinic and lactic acids (deriving from the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations), while the volatile acids include acetic, butyric and propionic acids (these last two are present only in very tiny quantities).
The volatile acidity of a wine is linked to the presence of acetic acid (and to a much lesser extent to formic, butyric and propionic acids).
It is a natural product of the alcoholic fermentation, which if carried out in a good, regular manner should, however, create low levels of volatile acidity (< 300-400 mg/l).
When it is present in significant quantities (usually > 600 mg/l, but it depends on the structure of the wine), and especially in the presence of ethyl acetate, produces a sharp odor (varnish), a sour, acescent, bitterish and biting taste, which gives a burning sensation when you swallow the wine.
When measuring the acidity of a wine, reference is often made to its pH. This index measures the quantity and strength of the organic acids present in the wine in terms of liberated hydrogen ions and therefore represents a measure of the “real” acid strength of that wine. Its value can vary between 2.8-2.9 (high acidity) and 3.8-3.9 (low acidity).
The pH normally has a value that is in inverse proportion to that of the fixed acidity of the wine (the higher this is, the lower the pH).
It presents the same characteristics as the total acidity (being merely another way of measuring it), with a faintly biting, fresh sensation especially on the sides of the tongues when it is well-balanced (pH 3.1–3.4 for whites, 3.4–3.6 for reds) and sensations of sourness, harshness, acerbity and hardness if the pH is very low, or those of a flat, tired wine if the pH is too high. It also represents a reinforcing element for the astringency of the wine.
If ethyl alcohol, organic acids (fixed, volatile and pH) and (perhaps) residual sugars are the primary elements to be considered in the chemical analysis of a wine, there are many other substances that, though present in lesser quantities, play a fundamental role in determining the gustatory/tactile characteristics of a wine, thus profoundly influencing its particular taste profile.
An analysis that comprises in a quantitative manner many of these substances (excluding water, alcohols, volatile acids and aromas) is to be obtained from the dry extract.
This is determined by the totality of the non-volatile components of the wine (fixed acids, polyphenols, glycerin, salts, pectins, sugars) and is measured in g/l of fixed residue, taking into consideration, therefore, what is left over after subjecting the wine’s volatile components to evaporation.
As the dry extract is also characterized by the presence of sugars, so as not to have wayward readings when dealing with medium-sweet or sweet wines it is better to talk about the net dry extract (total dry extract minus the sugars).
Substantial values of net dry extract are from 17-20 g/l upwards for white wines and 25-27 g/l for red wines, which have higher values than whites because of the presence of phenolic substances.
The dry extract is an important parameter that can give a general idea about the depth, concentration, robustness and body of a wine. The higher it is, the more these characteristics should be apparent.
This is an alcohol that forms naturally during the alcoholic fermentation but which we also find to a marked degree in dried grapes.
Its concentration increases in particular according to:
It is a substance with a sweet taste (70% of the sweetness of glucose) that can give, when it is present in fairly high quantities, a sensation of mellowness and viscosity to a wine.
These are important substances that have an influence on both the visual aspects (the hue) and the gustatory/tactile ones of a wine (structure, body, astringency, bitterness). They are contained in the skins of the grapes and their presence in the wine depends on the extraction and vinification methods used. It is in fact the more or less prolonged contact of the fermenting must with the skins that determine the extent to which these substances pass into the must and then the wine, characterizing its classification both in terms of color (white, rosé, red, deep red) and sensory qualities. Consequently, white wines have a lower polyphenolic content than red wines, with a concentration in the former of between 0.1 and 1 g/l and in the latter of 0.5 and 3.5 g/l.
Phenolic substances may be divided up beween non-flavonoids and flavonoids (see in greater detail below); amongst the latter we find the two main categories, the anthocyanins and the tannins.
Anthocyanins are responsible for the purplish-ruby hue of red wines, while tannins are phenolic compounds with a molecular weight of between 500 and 3000, which have an influence on the gustatory/tactile sensations (astringency, structure), the fixation of color (favoring the formation of anthocyanin/tannin complexes) and the conservation of the wine (as they regulate oxidation-reduction phenomena).
Among the many variables that influence the quality of tannins is, in particular, their origin, because they are contained not only in the skins but also in the stalks and seeds (pips) as well as in the wood of the barrels used for maturation. Those from the stalks and seeds in particular, but also from low-quality barrels or from the skins of unripe grapes can give aggressive (green tannins) and bitter notes (bitter tannins).
The quantity, type, composition and evolution of polyphenols influence both the visual aspects and the gustatory/tactile ones (structure, body, astringency, bitterness) of a wine.
Depending on their molecular weight (polymerization) and their condensation with anthocyanins and polysaccharides they determine the taste sensations of volume, structure, softness and dryness; if they are excessive or not particularly “noble” they can cause a bitter, astringent flavor (with the taste and aroma of leather).
These may be salts of potassium, magnesium, calcium or salts of carbonic, sulfuric, and phosphoric acids, etc..
Their presence varies between 1.2 and 4 g/l.
These give the wines particular depth and especially a fresh, tangy flavor. If they are present together with certain aromatic notes (flint, iron, chalk, petroleum) they accentuate their “mineral” sensations.
