Different acidities of wine. In the mouth it is felt on the sides of the tongue, but the acidity which one finds in a wine is the result of a group of acidic substances, some from the grape and others from the fermentation process. These are fundamental to the balance of the wine, not merely from the point of view of taste but also to help it keep over time. In brief, the acidity is the fuel which allows the wine to go a long way.
The total acidity of a wine includes all the volatile substances as well as the fixed substances. It is much more useful to refer to the pH of a wine, which expresses the real acidity of a substance, giving its real level. The pH is measured on a scale of 0 to 14 and the lower the figure the higher the acidity.
The pH figure, then, will be lower in fresh, fragrant wines where the grapes were harvested early to keep a high level of acidity. In more important, long-lived wines the pH will be higher (so the acidity will be lower) but should be well balanced and in harmony with the structure of the wine.
For these wines it is important that the acid substances are less aggressive: this is why the alcoholic fermentation is followed by a malolactic fermentation which changes the malic acid into lactic acid, which is weaker and gives the wine more smoothness.
Not all grape varieties and not all grapes have the broad backs they need to be able to age over time. The choice, then, is first made out in the countryside, by deciding which type of wine the grapes are going to be used for. Young wines can be drunk from the spring after the grape harvest onwards. There are wines which only rest a few months after the alcoholic fermentation before being bottled.
The more important wines must start from sound grapes with a good balance of sugars and acidity, able to take the wine to its peak. There are wines which, after alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation, are allowed to rest for a period (which may be longer or shorter) in wooden barrels (small barrels or large ones). This is a period when the wine acquires complexity as new aromas form.
This is followed by a long period in the bottle, where the wine undergoes further slow changes until it reaches the highest point of its development in terms of colour, elegance, development of its bouquet, structure, smoothness and roundness.
Ageing in wood and long bottle-ageing are usually for red wines (with a greater variety of substances), but sometimes they are also suitable for certain white wines which are to be kept for a long time.
This is the first stage of winemaking, a complex biochemical phenomenon which involves transforming the sugars (glucose and fructose) into ethyl alcohol (ethanol), carbon dioxide and numerous products which are known as secondary products because they are present only in small quantities.
The agents for this process are the yeasts in the grapes which feed on the sugars and change them. During alcoholic fermentation heat is also produced, but the process may stop if the temperature reaches 35∞-38∞C; in this situation the must becomes vulnerable to bacteria which change the sugars into mannitol, producing an undrinkable liquid.
In order to prevent this danger (mannitolic fermentation) the cellar must be aired and cold water has to be run over the fermentation vessel. Other measures maybe adopted, depending on the situation in the place concerned. The most up-to-date vessels have a double skin with an internal cavity where a cooling or heating liquid circulates, thereby allowing the temperature of the process to be controlled. In northern areas there may be the opposite risk; fermentation may not start because the temperature is too low (10∞C). In this case the cellar and the must would obviously have to be heated.
The start of alcoholic fermentation is signalled by gurgling caused by carbon dioxide gas being given off. Due to this typical noise fermentation is known in the trade as boiling.
It has been proven that alcohol in moderate doses has beneficial effects on health. The alcohol in wine is ethyl alcohol, the result of the transformation of sugars due to the action of yeasts in the grapes. It follows that a grape with a higher sugar content will give a higher level of alcohol. This is measured in millilitres at 20° C and may be defined as the alcohol percentage by volume. To give a practical example, when a wine is labelled as 11∞ this means that it contains 11% alcohol by volume (or 110 millilitres of alcohol per litre of wine), one of 12∞ contains 12% of alcohol and so on. By law table wines have to contain at least 8% (or 9∞ of alcohol). In certain cases the label may state 'potential degree of alcohol'; these are usually sweet wines which still contain sugars which, at least in theory, could ferment and make more alcohol; this is the potential degree of alcohol.
Alcohol is one of the elements which has the biggest effect on the quality of wine. It is the main factor responsible for the smoothness, mellowness and roundness and it contrasts with and masks the effects of acidity and astringency, acts as a support for the primary aromas and plays a key role in the various process the wine undergoes during development. This is why it is very important to have a reasonable level of alcohol even if it has to be corrected during alcoholic fermentation.
Italian law allows the alcoholic level to be corrected by a maximum of two units. This practice is not common among the more careful winemakers who pay the greatest possible attention to raising the sugar level in the grapes on the vine and not intervening later. In Italy the most common system is addition of concentrated rectified must, a colourless, odourless sugary solution obtained by removing the water from grape must - a sugar concentrate in practice.
In France, and also in other countries, sugaring is allowed; the practice of adding sugar to feed the yeasts which will make it into more alcohol. In Italy the sugar level can only be increased, under strict controls, in fortified or strong sweet wines and in aromatized wines.
A small to medium-sized leaf, three and five-lobed, with a lyre-shaped stalk cavity with overlapping borders. The mature bunch of grapes is medium-sized, compact, conical-cylindrical, sometimes pyramidal.
The grape is medium-sized, with a persistent stylar remnant, golden yellow in colour, tending to amberÖ
We shall stop here but we could continue for many pages. This is a fragment of a detailed description of a variety of vine, an identity card which describes it in minute detail.
The vine description scheme is the final product of ampelography, a science which deals with the classification and description of the different species and varieties of vine. This is not an easy task; Vitis vinifera is a plant which adapts to life in very different soils and climates, by continued mutation.
The most common descriptive scheme is the one approved by the international commission of the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin (O.I.V.) are for each variety of vine it gives the name, common names, vegetative characteristics (habit, vigour, description of the bunch of grapes, the grape, the leaf, how long it takes to germinate, when it matures), how it responds to cultivation (behaviour with regard to climatic factors, insects and diseases) and the most suitable habitats.
The sample of text, by the way, comes from an ampelographic description of Muscat.
The balance of a wine is a complex matter which wine professionals are still investigating, so as to be able to produce a system which can accurately assess all the elements which contribute to the organoleptic qualities of the product.
One of the greatest oenologists, the French Peynaud, summarised the balance of a wine thus, 'Alcoholic strength, smoothness, acidity, tannins; these being the main components of wine, the end result is the sum of them.'
The alcoholic strength is responsible for the heat of a wine, the body, which confers smoothness and roundness and counteracts the acidity and astringency. The smoothness is due to the sugars and glycerins, substances which mask bitterness and counterbalance acidity, conferring smoothness and roundness. The acidity is responsible for the freshness and liveliness of the wine, reinforcing the strength of the tannins and increasing the impression of bitterness. The tannic content (a key element in red wines) can give sensations of more or less bitterness (more or less pleasant) and reinforce the acidity.
In effect the balance of a wine is the result of these elements which combine, reinforce one another, hide one another or cancel one another out.
