Wine Culture and Information - Volume 16
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Honey

Considered as the food of gods, this golden and precious food is produced by one of the most beloved insects by human beings - bees - which have always been admired for their organization

 Honey is a food produced by bees after having eaten then nectar of flowers - as well as other secretions of plants - transformed and enriched with other substances which they produce, and therefore stored in the cells of honeycombs where it is allowed to age.

 

Honey and History

 Honey was known since ancient Egypt times, around 300 B.C., where bees were bred for the production of honey and wax. At those times honey was a food destined for the consumption of pharaohs and the most important personalities, it was held in such a high esteem that it was offered to gods as a sacrifice. Its importance is confirmed by its presence in the tombs of pharaohs, just near the sarcophagus, near to all the other foods. At those times were organized specific expeditions in search of wild honey. They were ancient Egyptians to invent the so called “mobile apiculture”: honeycombs were transferred from a place to another by means of boats in order to have a honey made of different flowers; this type of apiculture is still used today even though in a different way. Romans, just like Greeks, have continued the consumption of honey, they appreciated it both as a medical remedy for many diseases and as a cosmetic product, as well as an ingredient for cooking. They also used beeswax as a cosmetic product as well as a support for writing.


 

 Every civilization has its beverage made of honey and its medical remedy and cosmetic products based on honey. In the mythology of Northern Europe is often mentioned a beverage called melikraton made of a mixture of honey and blood. Mead probably is the most ancient fermented product of the world - made of water, honey and yeast - produced in many styles and called with many names each one of them being characteristic of a specific people or geographical area (Mead in English, idromele in Italian, Braggot, Melomel, Metheglin). Virgil defined honey as “the heavenly gift of dew”. In the Bible, Isaiah wrote: “…the virgin will conceive and give birth to a child, who will be called Immanuel. He will eat cream and honey…”. In Greek tradition, the legend of Pythagoras has it that he fed himself with honey only.

 Honey has been for many centuries the only source of sugar. It was Alexander the Great to import in Europe from Eastern Asia - and more precisely from the Gulf of Bengal - sugar cane, a rare and expensive food and therefore destined to the few that could afford it. In the eighteenth century sugar beet, already cultivated in Europe, was used for the production of sugar. Both cane sugar and beet sugar contain glucide, whereas honey is the only one to contain simple sugar which are easily digested. Moreover honey contains other important substances as well as its many aromas and flavors.

 

What is Honey

 Honey is a substance produced by bees, which eat the nectar of flowers and then transformed inside a special organ contained in their digestive system. Honey is stored in honeycombs and used as a food for larvae and as a food reserve for wintertime. Indeed honey is a very complex product and in many aspects it can be considered as unknown. Experts who study honey continuously discover new substances, new molecules that, although present in modest quantities, they are however important according to a dietetic and pharmacological point of view. Honey is a substance mainly produced by bees and few other insects and used by them as a food reserve. Bees are indispensable not only for the production of honey: they do an incredible work in collecting nectar - the sweet substance produced by plants - and they also transport the pollen from a flower to another therefore allowing the reproduction.


A bee while eats the nectar of a flower
A bee while eats the nectar of a flower

 Of course every plant produces a nectar having different characteristics, therefore the honey produced by bees have different characteristics according to the nectar they eat. Just like for wine - in which climate and soil give the wine different qualities - flower, climate and different soils greatly affect the characteristics of honey. Pollen is used by bees as a food for the youngest subjects, therefore is accidentally found in small quantities in honey. Another “base” substance for the composition of honey is honeydew that is the lymph produced by plants.

 The main components of honey are: water, sugar (in the form of fructose, glucose and maltose), acids (malic, acetic, gluconic, formic, lactic), proteins, mineral salts (magnesium, calcium, sodium), pigments (carotene, chlorophyll and its derivatives), enzymes, tannins, vitamins and phosphates. Honey is a completely natural product and does not need any additive or preservatives. 100 grams of honey gives about 300 kilo calories readily available. It is almost impossible to tell the exact yearly production for a single bee, however a honeycomb - in which live about 30,000 bees - can produce about 20-30 kilograms of honey per year (44-60 pounds).