Polysaccharides and macromolecules
These are compounds with a high molecular weight that we can find – to a notable degree – in wine when it has been kept for a long time in contact with the lees from the fermentation, because they are to be found mainly in the cell walls of the yeasts.
By means of their autolysis, polysaccharides and other macromolecules are liberated, amongst which are mannoproteins, also obtainable by adding special enzymes (with pectolytic action and ß-glucanase).
Their presence varies from 1 to 5 or 6 g/l.
The influence of these compounds manifests itself during tasting by means of greater softness, roundness and fullness of flavor, contributed to by the lesser astringency, but also during the retronasal phase with a lengthening of the wine’s persistence, even though this may often be compensated for by less intense aromas.
The principal molecules in the family of polyphenols are:
In turn, tannins can be divided up into:
- condensed or catechic tannins (natural tannins from the grapes, which are to be found in wine in polymerized form – catechin complexes)
- hydrolysable (hydrosoluble or ellagic) tannins (which derive from wood)
Both catechic (from the grapes) and gallic tannins (from the barrels) determine the wine’s sensations of structure and, in particular, of astringency. This manifests itself in different ways and more or less intensely: it ranges from a slight dryness of the gums, through a mouth-puckering sensation to a bothersome impression of “leatheriness”.
Thanks to oxygenation, to a spell in barriques or to the wine’s evolution in bottle, the tannins tend to polymerize, giving:
Even though these are present, in terms of weight, in quantities of only around 0.7–1.2 g/l, a wine’s aromatic content represents the element why we enjoy it to a greater or lesser degree: it is its most profound soul, and conveys much of the wine’s mysterious charm.
Volatile molecules can be categorized in a whole host of different ways: among the various classifications one of the most widely used is that connected with the moment in which they are formed. They can therefore be split up into:
In this group are included all the fragrant compounds that come directly from the grapes, where they are already present as sweet-smelling molecules or as precursors (potential aromas) that will subsequently evolve into real aromas.
We can find the following groups:
The members of this group are all the scented compounds formed during the operations of extracting and conditioning the must (pre-fermentation) and/or produced by the action of yeasts and bacteria during the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations.
Among those created pre-fermentation we can list:
Among those deriving from the alcoholic fermentation there are:
Among those from the malolactic fermentation there are:
These derive from compounds that form during the process of maturation and bottle-aging, as a result of enzymatic and physico-chemical activity that takes place in the wood or in the bottle.
We can distinguish those that occur in an oxidative environment by means of oxidation by alcohols on aldehydes (acetaldehyde) and ketones from those in a reductive environment (full barrels or other containers and bottles), as a consequence of phenomena of:
To these we should certainly add those compounds that are yielded by wooden barrels such as:
Always present in wines, this is a substance that performs various functions, carrying out:
Free sulfur dioxide is that which has not combined with the other substances in the wine: for this reason it is particularly noticeable on the nose and on the palate, especially if it is present in doses of more than 20-25 mg/l. Even if the law permits, at the time of release to consumers, a maximum dose of 160 mg/l for red wines and 200 mg/l for whites and rosés, it is important that the total sulfur dioxide should not be more than 100-120 mg/l for white wines, although one can accept very slightly higher values for sweet wines (anti-fermentative function).
In very limited doses, it reinforces the aromatic and gustatory sensations; if excessive, it generates acrid, pungent sensations (wax matches, sulfur), which become unpleasantly sharp and bitter in the mouth. It is often the main cause of the classic headache.
The fascinating process of tasting a wine begins with its visual assessment. This is particularly important for the information it gives us about the state of health of the wine, the way it has been stored, its evolution, structure and the type of wine.
In order to carry out this test , fill a glass a third full, holding it by the stem or foot between your thumb and index finger, then bring it to eye level and tilt it to 45° against a white background. In this way you can examine:
By observing the wine while it is being poured and by swirling the glass slowly, you will be able to judge:
Finally, for semi-sparkling and sparkling wines, you have to evaluate the effervescence due to the carbon dioxide that is liberated when the wine is poured, causing the foam and the bubbles (or perlage). In assessing the effervescence you will pay attention to:
In still wines, effervescence – if not desired as a a light and inviting pétillance – is, on the other hand, symptomatic of a fault and is the sign that refermentation has taken place inside the bottle: this is also easy to spot on the nose.
There are many variables that influence the color of a wine: first of all the grape variety, then the characteristics of the soil, the year (more or less favorable), the degree of ripeness, the vinification, maturation, age and so on. The color nonetheless remains the initial indicator in the evaluation of a wine and is measured in relation to other aspects which have to be borne in mind during the visual examination. Here are the scales of colors for the different types of wine.
From “greenish yellow” to “amber yellow”, white wines have a vast range of colors, which depend a great deal on the grape variety, the ripeness of the grapes and the age of the wine. It should be remembered that the color of white wines also tends to intensify with age. Grayish hues and dull colors are undesirable as they are often signs that something is wrong with the wine.
This is a pale yellow with green highlights, which tend to diminish over time. This color is found in fresh young wines, sometimes from grapes that have been picked rather early.
This is the most common shade of light yellow, with sometimes quite significant differences in intensity (more or less deep).
This is a deep yellow that one finds from certain grape varieties. It is also often to be found in the highlights of full-bodied white wines that have a certain aging potential or have been matured in wood, or those whose grapes have undergone a period of drying.