The barrique (a small wooden barrel which generally holds 225 litres) is more than a delicate winemaking technique; it is becoming a fashion, with its supporters and its opponents. The long history of partnering wine and wood has ancient roots; the Gauls invented barrels to transport liquids. Over the years, wood became more than a means of transport and became instrumental in winemaking and ageing.
It was found that it could give the wine many of its constituents: its tannins (called gallics), aromatic aldehydes (which bring new aromas), non-phenolic odorants (responsible for the taste known as 'boisÈ' or woody). The wine thereby undergoes a chemical change which refines the bouquet and the colour matures, but the level of tannins also changes.
The relationship between wood and wine is influenced by a number of different factors: the size of the barrel (the larger it is the less contact it has with the wine and therefore the less the exchange of properties), the type of wood and the toasting (a delicate operation involving briefly burning the wood to 'fix' the aromatic substances and extracts which will be released into the wine) and, last but not least, the character of the wine it contains.
Not all wines are robust enough to allow for ageing in wood. As we have seen, a barrel aged wine acquires special aromas from the wood which are pleasant if correctly dosed, but may be unpleasant if the wine acquires too much of them or if the wine does not have enough bouquet for it to be balanced. The result can become what many people call 'carpenter's wine'; bottles where the perfume of the wood overpowers the aromas of the wine.
It should also be borne in mind that barrels do not work miracles; no mediocre wine can be made into an excellent wine by ageing it in wood, just as an excellent wine can be made decidedly worse if the ageing is not carefully carried out.
One thing must be said: if you feel a 'clear' sensation of bitterness when tasting a wine this means that the wine has a fault, probably due to a bacterial infection.
If what you feel on the bottom of the tongue - more on the lining of the mouth than on the tastebuds - is something 'close to' bitterness this is called astringency. Astringency causes the gums to contract, gives an impression of dryness and roughness on the tongue. It is due to tannins, so it is easier to spot in red wines - which the wine takes from the stalks, skins and seeds during maceration It is noticeable in young wines and diminishes gradually with time.
The sensation of bitterness which is sometimes found in white wines, however, may be due to a fault (the presence of aldehydes and ethyl acetate) and in other situations (certainly more pleasant to the palate) it may be characteristic of the grape variety (odour of nuts like bitter almond or green walnut).
Botrytized wines: the name is taken from a fungus, Botrytis cinerea, which attacks and changes the skin of the grape, forming a mould which gives the wine very special scents.
Not all grapes are suitable for botrytizing; they should be the right varieties, which have a thick, sound skin. And not all places are ideal either; in order to develop the fungus has to have alternate dampness and sunshine, which encourages concentration in the grape attacked.
The fungus attacks very ripe grapes and white grapes take on a brown colour and slowly become wrinkled, parts being covered by downy mould. This Botrytis enriches the sugars, attacks the tartaric acid and secretes certain substances which give the wine its special aroma The result is a wine which can be savoured on its own, with a high level of alcohol, which is left to rest for some years before it is drunk.
This is the final act in winemaking, but that does not mean that ageing has finished; many wines take months or even years of further rest in the bottle to mature.
This is a delicate and important operation; the maximum hygiene and least possible contact with air are the two rules to follow. Now all bottling plants are equipped with machines which can fill and cork the bottles (as well as labelling and fitting the capsule), guaranteeing that the product is as well protected as possible. There are also bottling machines especially for sparkling and semi-sparkling wines; these are specially designed to avoid loss of carbon dioxide and mousse formation.
Bottling is also a guarantee for the consumer; the bottler's name and place where the bottling was done must be shown by law. In this way it is possible to see whether the wine was bottled directly at the vineyard where it was produced or whether the wine was bought from other producers and only bottled by the cellar which sells it.
Contains added carbon dioxide' The writing on bottles of sparkling mineral water or drinks has never shocked anyone. For wine, however, things are different.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) develops naturally in wine as a result of different fermentation processes and any 'external' addition must be declared on the label.
CO2 is clearly evident in sparkling and semi-sparkling wines, but is also present in small doses in still wines and serves to balance the wines, while keeping the bouquet and tastes more alive and fresher.
But in this case the old saying is still true 'too much is too much': the touch of carbon dioxide can be pleasant when tasting a sparkling or semi-sparkling wine and comes across as a note of freshness. But it becomes unpleasant if it is too noticeable, creating a sort of rejection and, what is more, making it difficult to drink the wine, exactly like drinking drinks which are too gassy.
At the end of November the French tricolour is everywhere - 'Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivÈ.', say the advertisements. The fashion for new young wine is one which has also affected Italian producers in recent years. But how is it that a wine is ready only a few weeks after the grapes have been picked?
The secret is called carbonic maceration, also known as aromatic fermentation because it produces a wine which is known for its bouquet.
It involves filling a container with intact grapes and sealing it hermetically for 7-20 days at a temperature of around 30∞C, saturated with carbon dioxide. A few of the grapes, those nearest the bottom, are squashed by the weight of the grapes above and release must which starts to ferment, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. This gas (which can also be introduced on purpose) rapidly saturates the environment, which causes the intact grape cells to change their metabolism (it should not be forgotten that the cells in the grape skins are alive) producing a type of intracellular fermentation (or autofermentation). Because of this suffocating environment in particular the permeability of the skins changes, so they lend the pulp their various constituents more easily, especially the colorants. In other terms, maceration occurs even though the grape is still whole. At the end of this period in the tank full of carbon dioxide the grape contains far less acids than before and the malic acid in particular has been consumed. New odorant compounds are also formed - they smell of strawberry and raspberry as well as having an intense grape smell. At this point the grapes are pressed and placed in the fermentation tank where, after two or three days, the sugars will all have been transformed into alcohol.
The wine obtained matures quickly, so much so that it must be bottled by the end of December and consumed not long afterwards.
Egg, cheese and arabic gum. This is not a recipe, but a list of systems used in the past to clarify wine, making it cleaner and clearer. The French call this 'collage' (sticking) or fining. A colloidal compound is added to the wine and this reacts with the substances which causes turbidity in the wine.
The two substances (that in the wine and that added) have opposite charges and are attracted to each other. They flocculate, joining together, and precipitate. The wine is then racked and filtered to take out the deposit. In the wine there are positively charged and negatively charged colloids. It is therefore necessary to find colloids with the opposite charge to get rid of them. The positively charged colloids are 'neutralised' with bentonite, or kaolin, colloidal silica or tannin. Proteins are used to get rid of the negatively charged colloids (tannins) fish glue, casein (or, rather, potassium caseinate), albumen, gelatin, defibred cattle blood and also a type of colloidal silica which has a positive charge.
Arabic gum is suitable for preventing any type of turbidity as it envelops individual particles of colloid and does not allow reciprocal attraction, so it avoids flocculation and deposit. Arabic gum is said to have a colloid protective action.