 Honey easily absorbs the humidity of air, for this reason is used as a humidifier for tobacco, and at a room temperature glucose tends to crystallize by separating from fructose. Before being commercialized honey is being heated at a temperature of 66°C (150°F) in order to melt any possible crystal, therefore it is poured in sealed jars which prevents crystallization. The natural evolution of honey consists in the precipitation of crystals: this process is faster in honeys particularly rich in glucose, such as sunflower or colza honey. In honeys poor in glucose and rich in fructose, such as acacia or chestnut honey, the formation of crystals is absent or may develop very slowly and however incomplete.

 The crystallization process in sugars is a natural and spontaneous phenomenon which does not alter the quality of the product. A honey showing crystals can be converted to the liquid state by heating it in bain-marie at a temperature not higher than 40°C (104°C). In case it is wanted to avoid the formation of crystals, the jar can be kept in the refrigerator until the moment of consumption, as the formation of crystals is particularly quick at a temperature of 14°C (57°F). Crystallization is inhibited at temperatures lower than 5°C (41°F) or higher than 25°C (77°F). These indication on how keeping or converting honey in its liquid state, that is without crystals, can erroneously make someone believe honey must be liquid and this is its normal state, however this is not the case. It is better to take the habit of eating honey in its crystallized form: besides being more easy to handle, its taste will also be perceived less sweet and fresher.

 

Keeping Honey

 Despite honey does not need preservatives, there are however some useful advice in order to keep honey properly. The first advice is to avoid fermentation. This type of alteration usually affects the variety of honeys having an excessive quantity of water. These usually are honeys which did not reached a proper aging level in honeycomb and for which it is forbidden commercialization. Varieties containing high quantities of water - very rare honeys, produced in springtime or in autumn (such as arbutus honey) - should be kept in the refrigerator in order to prevent fermentation. Fermented honey is not dangerous for the health - however it is preferred not to consume it - and it can be easily recognized for its foamy aspect, with gas bubbles as well as the separation of the solid part from the liquid part. The sour smell of fermentation is characteristic and easily recognizable. The maximum quantity of humidity allowed in order to prevent fermentation is about 19%.

 Every type of honey is subjected to the alteration of time: aging. Aging, even though keeps the physical-chemical properties of honey unaltered, attenuates its organoleptic qualities. Aging is inexorable and its velocity depends on how it was kept; it is almost negligible in honeys kept at a temperature lower than 10°C (5'°F), whereas at 20°C or 30°C (68° or 86°F) the keeping times is drastically reduced. The fresher the honey the better it can keep its qualities, however an one year old honey, in case it is properly kept, can also be considered fresh, in fact producers suggest a period of two years as the preferred time before consumption. Aging does not alter the edibility of honey but only some of its organoleptic qualities. A good habit is to keep honey at a temperature lower than 20°C (68°F), shielded from direct light and in sealed jars. Honey is hygroscopic therefore it can easily absorb humidity and odors. Another defect in keeping honey is the “change of color”, consisting in the change of the hue towards darker colors because of the degradation of fructose. This fault occurs when honey was exposed to excessive heat, or in products kept for a long time in bad conditions.

 

The Qualities of Honey

 Honey is a completely natural product of vegetal origin. With its high content in simple sugars (70% is made of fructose and glucose) it is an excellent energetic source and readily available. It is recommended in kids diet because it can be easily digested, favors the fixation of mineral salts, reliefs throat irritations and favors the cicatrization of wounds. Moreover it is a good tonic and avoid fermentations. Honey is also a substance rich in enzymes playing a role in the metabolism while accelerating some functions.


Honey
Honey

 In the nutrition of athletes, or in those subjects who are usually involved in physical works, it is recommended before, during and after the work in order to favor a complete recover. Not only muscles need sugar: even the functions of the brain are efficient only in case there is a proper quantity of glucose in the blood. A lowering of glycaemia can be cause of loss of lucidity, efficiency and attention. A teaspoon of honey can restore the functionality of brain as well as a correct vitality. In elder people, affected by diseases or inappetence, or anyone who cannot have a balanced and complete nutrition, a small quantity of honey melted in water can be of great help.