This is the typical color of certain wines made from dried grapes, of fortified wines and, in any case, of wines that are made from extremely ripe grapes.
There is a broad range of shades for rosé wines: these depend on how long the must has been left in contact with the skins. Yellow-orange coloring indicates age, a negative characteristic for rosés, wines that stand out for their freshness and youthful fruity aromas.
This recalls the color of rose petals or of peach blossom.
This is a fairly deep pink, which recalls the color of certain varieties of cherries.
More red than pink, but without the intensity of a red wine.
A deep pink, with highlights that tend towards orange.
Unlike white wines, reds undergo a gradual decrease in the intensity of their color as they age. Purplish red is typical of younger wines, whereas older wines display definite orangey hints.
This is intense and tends towards violet: it is typical of young wines.
This is the most common color: a deep red reminiscent of rubies that is typical of wines that should be drunk relatively young. It in fact indicates the age at which such wines are at their best.
A color that tends towards blood red. It is the first sign of maturity in a wine: this shade indicates that the wine has been aged for at least a couple of years and has attained a good degree of maturation. Some wines display garnet nuances even in youth, as is the case with those made from Pinot Nero or Nebbiolo grapes.
Its orange tones remind us of the color of bricks. This shade is the typical indicator of aging: it is that of the right stage of development for fine wines that reach their peak after a number of years, but a sign of decrepitude for those that do not have the structure to keep.
The second stage in tasting is the olfactory assessment of the wine. But before going into greater detail we have to understand how an odorous perception originates. It stems from the active interaction of a large number of volatile molecules with the receptors (specific proteins) that are present in our mucous membranes. When we breathe in (direct olfaction) or when we chew our food (retronasal olfaction) these molecules reach the olfactory epithelium at the back of our nasal cavities, taking us into a world of incredible sensations that are often difficult to interpret.
The sense of smell has many distinctive features, but in particular we should like to underline the following:
During olfactory assessment (but the same goes for the retronasal stage) the following are taken into consideration:
Two other evaluations could be added for expert tasters:
"Definite scents of a decalactone with notes of acetyl, geraniol and hints of paratolymethylchelone". What did you understand? Probably nothing. That is why in the olfactory assessment of a wine we find descriptors which draw analogies with an object normally characterized by that smell.
Finding references in our olfactory memory to describe the aromas of a wine is, therefore, not just a game, but a real way of specifying the characteristics of the scents that are present in that glass.
There are various classifications for cataloguing the smells to be found in wine: using several of these as a basis (Ann Noble at the University of Davis’s Aroma Wheel, Slow Food, the Aroma Tree of the Center for Tasting Studies, etc.) here we offer one of our own.
A sub-classification might distinguish between the scents of fresh flowers and those of dried flowers, with the former very present in young wines (particularly whites) and the latter being found in the bouquet of aged wines.
One often finds in young wines, then, scents of acacia blossom, hawthorn, jasmine, honeysuckle, linden, wisteria, iris, orange blossom, rose, violet, narcissus, broom... In more mature wines, such as those based on Nebbiolo, one is more likely to associate the bouquet with flowers such as dried roses or violets.
This is undoubtedly the group with the largest number of sub-categories, with the general rule - contradicted by many exceptions – that it is easier to associate white wines with pale-fleshed fruits and red wines with red fruits. The classification might therefore be divided up according to the following groups:
Apart from the analogies that we draw, it is important to identify from the wine’s fruity aromas the ripeness of the grapes used and the maturity of the wine itself. We can therefore note a tendency towards sourness (excessive citrus-like sensations, tart fruit), towards freshness (citrus, white and red fruits), ripeness/maturity (white fruits, tropical fruits, red fruits), very ripe/dried grapes (cooked or dried fruit) or a tendency towards oxidation (nuts, if the scents of walnuts and almonds are predominant, or cooked fruit, if the scent of quince is overwhelming).
Here there are many sub-categories and different sensory manifestations: in fact, vegetal aromas can characterize both wines of poor quality (unripe grapes) and, on the other hand, complex, full-bodied wines.
The following groups may be considered:
These, too, are to be found in rich, full-bodied wines: they come from maturation in new wood and/or the evolution of the wine in particular conditions. Examples are: noble resins, pine, cedarwood, incense, juniper wood, sandalwood, turpentine, camphor.
With a few exceptions, these are the preserve of more complex, well-structured wines, most of which will have been matured in wood.
One can distinguish between:
From the Greek empyreuma, empyreumatos, coal covered with ashes for lighting a fire. These are particular smells linked to aging in wood, whose positive or negative qualities depend on the intensity with which they manifest themselves. They include cocoa, chocolate, coffee, roasted almonds, crusty bread, caramel, tar and the sensation of smokiness.
A category of smells that is not easy to classify and which can be interpreted in various different ways. It refers to notes that recall diverse sensations, including flint, chalk, petroleum, graphite, iron, etc., nearly always closely linked with the terroir and its interaction with the grape variety. This is the case with Sauvignon from the Loire with its flinty scents, the petroleum-like notes of Riesling from Alsace or the Moselle or the “volcanic” hints of certain (red and white) wines from the area of Etna.