If the slightly more of the substance than necessary is added to the wine it will form turbidity due to this excess; this is called over-fining. It can easily be seen in white wines, which have practically no tannins, when treated with gelatin.
Classic is a term often used in the world of oenology, but it has different meanings. The dictionary gives a good definition to the basic concept which interests us: ' Classic: forming a tradition or linked to one, often in opposition to more recent schools or theories'. Hence for some Italian DOC or DOCG wines there is the 'Classic' category. This is reserved for production from a given sub-region in the Denomination, often the area where it was first produced.
This is the case for Chianti Classico (where the regulations call for a slightly different grape than for 'normal' Chianti), but also Caldaro Classico, a term reserved for wine produced from certain communes in the province of Bolzano which have the longest tradition of making it. The term classic is also used to identify sparkling wines produce by a second fermentation in the bottle. The phrase 'Metodo Classico' (or 'Metodo Tradizionale') is the Italian equivalent of the French 'MÈthode Champenois', which some have reserved exclusively for Champagne.
The word may change but the technique of making the wine sparkle does not: the base wine is made to ferment a second time in the bottle by adding selected yeasts and left for several months before being bottled again (removing the fermentation residues) and put on sale.
Shall we end up forgetting the typical wine-waiter's gesture - sniffing the cork before serving the wine? It looks as though we may have to. Experts predict that within a few years at least 5 million bottles will be using biodegradable plastic corks. Shocked? But a lot of producers take the idea seriously, especially for wines to be drunk young.
Cork is used because it allows a limited exchange between the inside and outside of the bottle. This exchange is held to be essential to make the contents evolve and reach that richness and complexity which only a wine aged for years in a bottle with a natural cork can acquire.
The characteristic smell of cork, the other side of the coin, is due to the presence of a parasite, Armillaria mellea, a fungus which develops in the main roots or at the base of the cork oak. It is actually easy to identify this fungus; trees attacked by Armillaria have white cork and can easily be eliminated. More frequent are 'false' cork scents due to changes in the cork or the wine due to use of barrels or barriques with bad quality staves, and mouldy smells due to the development of micro-organisms in the cork and to unsuitable cellar situations (too damp, for example) which have a negative influence on the cork.
The skins and seeds contain substances which are needed in red wines, (such as tannins and colorants), but are not good for white wines. But most of the aromas come from the inside of the skin.
Cryoextraction makes it possible to extract the maximum amount of aroma without picking up the substances which are not required for white wine. The must, which is obtained by pressing, is cooled to 5∞-8∞C for between 10 and 24 hours. The cold inhibits enzyme action and means that the wine can acquire many aromatic odorants and few polyphenolics when alcoholic fermentation starts.
This gives a wine which is rich in primary aromas, those from the grape variety, poor in tannins and colour; it will be a smooth wine with an enormous range of perfumes which recall the grape from which it was made. This wine is fairly resistant to oxidation because the enzymes have been inhibited and therefore it tends to keep its colour well for a long time.
The French rule the world of wine, at least as far as much of the commonly used terminology is concerned. The most striking example is in the making of sparkling wine by the 'classic method' which the French claim to have invented, again in the face of an Italian theory which attributes it to Francesco Sacchi, a fourteenth century doctor from Fabriano.
This does not alter the fact that the word used to define a set of different wines is a 'cuvÈe', the sugary syrups added are referred to as 'liqueur de tirage' and 'liqueur d'expedition', that disgorging is more grandly known as 'dÈgorgement', the racks where the bottles are riddled is known as pupitres and that the wine has more status if it is made only from grapes of a millÈsimÈ year.
But this goes well beyond sparkling wine; like that magical term which identifies the ideal terrain/microclimate combination for a grape variety ('terroir'), the identification of a named vineyard ('cru'), right through to tasting, where a 'tastevin' (the sommelier's metal cup) is used to sample the full 'bouquet' (complex of tertiary aromas) of a wine.
Wine is alive; between bottling and drinking we can visual it as being in a sort of hibernation, during which it spends several years shut in a bottle and stored in the dark. Once uncorked it is easy to understand that it needs some time and, above all, some air in order to awaken its finest bouquet.
This is why old wine has to be decanted, a fascinating operation which, according to the rules, ought to be done with a transparent carafe (the decanter) and a candle. After the bottle has been left in a vertical position it is important to be careful, pouring the wine slowly, controlling its flow by the light of the candle. As soon as there is any sign of the deposit moving, pouring stops. In the wide-bodied carafe the wine has a chance to breathe for twenty or thirty minutes.
For wines which are very old (twenty years or more) things are done differently as such rapid oxygenation could be too much of a shock for the wine and immediately destroy its character. In this case it is better to wake it up slowly, by pouring it directly into wide-bodied glasses (known as balloons).
There's a deposit in this wine! Negative comments are often heard about the sediment which is sometimes found in a bottle of wine, but this does not necessarily mean that we are dealing with a bad wine. It is very important, as a measure of quality, to check that a wine is clear. A cloudy liquid, with particles permanently in suspension may be a sign of a 'casse' - a breakdown in the colour and clarity of the wine. If, however, an aged wine has a powdery sediment this is not a cause for concern; these are substances in the wine which have polymerised and become insoluble over time. This does not affect the quality of the bottle, but one must be careful decant the wine before drinking. In Italian these wines are said to have a 'shirt' because of the coloration of the side of the bottle when it has been lying in the cellar for some time.
Certain sparkling wines may also have a deposit; this is due to a second fermentation in the bottle.
Small crystals may sometimes deposit at the bottom of a bottle of white wine. These indicate that the wine has 'cought cold' but they are merely tartrate precipitates and do not affect the wine.
In the cellar or winery everything is ready for the grapes which are being picked. Things have to be done quickly; fermentation could begin even before the grapes have been crushed. And this is also the reason why the most careful vinegrowers collect grapes as carefully as possible in small containers.
Once the grapes have been harvested they are destemmed (separated from the stems) and crushed (in practice they are squashed).
For red wines the crushing and stemming are carried out together. There are machines which first separate out the stalks and then break the grapes without spoiling the skin and without crushing the seeds. This ensures that the tannins contained in the woody stalks get into the wine as little as possible (they give a strong herbaceous taste with a bitter undertone) and avoids crushing the seeds which would cause too much tannin to come out as well as an oily substance which would have a bad effect on the wine.
For white wines (obtained both from white grapes and from dark-skinned grapes) pneumatic presses are normally used. These can crush the grapes gently to obtain clean enough must with refined, delicate, fruity perfumes and very few tannins. The grapes may be in whole bunches or first separated from the stalks. The must then has to be separated from the skins and other solid parts of the bunch immediately after crushing. Before fermentation is started the must is usually clarified.
RosÈ wines, on the other hand, are left in contact with the skins for a very short period (24-36 hours) and then separated and clarified as for white wines.