 The consumption of honey is not recommended to anyone. It should be avoided by anyone suffering from problems related to the metabolism of sugar (diabetes), saved the case it was prescribed by a specialist. It is not recommended to those who need to reduce the quantities of calories (obese people and those who are on diet), as the energetic contribution of honey is of 320 Kcal for 100 grams. Honey is a product which is rarely responsible for allergies, however, as a form of prevention, it should not be consumed by any kid in their first year of life. Moreover it is a good habit avoiding the consumption of honey in kids because this will make them accustomed to the sweet taste as well as affecting their growth and nutritional habits. In kids with less than one year of life honey can be responsible for infantile botulism - a disease however rare - which can give origin to an infection caused by some toxins produced by some bacteria found in honey.

 

Characteristics of the Main Types of Honey

 There are many varieties of honey - depending on the nutrition of bees - and each having its characteristics and properties. Honeys are classified in two categories according to their origin: “honeydew honey” and “nectar honey”. Honeydew honey is produced by bees whose nutrition was based on substances produced by plants, whereas nectar honey is produced by bees whose nutrition was based on flowers' nectar. According to the floral origin it can be classified in other varieties: monofloral honey and all flowers honey. Monofloral honey is produced by bees whose nutrition was based on a single type of flower or tree only, such as acacia or orange, whereas all flowers honey is produced by bees whose nutrition was based on different varieties of flowers and trees. Another factor used for the classification of honey is represented by the area of origin. The following list shows the quality of the main types of honey.

 

  • Acacia Honey - very pale color, very delicate aroma, characterized by a delicate flavors of bonbon and vanilla. Properties: corroborant, laxative, anti inflammatory for throat, pathologies of digestive system, detoxicant for liver and stomach
  • Rosemary Honey - has a very pale aspect, strong vegetal aroma, crystallizes finely, very sweet taste. Properties: appreciated since Roman times as an hepatic filter
  • Orange Honey - aromatic and with a fruity and floral flavor, pleasingly sour. Properties: cicatrizant for ulcer, antispasmodic, sedative and against insomnia
  • Lavender Honey - the color is from white to golden yellow, its aromas resemble the ones of lavender, for its fresh and slightly sour taste it recalls passion fruit. It is very good for breakfast
  • Forest Honey - strong, fresh and vegetal taste with hints of caramel. Properties: good remedy for flu
  • Chestnut Honey - pale or dark in the aspect, according to the quality of flowers, crystallizes slowly, strong, intense with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Properties: helps the blood system, antispasmodic, astringent, disinfectant for the urinary system. Recommended to elder people and children. It is also used for sweetening coffee without affecting the taste and its aromas
  • Sunflower Honey - bright yellow, not very sweet, dry, with an aroma of pollen, slightly herbaceous, it is the main production of France, fine grain, easily spreadable, sometimes used for the preparation of All-flowers honey. Property: antineuralgic, febrifugal
  • Lucern Honey - amber yellow color, the smell is pungent of wax and wine. The taste is pretty sour with vegetal hints, slightly pungent in the throat. Properties: tonic, anti inflammatory, it is used by athletes after a competition
  • Heath Honey - pretty dark aspect, strong aroma, floral resembling anise. Properties: antirheumatic, antianemic, corroborant
  • White Heath Honey - pale brown color, velvety, with intense caramel taste, it is a typical honey of the Mediterranean. It can be well matched to white cheese and other dairy products
  • Eucalyptus Honey - amber color, dried mushrooms aroma, caramel and malt taste. Properties: antibiotic, anti asthmatic, anticatarrhal. Good remedy for cough
  • Fir Honeydew Honey - very deep color, the smell is slightly resinous, of burnt wood and caramel. The taste is less sweet than nectar honey with balsamic aromas. Properties: antiseptic of the respiratory system
  • Oak Honeydew Honey - deep amber yellow color or brown. It rarely crystallizes. Slightly bitter. Properties: antianemic. Appreciated by athletes for its high content in mineral salts
  • All-Flowers Honey - very delicate, without particular aftertastes. Properties: detoxicant for liver
  • Taraxacum and Apple Honey - very strong aroma, persistent, characteristic, astringent. Properties: diuretic and depurative
  • Lime-Tree Honey - the color may vary from pale to very dark. The aromas and taste resemble menthol, balsamic, very persistent and typical. Properties: calmant, diuretic, digestive. Recommended for expectorant tisanes
  • Thyme Honey - cinnamon color and red nuances, strong, intense, tonic and persistent, aromatic honey. Properties: antiseptic, calmant, febrifugal, tonic
  • Clover Honey - intense and persistent, aromatic honey. Properties: antiseptic, calmant, febrifugal, tonic
  • Rhododendron Honey - very pale color, very delicate aromas, slightly pungent in the throat. Properties: calmant of the nervous system, corroborant