A category of smells including those of iodine, seaweed and other marine scents, sometimes found in wines produced in areas close to the sea, which also display a marked tangy, saline quality. This is the case with Muscadet from the Loire and with some Grillos from the zone around Trapani.
If these are marked they represent a fault; if they are merely nuances complementing more fragrant scents they may be typical of a particular place or grape of origin or prolonged maturation of the wine. Among the positive aromas (if barely hinted at) we find leather, fur, gamey aromas, ambergris, civet and musk (the last three are secretions from animals often used as the basis for perfumes), whereas cat’s urine, horse sweat, stables, chicken coop and other similar smells may always be considered to be negative.
These are smells that are to be found in wines (especially whites) that have undergone malolactic fermentation, with the formation of diacetyl. They are reminiscent of fresh butter and cheese. In certain cases, they may be confused with animal smells (butyric acid).
These derive from the processes of fermentation and also, especially, from those that the wine undergoes during maturation. Nail varnish, boiled sweets, soap, wax ...
These derive from chemical compounds in the wine such as alcohol, ethyl acetate, sulfur dioxide, acetaldehyde and others.
Sub-dividing them somewhat artificially into categories, because many faults are often present simultaneously, we can distinguish between:
The principal stage of tasting is that which is often referred to as gustatory analysis. In point of fact, the term “gustatory” is incomplete when referring to all the perceptions one is aware of in the oral cavity, because the sense of taste with its four (or five?) flavors is only one of the three senses involved when actually tasting a wine (or indeed any food or beverage). Many sensations are perceived by one’s sense of touch, just as it is also wrong to talk about a “taste of chocolate” or “taste of lemon” because the aromatic perceptions of chocolate or lemon (and of all other aromas) are not sensed by the receptors in our tastebuds but by those in the mucous membranes of our retronasal passages (as explained above).
There are four flavors perceived by specific tastebuds in different parts of our tongues. Even if the theory of the geography of taste (exactly where these various tastebuds are on our tongues) is not entirely cut and dried as at first thought, we can nevertheless affirm – at least to simplify matters – that sweetness is perceived mainly on the tip, saltiness and acidity principally on the sides and bitterness at the back of the tongue. For some years now there has been talk of a fifth flavor, umami, which is very much akin to the “savoriness” of dishes in oriental cuisine and which refers specifically to monosodium glutamate (present, for example, in stock cubes), but in the West we are still somewhat skeptical about considering this a flavor in its own right.
The progressive scale of intensity in the four fundamental flavors may be considered to be as follows:
Also in the group of gustatory sensations are the derivatives of the principal flavors, such as sweetish, acidulous or bitterish, normally used to temper one’s evaluation of the aftertaste (gustatory sensations that return after swallowing or spitting out the wine).
In the mouth, apart from the strictly gustatory sensations, we may also perceive a number of sensations that have todo with our sense of touch.
These sensations may be subdivided into the following categories:
The sense of smell is involved once again in the “oral” phase of tasting thanks to the retronasal passages. The volatile molecules imprisoned in the liquid, once it is in one’s mouth, are liberated due to our moving the wine around and taking in air, as well as the heat and humidity of our mouths. These molecules then reach the olfactory epithelium by means of our retronasal passages, giving rise once again to perceptions similar to those of smell.
First take a little wine into your mouth to get it used to the taste and then take a bigger sip. Hold the wine first of all in the front of your mouth and then release it into the rest of the oral cavity. The elements you should take into consideration are all of those outlined above, and in particular the wine’s overall structure, its balance, the intensity of the retronasal sensations (aromas) and its persistence.
By overall structure we mean the concentration, texture and body of the wine,resulting from all the substances that make up its extract (polyphenols, fixed acids, salts, sugars, glycerin).
By the balance of a wine we mean the relationship between its “softer” elements (alcohol, glycerin, residual sugars) and its “harder” ones (acidity and, in red wines, astringency).
By intensity of the retronasal sensations we mean all the sensations you perceive indirectly after swirling the wine around your mouth and swallowing it. We should not forget, in fact, that the sense of smell plays a fundamental role in the overall sensations that we perceive in our mouths; the easier these impressions are to perceive and identify, the more intense and precise the retronasal sensations will be.
Lastly, the wine’s persistence is an indication of how long its gustatory and olfactory sensations last: the longer they linger, the greater the wine’s persistence will be. One can talk about gustatory/tactile persistence or about persistence of the aromas, depending on whether one is dealing with the length of actual taste sensations (sweetness, saltiness, acidity, bitterness) and tactile ones (astringency, prickliness, warmth, freshness) or those perceived retronasally (fruity, floral and vegetal sensations, etc.).
The palate should confirm the descriptors we found on the nose and also give us new ones, which again recall those analogies we listed for the olfactory assessment. It is the aromatic sensations, in fact, that are the dominant ones: try tasting anything you like whilst holding your nose. The overall sensation that you perceive will be considerably less strong, in the same way as when you have a heavy cold.
Sometimes it may happen that you notice disagreeable odors, which are caused by faults in the wine. There are certain factors that, even they are not the actual cause, favor the onset of problems, because they are symptoms of weakness or instability in the wine. Examples are:
The best known odor is that of cork taint, which we perceive on the nose but even more clearly on the palate. This is passed on to the wine from the cork when it is attacked by parasitic fungi (the trichloroanisole or TCA molecule).