In a good cellar more water should flow than wine. This is an old saying , but it is still true: wine diseases are almost always caused by bacteria (lack of hygiene). There are two main types: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic diseases are due to bacteria which develop in the presence of a lot of oxygen. The most well-known are 'fioretta' (a white cobwebby veil over the surface of the wine), 'spunto' (acetic bacteria which attack the alcohol) and 'acescenza' (the wine turns to vinegar).
The anaerobic diseases, on the other hand, are due to bacteria which develop in the absence of air. The best known are 'filante' (the wine becomes viscous and oily), 'girato' (affects wines weak in alcohol), bitterness (old red wines with low fixed acidity) and bittersweet (which affects young reds from overripe grapes). It is unusual to find a 'sick' bottle on sale. Usually the producer notices the problem and acts on it. It is easier to find a bottle affected by a loss of colour and clarity, phenomena which can happen after the bottles go on sale.
After the grapes have been crushed nothing is thrown away. The stalks are used in animal husbandry (pigs are particularly fond of them) and the skins go for distillation.
Vaporisation and condensation of the 'waste' from the pressed grapes produce the Italian drink 'grappa' and the French 'marc'. Grappa is actually the liquid which is formed from the vapours of the skins (which are boiled) and is then condensed.
Only the 'heart' of these vapours ends up as grappa. During distillation the first vapours are discarded (the 'head') as are the last ones (the 'tail'). Skins from a single grape variety may be used (single grape variety grappa) or those of several different grapes. Wine is also used to produce spirits: when the alcohol is extracted from wine by distilling different techniques enable cognac, armagnac, brandy and wine spirits in general to be obtained.
This is the last stage of the vine's cycle before its winter rest. It is called overmaturation. The grapes lose water and the sugars are concentrated and the acidity diminishes.
However, it is risky to leave the grapes on the vine, exposed to bad weather, so the grapes are picked (late if the weather allows it) and placed to dry in special airy rooms, with the grapes hanging from the ceiling or laid out on mats or trelliswork. Sometimes the grapes are laid on tables covered with straw. This allows air to get to the grapes easily and hence the term used by the French for dried grape wines: vins de paille. The grapes stay like this for several months, sometimes until February or March and lose weight (from 100kg of grapes the figure may fall to 60 kg or sometimes even less). This gives a must with very high sugar levels destined to produce dried grape wines. Fermentation usually last for many months and is very slow. The wine is aged in small wooden barrels.
These wines have a high alcohol level and are aged for two or three years before being sold.
Must a turbid liquid. In order to obtain clean, clear wine the must has to be filtered. This also takes out the deposit formed after clarification through addition of finings. Filters can act by sieving (holding the substances which are larger in size than the pores of the filter), adsorption (holds the substances in the wine which have an electric charge opposite to that of the filter), depth (particles smaller than the filter mesh are stopped, as they remain trapped among the tangle of fibres which make up the filter).
To increase filtration capacity, obtain constant flow, encourage deposit removal and reactivation of the filtration accessories and adjuvants are required; these are substances which are chemically inert (therefore they do not react with the wine), such as filtrin, diatomaceous earth, perlite, cotton and cellulose.
As well as different technologies there are also different filtration methods; the rough or "sfecciante" method is used on young wines which have a lot of substances which make them cloudy. The "alluvonaggio" method is suitable for clearing large amounts of wine. 'Brightening' makes the wine very clear by passing to through layers of cellulose cardboard. This is usually done with wines which have already been depth filtered using diatomaceous earth. Lastly comes the sterile or micropore filtration to eliminate all the micro-organisms from the wine. They are held back because the pores are extremely small; less than one micron in diameter. Recent developments include ultrafiltration and tangential filtration. These techniques filter larger particles which often cause faults in a wine.
It is said that filtration 'stresses' the wine which is tired and worn out immediately after the operation due to loss of carbon dioxide and air intake. This is, however, a temporary fault which disappears in a day or two.
Like all fruits, the grape is really a 'package' which serves to protect the seeds (the pips) until they are fully developed.
The grape is composed of the pedicel or stalk (which connects it to the bunchstem and so to the shoot); the base of the stalk penetrates into the grape through the brush. The small swelling at the base of the grape is called the stylar remnant. On the outside is the skin (or epicarp) which is composed of an external layer, the cuticle, which is generally covered with a waxy substance (pruin) and an internal part comprising the epidermis and 6 to 10 layers of hypodermic cells. This is where many of the pigments and aromatic substances are found.
Stripping away the skin, we arrive to the pulp, also known as the sarcocarp, composed of the mesocarp, which is sugary and fleshy, and the endocarp, which is thin and soft and contains the pips. The pips are rich in anthocyans and flavones (important for the colour of the wine). They are also rich in tannins, but are not crushed because too much tannin would come out and so would an oily substance which is bad for the wine. The pulp contains the substances which will end up in the must (grape juice) and in the wine.
It is composed by 70-80% of water, sugars, acids, nitrogen compounds, vitamins, minerals and colorant substances. In the innermost part of the pulp, near the pips, there is less sugar and less acidity. In the middle part there is medium acidity and a lot of sugars and the outermost part has a medium sugar level and few acids.
When is the right time to harvest? When the grapes are ripe, one would say. But this answer raises another question: what do we mean by ripe? Vines normally bus in the early days of April. June sees the start of the flowering period, which lasts about a month. The grapes remain green and the grapes are small, hard and very solid. In June, during the fruit set period the young grapes start to form. In early August veraison begins. At this point the physiology of the plant alters.
From then onwards the vine puts all its efforts into the fruiting body (the grape which holds the seed or pips).
Growth of the shoots stops and the shoots become brown instead of green. Everything is directed towards the bunches of grapes; the grapes become larger and more elastic, starting to colour. The sugars increase rapidly; they are taken from the plant and photosynthesised in the berry. Once it has started the veraison is not at risk from the weather. As in all plants water is the means of transport. If the earth is wet this assists the passage of different substances to the grape. Ripening starts with the veraison of the first grape.
It normally takes about the same time - from 40 to 50 days depending on the climate, variety and the way the vine is trained. The grape becomes softer and the colour becomes more intense. A key factor in ripening is the day length. In the south, for example, the grapes mature later because at this time of year they have less hours of light. As they mature sugar levels gradually increase, with a corresponding decrease in acidity. For fresh, fragrant white wines or for base wine for sparkling wines the choice is made to harvest early because the aim is to achieve a reasonable level of acidity.
For great wines which are to be aged it is better to wait for the maximum sugar level, until the grapes are overripe, when the plant is resting and the grapes begin to dry out, with an increase in sugars and many other substances as the water evaporates.
Wine is good for you: our ancestors knew this, we know it and nowadays this has a solid scientific basis. The border between positive and negative effects is hard to define, though, and abuse brings to serious consequences.