 



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  Not Just Wine Issue 22, September 2004   
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Issue 21, Summer 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 23, October 2004

Aquavitae

Review of Grappa, Distillates and Brandy

 

Distillates are rated according to DiWineTaste's evaluation method. Please see score legend in the "Wines of the Month" section.



Grappa di Moscato Luigi Francoli ``Le Fragranze'', Distillerie Francoli (Italy)
Grappa di Moscato Luigi Francoli “Le Fragranze”
Distillerie Francoli (Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Muscat Blanc
Price: € 22,00 - 500ml Score:
The aspect of this grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas that start with a pleasing aroma of the grape as well as aromas of peach, pear, banana and a pleasing hint of sage, almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. The taste is agreeable with intense flavors, good roundness and very balanced sweetness, the alcohol is perceptible although not excessively pungent, balanced. The finish is persistent with a pleasing sweet and aromatic hint and good flavors of pear and peach. A well made grappa produced with the traditional steam distillation and passed in column plates, refined for 8 months in inert containers. Alcohol 42%.



Consenso Acquavite di Uva Aglianico, Distillerie Bonollo (Italy)
Consenso Acquavite di Uva Aglianico
Distillerie Bonollo (Italy)
Raw matter: Aglianico and other grapes from south Italy
Price: € 31,00 - 500ml Score: Wine that excels in its category
The aspect is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and elegant aromas of violet, plum, raspberry, licorice and white rose with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. The taste is very pleasing, with intense flavors, good roundness and very balanced sweetness, the alcohol is perceptible, not excessively pungent which rapidly get dissolved, elegant. The finish is intense and persistent with pleasing sweet hint and good flavors of plum, licorice and rose. Very elegant and very well made. Alcohol 42%.



Consenso Grappa di Chianti Classico, Distillerie Bonollo (Italy)
Consenso Grappa di Chianti Classico
Distillerie Bonollo (Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Chianti Classico (Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot)
Price: € 31,00 - 500ml Score:
The aspect of this grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of violet, raspberry, hazelnut and dried plums with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. The taste is intense, good roundness and balanced sweet hint, the alcohol is perceptible without being excessively pungent, harmonic. The finish is persistent with pleasing sweet hint and good flavors of dried plum and hazelnut. This grappa is distilled with discontinuous steam alembic still in copper boilers. Alcohol 45%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 22, September 2004   
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Issue 21, Summer 2004 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 23, October 2004

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Capitel Monte Olmi 1999, Tedeschi (Italy)
2 Turriga 1998, Argiolas (Italy)
3 Rioja Reserva Era Costana 1999, Bodegas Ondarre (Spain)
4 Anjou 2001, Domaine de Montgilet (France)
5 Barolo Cicala 1999, Poderi Aldo Conterno (Italy)
6 Brunello di Montalcino Prime Donne 1998, Donatella Cinelli Colombini (Italy)
7 Alto Adige Gewürztraminer Kolbenhof 2002, Hofstätter (Italy)
8 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Villa Gemma 1999, Masciarelli (Italy)
9 Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi 1996, Ca' del Bosco (Italy)
10 Aglianico del Vulture La Firma 2000, Cantine del Notaio (Italy)
11 Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1999, Maison Trimbach (France)
12 Margaux 2000, Ségla (France)
13 Harmonium 2001, Firriato (Italy)
14 Pinot Noir Napa 2002, Clos du Val (USA)
15 Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002, Domaine Billaud-Simon (France)

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