Another fault may be a smell of refermentation and dregs (a disagreeable odor rather like drains or flatulence) which comes from the wine having been in contact too long with dirty, oxidized lees or from wines that have undergone an unwanted (and therefore uncontrolled) second fermentation in the bottle. This often happens with wines purchased in demijohns and bottled at home.
A third fault may be caused by bacteria that develop in barrels that have been badly looked after and which have not been cleaned with the proper antiseptics (a smell of dry or rotten wood). Yet another comes from grapes that are not perfectly healthy, giving off odors that are reminiscent of pharmaceuticals or of a dry-cleaner's. The smell of oxidation (like that of Marsala or Madeira) is due to excessive contact with oxygen. This is an irreversible process and is a serious fault, except for those wines (such as Marsala, for example) whose main characteristic is that they are oxidized.
Another fault one often comes across is reduction (a closed-up, slightly musty odor), which is perceptible in wines that have spent a long time in bottle or at any rate in an environment where oxygen is lacking. Sometimes it disappears or weakens if the wine is allowed to “breathe”.
A smell of sulphur is caused by excessive use of sulphur dioxide. This is noticeable both on the nose and on the palate and is similar to the smell of wax matches or wet wool.
One may also find the smell of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide), an irremediable fault caused by adding too much potassium metabisulphite prior to the fermentation; it can also result from a process of reduction during the alcoholic fermentation.
The smell of vinegar, or acescence, is due to the presence – beyond acceptable limits – of acetic acid (volatile acidity). It is particularly perceptible on the nose because of the correlated formation of ethyl acetate because of the activity of acetic bacteria (an aerobic environment, blocked fermentation, etc.)
A fault that one finds increasingly often in wines, and particularly in reds, is the smell of animal sweat or of stables; this is connected to the presence of ethyl phenol from the fermentation of Brettanomyces yeasts (in jargon the fault is referred to as Brett). Wines made from certain varieties (such as Cabernet or Lagrein) are prone to Brett, but especially the contamination of wooden containers (such as barriques) can cause the onset and spread of this fault in wines that are matured in them.
Also, too marked a note of bell peppers, which is characteristic of Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, or a dominant smell of cat’s urine that one finds in some Sauvignons should not be considered – as many people maintain – typical of their respective varieties, but rather as real faults caused, in the vast majority of cases, by the grapes’ failure to reach full aromatic ripeness.
It is best to taste wines when you are in good physical and mental shape. It is a waste of time tasting when you have a headache, your stomach is out of sorts or you have to rush off to get to another appointment. The best time of day is late in the morning, on an empty stomach, when you are just starting to feel hungry and all your senses are at their sharpest. Your oral cavity should be free of the taste of sweets or cigarettes, and you should also avoid the use of scents or cosmetics. The tasting sequence is also important: this should start off with lighter and younger wines, so as not to blunt your senses. Between one wine and another, in order to “cleanse your palate”, you may wish to eat a piece of bread or a breadstick, as long as they are absolutely neutral in taste.
Lastly, do not allow yourself to be influenced and do not try to influence others. We do not mean by this that – in unofficial tastings – you have to follow a strict, silent ceremonial, but just that we can often be conditioned by the opinions of others (especially of people we consider to be more expert than ourselves). Be calm and attentive when carrying out the organoleptic analysis of a wine, and always bear in mind that there are innumerable types of wine, made from an infinite number of grape varieties in the most far-flung regions of the world. A taster’s skill does not depend on his (or her) ability to identify correctly the name of the grape variety, the age of the wine, the area of origin or the name of the producer, but it lies in his capacity to describe and measure in a clear, accurate and comprehensible manner his own visual, olfactory, gustatory/tactile and retro-olfactory sensations. It is at this point - and only at this point – that he will be able, based on his own tasting experience and the points of reference he has acquired over time, to come to a logical conclusion as to the wine’s origin and the way in which it was made..
No more running out at the last minute to buy a bottle of wine just before dinner. No more splendid meals accompanied by a mixed array of bottles (which are usually good, too) brought by the guests. The time has come to make up your own cellar. It only needs to be a small one but, if you give at least some thought to the quality and types of wine you purchase, it will be enough to ensure that you have a collection that is always ready to accompany the most important gastronomic occasions or just enable you to enjoy a simple evening with friends.
Which wines to choose
The most enjoyable moment is choosing the wines to put in your cellar. Always try to taste the wines you intend to buy and try to buy at least six bottles: this will guarantee you a sufficient stock and you can always uncork another bottle if your guests ask for it. It is also interesting to see how a wine evolves over time and so really understand its value in overall terms. It is best not to keep large stocks of wine that should be drunk young and have no potential for aging. On the other hand, important wines that can bear a certain amount of bottle-aging should be checked periodically.
Wine is a living thing: it too goes through the phases of youth, maturity and old age, periods which can be short or long and which depend on many factors. It therefore becomes very important to monitor your wine so as to understand when and how to drink it. It can be a shocking experience to drink a wine which is too old. Uncorking a bottle which is too young, on the other hand, is only a minor error and easily put right.
A further note: do not be “selfish” and only follow your personal preferences. Those who enjoy inviting friends would do better to have a broad, diverse range of wines, including types of wine suitable for all sorts of occasions and dishes, from appetizers to dessert.