Moderation is the key word, and by moderation we mean no more than 40-60 grammes of alcohol per day - this corresponds to more than half a bottle but less than a whole bottle (if drunk with meals).
With this dosage (or less) wine manifests its antiseptic properties. The polyphenolics help to destroy toxic waste products produced by the body. Ethanol (or ethyl alcohol) in moderate doses bring cardiovascular benefits. Among its effects is the increase in HDL Cholesterol (the so-called 'good cholesterol') which inhibits platelet aggregation and increases fibronolysis, preventing formation of thromboses and embolisms, important factors in causing heart attacks.
Other studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of wine with regard to AMD, an illness of the retina which leads to blindness. It was found that moderate consumption of wine is associated with a reduction in AMD development and the percentage level of blindness associated with this illness in old people. One of the discoveries which aroused the greatest stir is associated with the properties of resveratrol - a substance present in the roots, shoots and leaves of the vine and in grape skins and, as a result, in wine, is that, according to some researchers it could have protective chemical properties against some forms of tumor.
Indigenous: the word describes a species of plant which originated and evolved in the place where it is found. The dictionary definition should be enough to show what is meant by indigenous vines, an inheritance which is indissolubly linked to an area's past.
This inheritance risked being wiped out by the arrival of phylloxera, which led to the planting of vines more orientated towards the market than to tradition. Even now the whole world has heard of the international varieties of vine (Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot, Sauvignon) which were taken to the new vinegrowing countries with little tradition of winemaking (California, Australia, New Zealand) and which force many producers to follow them along this road, forgetting the many varieties linked to thousands of years of history.
Luckily nowadays in countries with an ancient viticultural tradition, like Italy - where each area has its indigenous varieties developed over centuries - people are rediscovering the unique features of these grape varieties, the indelible result of an area and its history.
Some may be better and more enticing than others (or at least they ought to be), but all must comply with the law. The label is the way the consumer should be able to obtain all the information about the wine he or she is drinking; a sort of identity card for the bottle.
Wines come in three main groups: table wine, quality wines and special wines. Table wines are subdivided into table wines and table wines of certified geographical origin (IGT, similar to French vin de pays). These are subject to regulations and controls which are less strict than those dealing with the characteristics of quality wines, but this does not always mean that they are of low quality or are adulterated. Many famous Italian 'table wines' use grapes or winemaking techniques which do not conform to the rules for D.O.C. production of the area.
At least 85% of the IGT tables wines are from the geographical area they are named after and must meet certain standards such as the maximum grape yield per hectare, minimum natural alcoholic strength, the vines from which they may be made and so on.
Quality wines are divided into DOC wines (appellation controlée) and DOCG wines. The DOC wines originate from a well-defined region. The oenological, chemical and organoleptic (smell and taste) characteristics have to conform to very precise standards. In practice the entire production cycle from the vineyard to the bottle must conform to the regulations governing production. Before being put on sale they must undergo two chemical and organoleptic tests, one during the ageing stage and the other before bottling.
DOCG wines are particularly valued products which are subject to much stricter rules than DOC wines. Each bottle bears a state label which is assigned to the bottlers in relation to the hectolitres of wine actually produced. Before going on sale the wines undergo two chemical/organoleptic tests, one during ageing and the other before bottling. For DOCG it is compulsory to declare the year the grapes were harvested and this is also required for new wines and DOC wines which are labelled 'superiore' or 'riserva' (reserve is a wine which has been aged for longer than usual and 'superiore' indicates a wine which has characteristics which are better than the ordinary DOC).
Finally, the special wines. These may be classified into sparkling wines, strong sweet wines and aromatic wines. The sparkling wines may be labelled VSQPRD (quality sparkling wine produced in a given region) or VSQ (quality sparkling wine). Where the winemaking process is concerned two methods are distinguished: the classic method and the Charmat-Martinotti (tank or 'cuve close' method). There are seven different types of sparkling wine, depending on their sugar content: zero dosage, extra brut, extra dry, dry ('secco'), semi-dry ('semisecco') and sweet.
The strong sweet wines are obtained from a base wine (usually from aromatic grape varieties) to which spirit, alcohol or concentrated must are added. Aromatised wines are enriched with alcohol, sugar and infusions or herb extracts which give special tastes. They should have one of the following terms on the label: vino aromatizzato (aromatised wine), vermut (vermouth) or vino chinato (wine containing cinchona bark).
There are some who try to stop it and others who try at all costs to get it started. Malolactic fermentation is a natural process due to the action of certain bacteria which change malic acid (which has a much stronger taste) into lactic acid which is much less aggressive.
Malolactic fermentation starts after the alcoholic fermentation, in some cases immediately afterwards, sometimes in the spring or at the beginning of the summer after the grape harvest. It is the temperature of the wine, whether natural or controlled, which sets off this fermentation, but a great deal depends on the initial acidity of the grapes.
With malolactic fermentation the wine starts to change its organoleptic character; the colour develops a less lively tone, the perfumes gain new subtleties and the taste becomes rounder and fuller.
Producers who want to start up this process are those who want to make full-bodied red wines suitable for ageing or at least major wines. It is used for almost all red wines but also still whites and rosés which have body and fullness on the palate. Those who wish to avoid it are the producers who want fresh, easy-drinking wines, especially if they are semi-sparkling or sparkling, where high acidity gives these wines their characteristic bouquets.
What is the best match? When does a sip of wine demand a mouthful of a certain dish and vice versa? Apart from any more or less scientific theory the best way is the simple, very personal opinion on which foods and wines go best together.
Of course there are certain fundamental rules, dictated by personal taste and following a certain reasoning: to eat a very delicate dish with an overpowering wine would ruin the dish; on the contrary a very complex dish would obscure the aromas of the wine. In other words, using your head is often the best way.
There have been many studies of the combination of food and wine and two theories are particularly well-known. The first is the one used professionally by the wine waiters of the Italian Association of Sommeliers (AIS). This is the so-called Mercatini method, which considers certain features of the wine and the food and giving points for each sensation. The results are then scored on a diagram with concentric circles which, when joined, form two irregular polygons, one for food and the other for wine. The more similar the shape of the two polygons the better the pairing will be.
Another technique is the 'Sicheri method': in this case too, intensity values are attributed (0-4) to different characteristics of the food and the wine. The values are added and the more similar the values are the better the food and wine will complement each other.
The must is merely sugary water (which has a laxative effect). It is obtained from the grape after pressing and is a semi-dense sugary liquid composed of various substances which were in the grape and will be transferred to the wine. It is a living entity containing 80% water and 15-30% sugars, mostly fructose and glucose. The yeasts transform these substances into alcohol during fermentation. To measure the alcoholic strength of the wine before fermentation a hydrometer is used. This instrument measures the quantity of sugars, giving a good idea of how much alcohol will develop. Other substances are also present, such as acids, at 7 to 4 parts per thousand, mineral salts (the potassium acid salt, potassium tartrate, or cream of tartar) and magnesium salts, calcium, sodium and iron, all at 1-3 parts per thousand, nitrogenous substances such as proteins and amino-acids and other substances at a concentration of 1-3 parts per thousand (including vitamins A, C and B group vitamins). The fructose and glucose are transformed into alcohol through fermentation ( at a rate of 59-60 cubic cm of alcohol per 100 g of grape sugar and to carbon dioxide.
