Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Editorial Issue 42, June 2006   
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The Rite of Wine


 According to a cultural point of view, wine is a beverage full of ritual elements, not only the ones of religious origins, but also the ones determined by society and traditions. Wine has always played an important role in the cultures in which it is present: it can be said the ritual characteristic of wine was born with its “discovery”. Every aspect associated to wine had - and still has - its ritual moments and meanings, something which begins with the harvesting of grapes. For many aspects, harvest represents still today a ritual moment, having very strong social meaning of communion, in which men and women get together and work for the same goal. The social and ritual role of harvesting has been even stronger in past decades - and the same can be said for every other agricultural activity associated to harvests - when friends, relatives and neighbors got together in vineyards for working, an event which always ended with a banquet, made of special dishes which were not generally consumed during the rest of the year. At the end of the day, the same people continued to celebrate the moment of sociality with dances and music, in which wine was always present.

 Today, besides religious meanings, ritual moments associated to wine and celebrated by every wine lover, have in the opening of the bottle the highest expression. This is evident since the very beginning when the bottle is presented and everyone waits - with a more or less formal ceremony - the removal of cork preceding libation. It is right the extraction of cork to represent the most suggestive moment, the one capable of creating suspense before having the confirmation, for example, the cork is not spoiled by the “unpleasing” corky smell, an event which leaves everyone disappointed and unhappy. Instead - when the cork has been extracted from the bottle and judged to be in good conditions - a smile appears on everyone's face and the ceremony of libation can begin, frequently with a toast as well. It seems to be paradoxical, nevertheless this “delicate” rite depends on a small cylinder of cork, on its extraction and the way it is being extracted, including tools and the technique used in doing it.


 

 The rite of the opening of a bottle, as well as of its service, has such an important aspect in wine culture, which have been created for these two aspects vast and rich productions of accessories, from corkscrews to glasses, from foil cutters to disks to be inserted in the bottle in order to avoid inappropriate and accidental “drops”. also corks have been subjected to changes in the course of the last ten years, in fact the almost absolute dominion of cork begins to vacillate. In the last years synthetic corks in different colors have been used to seal bottles, although not always accepted by consumers, indeed, they are frequently considered - unjustly - as the sign of disputable wine quality. In recent times have also been introduced closures made of glass which, just like synthetic corks, avoid the risks of the infamous “corky smell”, the main cause of disappointment in opening a bottle. The introduction of these new closures in the world of wine - including screwcaps and crown caps - has been cause of skepticism for consumers, probably because the classic rituals associated to the opening and service of a bottle of wine have lost, in a sense, some of their dignity.

 If synthetic corks still allow the ritual ceremony of opening the bottle, by using a more or less technological corkscrew, for glass closures, crown caps and screwcaps, this historical accessory seems to be useless: a simple movement and the bottle is opened, ready to be served. With this kind of closures, apparently, the rite of opening seems to be a useless waste of time, including the “ritual” check of the cork after its extraction in order to make sure it is in good conditions in order to make sure of the absence of the annoying tricloroanisole. With synthetic corks, including screwcaps, crown caps and glass caps, this check seems to be inappropriate, although it is frequently seen - as a matter of custom instead of a real necessity - after the opening of a bottle with a synthetic cork, it is being smelled, the way the ritual would suggest. Is it really necessary to have a ritual in order to appreciate a good wine? Probably not, although according to the natural predilection of humans for traditions, this aspect seems to have a role of primary importance.

 And what could be said about some producers who decided to sell some of their wines in cans, the same container used for beer of soda pops? With cans, the ritual and ceremony of the opening, as well as service, seems to be seriously compromised. Whether with synthetic corks most of the ritual seems to be saved - excluding the final check of the cork - with the other types of closures, this suggestive moment seems to play a lesser role. Indeed, it is not really lost. Although with wine sold in bottles with crown or glass caps the ritual seems to be simple and immediate, with screwcaps it can however be used a ceremony which can catch the attention of people. In fact, there are many ritual methods used for the opening of a bottle with a screwcap, of course, no one of them make use of a corkscrew or long procedures. The most common, the one which seems to be mainly used and accepted by wine lovers, “borrows” part of the technique from the opening of a sparkling wine.

 The base of the bottle is held with the right hand, whereas with the left hand it is held the screwcap. At this point the bottle is rotated with the right hand - just like it would be done for a bottle of sparkling wine - in order to unblock the cap and its seal, confirmed by the typical cracking sound. By continuing to hold the bottle with the right hand, the cap is now placed on the left forearm and it is being rolled towards the hand, in order to unscrew the cap which must complete its rolling exactly on the palm of the left hand, therefore leaving the bottle opened. Now the wine can be served, optionally, in case this operation is felt to be important, the cap can be smelled in order to check it is in good condition. Of course, this is a ritual different from the longer and more complex one used for corks, anyway it can be however considered formal. Rites and traditions evolve, change with time and adapt themselves to the new trends of society, and the wine will probably adapt itself too, just like many other aspects associated to the life of humans. After all, how many traditions associated to wine have become obsolete and replaced by other forms, probably more suited to our times? Moreover, are not quality and pleasure of wine which will be poured in glasses to be the most important aspect? Is it useful a suggestive and formal rite without the quality of wine contained in the bottle? These aspects can certainly be neglected, provided the new solutions and technologies always and however ensure a better quality and integrity of wine. Cheers!

 



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  Editorial Issue 42, June 2006   
The Rite of WineThe Rite of Wine MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 41, May 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 43, Summer 2006

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 In this column are published our reader's mail. If you have any comment or any question or just want to express your opinion about wine, send your letters to our editorial or fill in the form available at our site.

 

I frequently read in order to block the effects of phylloxera, vitis vinifera is grafted on rootstocks of American species. What are these species?
Andrew Lewis -- San Diego, California (USA)
Because of the reduced thickness of root's bark in the vitis vinifera variety, the effects of the attacks of phylloxera weakens the plant. A stronger rootstock, in particular having a thicker bark, make the attacks of this parasite useless. The species offering a higher resistance to the attacks of phylloxera seem to be vitis riparia, vitis rupestris and vitis berlandieri species, whose rootstocks are usually grafted in young vitis vinifera plants. Moreover, hybrids of European origins are common as well, including the famous AXR 1 - also known as Aramon Rupestris - a hybrid produced with vitis vinifera and vitis rupestris.



What is the difference between Riesling and Welschriesling (Riesling Italico)?
Annette Klöcker -- Köln (Germany)
Despite the name, Welschriesling (Riesling Italico) has no connection with Rhine Riesling, that is the grape simply defined as Riesling. The origins of Welschriesling are not certain, however it is a grape well suited for the climate of central Europe, the area in which it is mainly cultivated. The grape is known with the names Wälschriesling in Austria, Vlassky Riesling in Czech Republic and Slovakia, Olaszriesling in Hungary, Grasevina or Laskriesling in the Balkans and Riesling Italico in Italy. This grape is known for its high yields and for this reason - in case it is not properly cultivated - it tends to make light wines. Cultivated and vinified with quality criteria, Welschriesling make wines with strong aromas of flowers, however completely different from the ones produced with Rhine Riesling.



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