The right place
It is always better to keep wine underground, but not all cellars are suitable for this purpose. Mold-covered walls – along with cobwebs and dust - may suggest an atmosphere of romantic antiquity, but for real wine-lovers they are a clear sign of excessive damp. To prevent any problems and especially to protect the labels, you can wrap the bottles in cling film.
Bear in mind that the worst damage to wine is caused by sudden fluctuations in temperature. Ideal conditions for maturation are between 15°-20°C. Letting light into the cellar, as well as excessive humidity and vibration (even from loud noises), can do equal harm.
There is an old saying – but still a true one – that in an ideal cellar more water should flow than wine. This merely confirms that a cellar needs to be kept very clean. The bottles should be taken from their case, cleaned with a dry cloth and laid down in a horizontal position. The wine has in fact to remain in contact with the cork; if this does not happen the cork may dry out and no longer guarantee a tight seal. The wine racks that are readily available in the shops nowadays are very useful for storing your bottles: they are relatively inexpensive and take up little space. When choosing wine racks, bear in mind that each bottle weighs around 1.5 kg.
Good cellar management calls for you to place the white wines lower down in the racks, where the temperature is lower, and the reds higher up where it is warmer. This means that the wines will be kept at a temperature that is closer to that at which they should be served.
The ideal temperature range for drinking most wines is between 5° C and 20° C , even though at home the optimum tasting conditions are to some extent dependent on the seasons. One should not consider these as absolutely strict parameters but as ideal suggestions in order to enjoy your wines at their best. As a general rule, we should bear in mind that the lower the temperature, the less sensitive our tastebuds are (at under 4°C they register virtually nothing).
Also, lower temperatures accentuate acidic and tannic tastes, while higher temperatures emphasize sweetness, aromas and the alcohol component (but also unpleasant smells!). Here then are some suggestions, which are open to modification according to the season (a bit cooler in summer, a bit warmer in winter) and the temperature of the food being served (cool if the food is cold, a little warmer if the dish is warm or boiling hot):
Just as, in the kitchen, the presentation and decoration of dishes have become fundamental, the style and sophistication of place settings are also of great importance today.
Glasses are perhaps the iconic decorative element in this new trend, also representing as they do invaluable technical instruments for enjoying wines at their best. Normally goblet-shaped glasses are used, so that one can hold the stem and not influence the temperature of the liquid contained therein. The form of the vessel is determined by the relationship between the lip (or rim), the bowl (the middle part) and the base. By altering these three dimensions, one can obtain infinite shapes, each of which can have a positive or negative effect on the wine, influencing in particular the shape of the “blade” of wine that arrives on the tongue.
Fresh, aromatic white wines are served in slender, long-stemmed glasses with a slightly flared lip, a feature which concentrates the bouquet at the base, allowing it to rise out of the top of the glass better. This is a feature which is also seen in the Champagne glass or coupe, ideal for enjoying sweet sparkling wines or naturally fermented sweet wines.
However, the coupe is not the ideal glass for dry sparkling wines: these, if being served on their own, should be drunk in a tall glass known as a flute and this is the only case where a glass is filled to the top (for other wines the glass should be only about a third full). This type of glass allows one to evaluate better than most the perlage (the intensity, persistence and finesse of the bubbles), even if, on the nose, it tends to over-accentuate the “pungent” effect of the carbon dioxide. It is therefore preferable, especially if a sparkling wine is served with full-flavored dishes, to use large, tulip-shaped glasses that can highlight the wine’s richness, structure and complexity.
More full-bodied white wines are better served in a larger, long-stemmed glass, which should narrow towards the rim so as to concentrate the more complex aromas.
Rosé wines and young red wines should be served in olive-shaped glasses that narrow slightly towards the top, so as to highlight the wine’s fruity primary aromas. For red wines as well, the more complex the wine is, the larger the glass should be in order to guarantee good oxygenation.
Dessert wines and fortified wines call for smaller glasses, but these can vary depending on what the wine is being served with and also on the serving temperature.
If you do not want to crowd your sideboard with dozens of glasses the best thing is to buy tulip-shaped glasses, ideally a bit larger (but of the same shape) as so-callled ISO tasting glasses, which are suitable for any type of wine. They are shaped like the flower from which they take their name and narrow towards the rim, allowing one’s nose to almost block the mouth of the glass and thereby perceive the bouquet as fully as possible.
And how about a decanter? For serving young or moderately aged red wines it is quite useless (even if is undoubtedly attractive and trendy), whereas it can be of some use when serving wines that have spent a long time in the bottle, but only to avoid pouring sediment into your glass and certainly not to leave the wine “resting” in it for several hours. (That way all the aromas, which have taken years to form, just evaporate!) The right glass, especially if it is large (as it should be for red wines) and if the wine is poured into it a short time before it is due to be drunk, offers a perfect guarantee that the wine will oxygenated in the correct manner, without any risk of losing the optimum moment for tasting because of excessive contact with the air.