The first pressing gives the 'flower' must (from 100kg of grapes the aim is obtain 65-70 kg of this type of must); another 5-10% of liquid must is derived from later pressings. The remainder comprises solid residue, which is sometimes sold to distilleries which extract the alcohol or may be used as a fertiliser.
In the countryside using chemicals is certainly an easy way to defend the vineyards from diseases. But many people are suspicious about treatments with industrial products, especially pesticide treatments, and hold them responsible for environmental pollution and poorer quality agricultural produce.
Some producers have changed to a type of production which pays the closest possible attention to natural balances; others have been encouraged by the European Union's new agricultural policy which can be summed up with a number - 2078. This is the law which provides for assistance for those meeting set production criteria while maintaining cultivation techniques which are compatible with protection of the environment and natural resources.
Many farms have converted completely to organic techniques; in these cases the farm is associated with a control organisation (of which there are several in Italy) which certifies that all associates' production activities and awards the produce a stamp guaranteeing this. But is wine made organically better or worse? Maybe it is better to put prejudice aside and just taste it.
Air is essential for the wine to mature but the quantity must be well judged; it can become one of the most dangerous enemies. Too much contact with air encourages development of vinegar bacteria and changes the colour, making red wine lose its colour and white wines go brown. At the start air is indispensable for fermentation; the yeasts can only start their work of transforming the sugars into alcohol in the presence of oxygen.
However, little 'breaths' are required for the wine to mature; the small quantities of air present in the barrels and contact with oxygen during movement between containers and treatment helps the wine to develop. Some winemakers, contrary to normal technique, put the must 'under stress' from oxygen.
This is called hyperoxygenating the must - a forced oxygenation which can cause colorant substances and extracts to become insoluble, improving the stability and colour.
Perfume, aroma and bouquet: before a wine is tasted on the palate, the eye and, above all, the nose can reveal much about it. The aromatic complexity of a wine is usually defined with three major groups of perfumes which give a lot of clues about what we are drinking.
The primary perfumes are those which come from the grape variety. All grape varieties, some more and some less, are distinguished by their precise perfume - a sign which identifies the variety.
The secondary perfumes are those which derive from the winemaking processes, especially fermentation. Depending on the qualities of the grapes and the proper working of the transformation of sugars into alcohol the aroma may be substantially enriched, but there may also be a negative influence on the organoleptic qualities of the wine. These are called 'puzzette' in Italian - bad smells - marked odours of flour, yeast or rotten fruit indicate that things are not going as they should. If fermentation is good it will heighten fruit, flower and fragrant odours, depending on the grape variety.
The tertiary perfumes are those linked to the maturing of the wine. They are formed during ageing in wood and, later, in bottle in the absence of oxygen. It is these which form the bouquet of the wine, as with a bunch of flowers, a mix of complex perfumes with different scents and subtleties.
Phylloxera is or, rather, was one of the most serious natural disasters in the history of agriculture. It is a deadly parasite which feeds on the roots of vines and once it has attacked a vineyard it destroys it completely. The aphid, Phylloxera castratrix, originates from the American continent. It arrived in Europe around 1850, thanks to steamers which made it possible to cross the Atlantic in less than ten days, time enough for the terrible parasite to survive.
From France phylloxera spread rapidly throughout Europe, literally destroying the vineyards. These were uncomfortable years for European vinegrowers who fought against it without success. The answer came from Professor Planchoin of Montpellier who identified phylloxera as being of American origin and found out that centuries of cohabitation had enabled American vines to develop effective forms of defence.
The solution which appeared to be simple was graftvines onto American rootstocks would then bear any type of vine. Finding the right balance took years of study and many failures: the map of the vines in Europe changed completely and some pre-phylloxera varietals no longer exist.
What is there in wine? No-one knows exactly and ongoing research has identified over 600 components; there is some certainty, however, as regards the main factors responsible for the taste and colour of the wine and these include the polyphenolics. The most important phenolics are the flavonols which account for the colour of white wines, the catechins and the leucoanthocyans, which are responsible for instability in the colour of white wines and the anthocyans for the red colour.
These substances can react with acids in the wines, taking on more or less brilliant colours depending on the greater or lesser degree of acidity of the wine. They are also substances subject to oxidation, so the tone of the colour of the wine can vary in depth, so that whites range from light yellow to brown, while reds vary from rosé to brown. The most important polyphenol is tannin. It comes from the skins, stalks and seeds, so it is present to a greater degree in red wines (between 1 and 5 parts per thousand), but in low quantities in whites or rosés which have had little contact with the skins and stalks (from 0.1 to 0.4 parts per thousand). Not all the tannins, however, have a positive influence on the wine; those of the pips, for example, are bitter and so it is advisable to use a press which does not break the pips.
It also depends on the grape variety. Certain varieties, usually those which are less highly prized, have acid, aggressive, sour tannins which have a negative influence on the taste and bouquet of the wine.
The best tannins, however, are the prerogative of the best cellars and are one of the most important elements in refining the taste of a wine. The higher the percentage of tannin the more sourness and roughness are accentuated and the taste is rather astringent. Tastes which, in the case of the best tannins, evolve over time, giving the wine the right balance, less astringency and a fuller taste and maintaining the red colour in reds which are aged. The tannins serve an antibacterial role, protecting the wine and ensuring that it will have a long life.
Pruning is one of the most important jobs in the vineyard as it decides whether production will be balanced the following year. Winter pruning is carried out from December to March, the months when the vine is 'asleep' and consists in shaping the plant, reducing the length of the shoots, leaving a certain number of buds in order to achieve the balance of production which the winegrower desires.
Pruning too early (before leaf fall) would deprive the plant of part of its reserves, making it more sensitive to winter cold and running the risk of making it start to wake up (budding) more slowly. Pruning too late, on the other hand (after the buds have already closed), will tend to make budding happen late. This is not always a negative feature: sometimes a delay in the plant starting to grow again may save it from spring frosts, especially where young vines are concerned.
Pruning techniques vary according to the vine-training system used, the type of vine, the vinegrower's decisions and the soil climate conditions for each individual plant.
Where the age of the vine is concerned, pruning varies according to the stage of the plant's life cycle. From planting to 2-3 years old pruning is just to create the right shape of plant. From 2-3 years to 5-6 years, a stage of increasing productivity, the plant is strongly pruned to bring it to complete maturity. In the constant production stage, from 6-7 years to 20-25 years, pruning is necessary to balance vegetation growth and production and hence the quality of the yield. In old age, up to 30-35 years, when the plant's strength and productivity are progressively decreasing pruning has to gradually become more intense.
From May onwards spring pruning is done to cut out all the sterile buds on the trunk (spur pruning) and the shoots (bud pruning and secondary bud pruning) which consume nutrients absorbed by the plant, but to no purpose.
In order to bear the title D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata - Controlled Appellation) or D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita - Guaranteed Controlled Appellation) a wine must be produced in accordance with precise regulations governing cultivation and vinification and must subsequently be examined by a committee which is usually controlled by the Chamber of Commerce.
These rules are clearly laid out in the draft of regulations governing production for each D.O.C. or D.O.C.G. and these must be followed by the producers. They clearly state the areas of production, with meticulous definition of the boundaries, indicate which grape varieties may be used in the production of wine, the maximum yield per hectare, types allowed (sparkling, sweet, dry, reserve, superior and so on), the minimum alcohol level, minimum ageing and even the main features of the bouquet and taste.
A recent law, No. 164, changed the way production is controlled (or rather the way the regulations are enforced) by setting up a body which protects and controls the entire production of each D.O.C.
These are responsibilities which, according to the law, may be carried out by setting up a committee which created for the purpose or by a producers' consortium if there is one in the area.
It's all the Americans' fault! The phylloxera invasion which came from North America last century radically changed viticulture. It made it necessary to use only the rootstocks of American vines (the only ones which were parasite-resistant), onto which portions of the shoots of the European vinifera were grafted. The roots are called rootstocks. The shoot (or scion) with one or two buds is grafted onto it; this joins together with the rootstock and becomes the main plant.
Although they all descend from a phylloxera-resistant American species there are different types of rootstock, each ideal for a given terrain, climate, productivity requirement, vine-training system and the vine to be grafted to it. In the same way the scions are also carefully chosen with a view to identifying the clones which offer the best production for that type of vineyard and the wine which is to be produced.
Usually when a new vineyard is planted rootlings are planted (rootstock with the scion already grafted onto it).
A lot is said about sugars, but there are many salts in wine as well. They derive from the minerals present in the ground which are transferred into the berries through the sap.
Saltiness is sensed on the sides of the tongue, causing abundant flow of saliva. It is chiefly found in wines from mountainous areas, which are particularly rich in mineral salts and from hills open to sea winds.
This sensation is more easily found in white wines, but cannot be compared to what we normally associate with the taste of salt. When tasting a wine it is usual to talk of saltiness and taste. In general terms this is an element which gives completeness and is found in a fine wines which are pleasurable and rich in subtle tastes.
Each wine has its ideal bottle, but champagne has eight, not counting the ones in sizes less than the normal 75 cl. The basic one is the 'champagnotta' or champagne bottle, usually in thicker, more solid glass to protect it against the pressure exerted by the wine.
Then there are larger bottles which are often seen at sporting events on uncorked on special occasions. They are large and have strange names. In increasing size: Magnum (contains the equivalent of 2 75 cl bottles) Jéroboam (4 bottles), Rehoboam (6 bottles), Methuselah (8 bottles), Salmanazar (12 bottles), Balthazar (16 bottles) and Nebuchadnezzar (20 bottles).
A charming thing for special occasions, but also a way to enjoy champagne or sparkling wine at its best: the larger the bottle the slower the ageing, thereby preserving the bouquet and the bubbles better.
Apart from sparkling wine the other bottles in common use are: the bordeaux (dark glass for red wines which need to age, in green glass for young reds and clear glass for white wines); burgundy (usually in dark glass for red wines) and the German (for white wines).
'Richer' grapes? These are the ones closest to the plant, while those furthest away are the most acid. By richer we mean they have more substances in them and, as a result, more sugars - fundamental for the production of wine. Sugars are found not just in the berry or grape but also in the wood and leaves. They are essentially glucose and fructose (in almost equal parts), practically identical in terms of chemical composition.
The only difference is evident from polarometric analysis: the glucose deviates a ray of polarised light to the right (which is why it is also known as dextrose). The fructose, on the other hand, makes the light ray deviate to the left (hence the name levulose).
Not all the sugars are transformed into alcohol during fermentation. They are present in large quantities (non-fermented) in sweet and fortified wines but also, in a very small degree, in dry wines.
The first taste which people recognise and the first they notice is sweetness, which is registered on the tip of the tongue, almost like a tiny electric shock. The sugar content of a wine is usually given in grammes/litre. In sweet wines (for some the level has to be shown on the label) this may reach up to 60g/l, while in dry wines the residue is usually lower at 1-2g/l (up to 4 g/l is admissible). Depending on the quantity it is classified as medium dry ('abboccato') (up to 15 g/l), medium sweet ('amabile') (from 16-45 g/l), sweet or fortified and liqueur wines (over 45 g/l).
The ethyl alcohol (produced by the fermentation and considered as a sugary substance) also influences the sweetness of a wine. It is particularly responsible for the smoothness as it balances and dampens down the effects of acidity, thereby harmonising the balance of tastes.
There seems to be no end to the argument over second fermentation in tanks. The French claim that Monsieur Charmat invented it, while the Italians admit that though the French may have put this process into practice it was actually invented by the Italian Martinotti.
That does not change the procedure: a large stainless steel wine container with fairly thick walls equipped with refrigeration systems and capable of resisting pressures of 10 atmospheres is used. The wine is put into it and undergoes a second fermentation under pressure.
Bottling is done using a counter pressure filler, which allows the wine to maintain the same pressure in the bottle that it had in the tank. This is how the bubbles in many Charmat/Martinotti method sparkling wines are achieved, but also those in many white wines and lively, semi-sparkling rosés.
Some are low, others the height of a man, others again on pergolas or, more often, stretched horizontally along wires. The ways vines are treated are very different from one to another; all, however, have a decisive influence on the quality level of the final product. Vitis vinifera is a climber, a little like ivy and it is possible to make a route for it to grow along so as to optimise ripening of the grapes and make picking easier.
The choice of system used depends on many factors; firstly the climate - in some areas it is necessary to try to have the maximum exposure to sun or air and in others it is necessary to protect the fruit from excessively strong sunlight a too high humidity level. Much depends on the type of terrain, the features of the variety planted, the type of wine to be made and the mechanisation of the vineyard. There are about ten most widely used systems. That of the bush - a small plant kept at a height of 30-40 centimetres from the ground - is a system normally used in hot areas where water is scarce or in cold areas to make the most of the heat of the land.
The 'Guyot', one of the commonest vine-treating systems, uses a 5-60 centimetre-high bush with horizontal wires between supports, to the lowest of which the fruiting shoots are tied. The other branches are tied to the wires above. This is a system which lends itself to a number of variations. In the spur cordon the trunk of the plant is allowed to reach a metre in height. It is then pruned in such a way as to encourage horizontal sours (shoots) to grow along the wire.