How should wines be served? Quite apart from ideal pairings with food, there is a precise sequence that should be respected in order to make sure that our taste buds do not get overtired and that important taste sensations do not dominate one another or clash. The sequence for serving should follow these rules:
Clearly, each one of these rules – because of the overlap of characteristics within individual wines – has some exceptions, as outlined below:
Quite apart from the rules and exceptions above, another important element in the sequence for wines - if not indeed the most relevant – is that of matching them with food (see chapter 7). A first course that is very highly-scented calls for a wine that is particularly aromatic, and this can therefore precede a less aromatic wine but one that is more suitable for accompanying the dish that is to follow.
Fundamentally speaking, to get the sequence right you need to know the rules but also to use a little creativity: big sports stars or great artists, too, create extraordinary performances by using their fantasy and imagination, but only after they have put in years of hard work and practice learning the rules and the basics in their particular chosen field.
The label is a wine’s identity card: the document where you should be able to find the necessary information for knowing the characteristics of what you are buying as well as other useful details that will help you to use it correctly.
One of the first important indications on the label is the wine’s classification as vino da tavola, vino a Indicazione Geografica Tipica (I.G.T.), vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) or vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) (see chapter 1.5.1). One may also find abbreviations such as VQPRD (Vino di Qualità Prodotto in Regioni Determinate – Quality Wine Produced in a Specific Region), or VSQPRD (Vino Spumante di Qualità Prodotto in Regioni Determinate –Quality Sparkling Wine Produced in a Specific Region), which are sometimes used together with D.O.C.s or D.O.C.G.s.
Leaving aside formal, if nonetheless important information such as the volume of the contents (e.g. 0.75 liters), the name and address of the bottler, the lot number and other indications, further details we can find are:
There are also other indications that are very often to be found on the labels of D.O.C. and D.O.C.G. wines (if specified in the production regulations), such as:
The following types of wine are considered special wines:
This is what wines are called in Italian that are obtained from grapes that have undergone a period of partial dehydration, with a resultant concentration of some of their components (above all sugars, but also acids, aromas, etc.), by means of:
From the sensorial point of view, these wines are characterized by a high level of sugar (sweet wines) or, if dry (as in the case of Amarone della Valpolicella or Sfursat from the Valtellina), a high natural level of alcohol as well as considerable structure (total dry extract), roundedness (glycerine) and distinctive aromatic qualities (notes of preserves, cooked fruit, candied fruit, fruit in syrup, honey, caramel, etc.).
These are produced by adding neutral spirit or brandy to grape must during fermentation or to a finished wine. In certain cases (e.g. Marsala) the addition of concentrated grape must, cooked must or partially fermented must is permitted.
Their principal characteristic is their high level of alcohol (between 16% and 22% vol.), accompanied by a more or less high sugar content, depending on exactly when the alcohol id added (if added during fermentation there will still be residual sugars; if to the finished product, the wine will be dry).
The most famous fortified wines are Marsala, Port and Madeira.
For Marsala, the differences according to the wine’s residual sugar content is as follows:
Aromatized wines are wines to which alcohol, sugars, flavorings and bitter ingredients, spices, herbs and sometimes sweeteners and caramel have been added, with the aim of giving the wine particular aromas and flavors.
Among the principal aromatized wines are Barolo Chinato, Ala Amarascato and Vermouth.
The difference between frizzante (semi-sparkling) and spumante (sparkling) wines is in the pressure of carbon dioxide contained in them:
In the case of sparkling wines, depending on the quantity of residual sugars in the bottle, we find the following indications:
Wine, if consumed regularly and in moderate doses, has notable beneficial effects on health. The theory that wine is significantly good in protecting one’ heart is now widely accepted in both winemaking and medical circles. Epidemiological research and experimental studies carried out on human beings have demonstrated that red wine reduces the incidence of coronary arteriosclerosis more than any other alcoholic beverage. Subsequent studies have also proved that polyphenols have a powerful antioxidant action that is capable of inhibiting the formation of oxidated lipoproteins (LDLs) in humans.
Researchers seem to be in unanimous agreement in attributing this important therapeutic effect to resveratrol, a component in the chemical family of stilbenes, which is contained in grape skins with the purpose of inducing in the berry a sort of resistance to fungal infections. Once it has been assumed, this substance, present in particular in red wines and/or in wines that have been made from late-picked or partially dried grapes, deposits itself in a cell and slows down its respiration, as happens with animals in hibernation. This leads to a saving of energy that allows the cell to live longer and produce less waste (including free radicals), with a marked anti-aging and antioxidant effect.
From the point of view of genuineness and quality, the wine’s phenolic content, expressed by means of the "Folin-Ciocalteau Index" as well as its "chromatic profile", gives elements of evaluation that are very useful indeed.
The thing that every gourmet hopes to find in a restaurant - apart from a tempting menu - is an interesting wine list. This is a tangible sign of professionalism and care for the customer, who goes to a restaurant not only to satisfy his appetite but to meet with friends and to enjoy good food and wine. The list should show the wines in a logical order (sparkling wines, white wines, red wines, dessert wines), if possible with specific indications of the zone of origin, the name of the producer, the vintage, the grape variety, etc.. When one does not have much time, and especially patience, one can always seek guidance from the waiter or, better yet, the sommelier. This person is an extremely important figure: an ambassador whose role it is to communicate the world of wine and its varied facets to the customer. Besides, it will be a real pleasure for him to tell you about his cellar and the wines he has carefully set aside. He will be very grateful for your interest and he will undoubtedly be able to give you all the information you need to know.