The 'Cazenave' is similar to the previous system; it provides for creation of new shoots which start horizontally and are then treated upwards. The 'Sylvoz' system is suitable for large systems; this has a horizontal shoot from which fruiting branches curve downwards. A variant of the Sylvoz is the 'Casarza' system, where tow vines are planted against the same support and the woody shoots are treated horizontally. They form a permanent cordon with considerable foliage which protects the grapes well.
Under the name 'pergola' there are a number of forms of vine-treated system which differ from region to region. The one used in Triveneto has the basic characteristic of forming a real roof of foliage. The 'Geneva double curtain' was specially developed for use with grape-harvesting machines; this allows the plant to grow to a height of one and a half metres and creates two corridors perpendicular to the wires from which the buds (and shoots) descend.
Everything relates to the botanical family of Vitaceae, which has about 50 species. One of these is Vitis, which is subdivided into two species: muscadiniae and euvitis.
It is this latter which interests the winegrowing world. It has 22 species classed into three groups according to their geographical origin. The European one is Vitis vinifera (in turn divided into two subspecies, sativa, the cultivated variety, and silvestris, the wild one) from which thousands of cultivated varieties have been derived, in order to produce the best wines.
If Vitis vinifera is fundamental for production of the type of grape, with white berries or red berries, other species of North American origin are just as important: these phylloxera-resistant types saved European viticulture and are used as rootstocks.
According to the law, 'wine is only the product of total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh or slightly dried grapes…' But what is there in a bottle of wine? The transformation of the fruit (grapes) into a drink (wine) leads to it having hundreds of components, of which the vast majority are present only as minimal traces or in traces which may be considered negligible. The main ones are:
Sugars: mostly glucose (from 7.5 to 15%) and fructose (7.5-16%)
Gums, mucilagenous substances: trace
Organic acids: tartaric (5-10‰), malic (2-5‰), citric (0.2-0.5‰)
Inorganic acids: sulphuric (0.2-0.7‰), phosphoric (0.3-0.5‰), chloridic (0.02-0.2‰)
Polyphenolics: flavonol (0.05‰), anthocyans (0.05‰), leucoanthocyans (0.02-1‰), tannins (0.5-2‰), resveratrol (trace)
Nitrogenous substances: trace
Vitamin (P, C and B group): trace
Mineral elements: potassium (0.5-1.5%), calcium (0.05-0.2‰), magnesium (0.08-0.1‰), sodium (0.01-0.05‰), iron (trace)
These are wines, as they are produced from grapes, but they are special in every sense. Because of the law, their special winemaking techniques and their taste they are very unusual drinks. Besides sparkling wines (which are considered special because the techniques which produce the mousse are different from traditional winemaking) the wines in this category are the dried grape wines, strong sweet (or fortified) wines (vino liquoroso) and aromatized wines.
Fortified wines are those that may legally have alcohol added during production. Some Italian D.O.C.s allow production of a strong sweet wine from a given grape (generally from aromatic grapes such as Malvasia, Muscat, Aleatico and so on). By law they must have an alcohol content of 15° to 22°. There are also sweet wines, also called fortified wines, which are unique in the world of wine. Marsala is an Italian example, but there are other well-known ones such as port and Jerez (sherry).
Aromatized wines are a base wine to which alcohol, sugar and herb infusions or extracts are added. This is the case for vermouth and also for Barolo Chinato, which is produced by adding cinchona.
Saint Vincent is the patron saint of winegrowers and his saint's day, the 22nd of January, is the date when work in the vineyard traditionally begins.
The first job is the winter pruning (which in practice might already have been done in December) and the next job is tying-up: the vine is a climbing plant and most vine-growing methods involve tying the shoots to the supporting wires. When the vine starts to grow again it 'cries'; at the points where the shoots were cut off drops of sap appear for two or three days, until the scars have completely healed. During spring growth the soil is tilled and the clods of earth are broken up in order to allow air in to help root growth and reactivate the life of the soil as a whole.
The first anti-parasite treatments are carried out in April. These will be regularly repeated (the tendency is to do them as seldom as possible) until August. May is the time for spring pruning when all the sterile buds are removed from the vine-trunk (spur-pruning) and the shoots (pruning buds) and pruning secondary buds) so that they do not waste the nutrients absorbed by the plant. During the same period the wires have to be checked and the shoots must be guided along the supporting wires in the way which will best help the vine to grow.
In June the leaves are trimmed back (part of the foliage is removed in order to let more sun and air reach the bunches of grapes) and the growing tips of the shoots are cut off. July brings one of the heaviest jobs, but one which is essential for production of high-quality grapes - thinning out. This is done when there are too many bunches of grapes and involves removing some of them before they mature, so that the stronger ones can take in more nutrients.
This brings us to the grape-harvest which, depending on the area, is carried out between the end of August and October. The annual cycle of work in the vineyard is brought to a close with a final manuring of the ground, fairly deep ploughing and earthing up of the vine-stocks to protect them from the cold and encourage the winter rains to run off.
There are thousands of types, all natural, all 'selected', but each with different roles. It is the yeasts, groups of microorganisms which can cause fermentation through the enzymes they produce. Those present on grapes (called wild or ambient yeasts) are capable of starting must fermentation on their own.
In many cases, however, it is normal practice to add others with different characteristics, depending on the result the winemaker wishes to obtain; some are particularly resistant to alcohol, others to sulphur dioxide, others again to cold and so on. They serve to complete or assist perfect alcoholic fermentation. They are also fundamental in the making of sparkling wines, in fact they are added both to the bottle (in sparkling wine production by the classic method) and to the tank (for Charmat-Martinotti method sparkling wines) in order to obtain a second fermentation which will develop the carbon dioxide responsible for the bubbles.
The yeasts also contribute to the organoleptic qualities of the wine, especially the bouquet. They are usually agreeable odours which remind one of flour and the crust of bread just removed from the oven.
It is typical of sparkling wines and wines which are still young, when fermentation has just finished.
In practical terms it has probably always been like this, with ideas handed on from generation to generation. But the scientific impetus is due to the Cistercian monks of Burgundy who, in the 12th century, discovered that there were major differences between vines in terms of quality and quantity, depending on the place they grew in and how they were planted. They worked out that the vine exists in relationship to the geographical situation, climate and land.
Nowadays zoning is the key word for high-quality vinegrowing. It appears to be a humdrum operation, but it involves lengthy study and research. It requires a range of skills to study the aspects of the land, climate and botany, analysing region by region, area by area, hill by hill and at times, row by row, what might appear to be small differences but actually may reveal the basis for production of a great wine. There are examples of famous wines produced from a specific vineyard which is the only one with a given microclimate, exposure and terrain to manage to reach a unique level.