Following the sommelier’s suggestions is, therefore, the simplest way to choose a wine, but it is even more fun to keep on discovering new pairings, flavors and scents based on the range of wines and food that the restaurant has to offer. Our choice will also depend a great deal on the dish we have ordered, on the particular situation, on our mood, on who our fellow diners are and, to no small extent, on price.
In Italy today, we are often offered wines from the particular area to go with the local specialties, and in some cases we are also very conveniently given the chance to buy them by the glass. This allows us to taste several different wines and so match wines to the particular nuances of the recipes.
If by chance we taste the wine and do not find that it corresponds to our expectations, we should have no hesitation in bringing up the matter with the sommelier. We should always remember that the dining experience is one based on pleasure and conviviality; we should therefore not allow a faulty wine to spoil what might be an important occasion.
Wine does its job best when it serves the overall dining experience, thanks to its natural capacity, when it is well chosen, to enliven the food without being either intrusive or submissive, cleansing the palate between one mouthful and the next and so reinvigorating our desire to take another bite.
If there is no doubt about our right to be subjective when choosing what wine to match with what food, it is equally certain that some pairings work better than others and are particularly successful in stimulating a general feeling of well-being. To that end, we will give here some general indications as to possible criteria for selecting wines based on the type of food they are to accompany and suggest some classic examples of pairings. However, we remain convinced that, partly due to the unpredictable way many foods taste when they are cooked, imagination and personal inventiveness cannot but lead to greater interest and enjoyment in the realm of matching wines with food.
The basic principles may be summarized as follows:
The first two principles are “universal criteria”, in the sense that they are applicable whether one bears in mind or ignores the choice between the two following ones (contrast or similarity), criteria that are alternatives.
Matching according to tradition
This consists in accompanying the dishes of a given region with the classic wines of the same zone, based on a rationale of affinity between their flavors and scents and the championing of typical local products.
Matching according to the season
This rationale for matching calls for one to serve wines that are appropriate for the period of the year, such as cool, fresh whites in summer, vino novello in autumn or red wines in winter; this principle also leads to a corresponding alternative in which one modifies the temperature at which one serves wines (slightly cooler in summer, a little warmer in winter).
Matching by contrast of flavors
This is the general rule for food and wine matching, even though there are many exceptions, and consists in serving wines with “opposing” characteristics to those of the food, with the aim of cleansing the palate and preparing it for the pleasure of the following mouthful.
Matching by similarity of flavors / structure / intensity and persistence of aromas
Matching by similarity is to be sought in those cases where, for the sensations given by the wine and food to be in perfect balance, assonance between their characteristics is desirable. Examples are:
Dry white wines and semi- or fully sparkling wines that are not sweet (Brut and Extra Brut) are especially suitable, because their acidity and, in the case of bubbly wines, the presence of CO2 favor the secretion of gastric juices that prepare the body for receiving food.
Here the suggestions are similar to those for the aperitif, although in this case the structure of the white wines should be increased, especially if there are shellfish or seafood in general. One can also serve rosé wines or light reds with cold cuts (such as salami or Parma ham), even if well-structured and aromatic white wines will go with them perfectly as well.
Even though some people suggest that you should only drink water with soups, wine is still the best accompaniment for a good broth or consommé (a dry white), a vegetable soup (a rosé or a young red), or a particularly flavorful farmhouse soup (a medium-weight red).
Pasta dishes /Risottos
The choice of wine depends on the type of filling and/or sauce in the recipe. If the dish is vegetable-based, light, easy-drinking white wines are appropriate; if it contains fish you should serve more structured whites; if it is meat-based you should choose a red wine whose vigorousness reflects that of the flavor of the sauce itself (lighter for a Bolognese sauce, richer for game).
If, broadly speaking, it is true to say that you should drink white wine with fish, it is also true that there are many different types of white wine and that there are exceptions to the rule. Depending on the individual dish in front of you, there are two criteria for choosing what wine to match with it: you can base your selection on the type of fish or on the cooking method/sauce.
Based on the type of fish,
Depending on the cooking method or sauce used,
Some examples of meat dishes are:
The choice should be based on what type of milk the cheese is made from (cow’s, goat’s, sheep’s), the amount of fat it contains, the softness or hardness of the cheese and its freshness or maturity. In general:
There are three general principles to follow:
Here the choice of wine is dependent on how sweet the dessert is; sweet or medium-dry (but never Brut) sparkling wines are fine, as are sweet still or fortified wines: it is partly a question of personal taste. The general rules are:
There are certain foods whose peculiar characteristics make it impossible – or at least very difficult – for them to be matched with any wine. There is no choice but to drink water with them, or perhaps some other beverage, such as beer.
Limiting ourselves to just the most classic cases, we can list:
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Santa Margherita S.p.A.
Via Ita Marzotto, 8
30025 Fossalta di Portogruaro (Ve)
Tel.+39 0421 246111
Fax 39 0421 246417
Fully paid-up share capital EUR 7.231.000
Sole shareholder: Zignago Holding S.p.A.
Tax code and Venice business register number: 00717760243
Venice R.E.A. (Index of Economic and Administrative Information) number 159187
VAT number 00884040270