Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Editorial Issue 47, December 2006   
The Ascent of AlcoholThe Ascent of Alcohol MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
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The Ascent of Alcohol


 Wine, which certainly is the expression of culture, tradition, of the place and people who make it, is a beverage that in the course of its history has evolved and developed according to taste and customs of people. The concept of wine as a beverage, besides being something absolutely personal for everyone, has changed in the course of the years, it has become something very different from its essential role. From ritual beverage to commercial resource, from popular beverage to beverage of the élite, from food to hedonistic beverage, wine has changed its mask many times according to what they wanted it to represent. With time, thanks to the progresses obtained by enological technology, the way of making wine has changed and continues to change, aware of the fact “making wine” does not only mean crushing grapes and waiting for “nature” to follow its own course. Also in the most “natural” wine making philosophies are being used those indispensable procedures - although in a limited way - as to ensure a good result, in other words, in order to get wine at the end of the process and not something else.


 

 In the last years we saw a pretty particular evolution of wine: the progresses obtained in terms of quality certainly are undeniable. This change has certainly been influenced by many factors, not all derived from uniquely enological needs. The taste of wine has changed in the last twenty years: from wine we do not simply expect a beverage, from wine we also look for something going beyond this quality. Structure, power and consistency are - for example - characteristics which are generally desired in a red wine, wines which more and more shows concentrations of colors, body and structure as to suggest the use of a knife instead of a glass. And the same is generally true for whites, which seem more and more look like red wines, at least according to certain aspects. In white wines, besides fresh and “immediate” aromas, are usually appreciated the ones having a certain structure - most of the times obtained by the fermentation or aging in cask - and for light wines it seems not to be any place, saved in rare exceptions.

 After all, if the market asks for wines having specific characteristics, the ones producing wine must conform to this, and as a consequence contribute - voluntarily or involuntarily - to change and guide the taste of wine in consumers. If we consider red wines, according to an organoleptic point of view, the higher quantity of tannins - contributing to increase structure - requires a higher quantity of substances capable of making the wine balanced: lacking balance, the wine would be, first of all, of bad quality. There are many ways to balance a fuller structure and body, however the most frequent solution is to make wines with more alcohol. This could explain the recent custom of making wines with higher alcohol by volume as opposed to the past, something concerning not only red wines, but also whites as well. We believe it is legitimate to ask whether all that alcohol is really indispensable in the production of wine.

 In past times, most of red wines - as an example - had an average alcohol by volume of 12.5%, a value which has today become pretty uncommon: most of red wines currently produced has an average alcohol by volume of 13.5%. And the same can be said for white wines, that in past times had an average alcohol by volume of 11%, whereas today it is not difficult to find white wines with an alcohol by volume of 13% and more. Alcohol in wine plays an indispensable organoleptic role: promotes the perception of aromas and contributes to gustatory balance. The sporadic and rare cases of producing a completely nonalcoholic wine confirm the importance of alcohol in the beverage of Bacchus, something making wine - always and however consumed in moderation and wisely - a special beverage according to many point of views. Also medicine recognizes the moderate consumption - always and only moderate - of wine and of alcoholic beverages has positive effects on the health.

 According to an organoleptic point of view, a wine without alcohol would not probably be interesting: it is undeniable alcohol plays a fundamental role in wine's personality. It is also true it is always recommended to limit the consumption of alcohol, despite it is important in the production of wine, or better to say, in the organoleptic qualities of wine. It is also true intelligence would suggest that, in case a wine contains more alcohol, it should be consumed in lesser quantities. In other words, the pleasure of wine - in order to be considered as such - is always represented by moderation, also according to its content in alcohol. However, we are talking about another subject: is it possible that the wines considered to be the best - both whites and reds - all have a pretty high alcohol by volume? How comes all the wines having an alcohol by volume lesser then 13%, saved rare cases, do not generally meet the preferences of consumers? Does a wine, in order to be good, must have a high content in alcohol?

 Of course there are areas in which wines are naturally characterized by higher quantities alcohol by volume: in warm and sunny areas it is almost impossible to make wines with a moderate content in alcohol, saved the cases in which are used specific viticultural and enological practices in order to lower the quantity of sugar. However the tendency of alcoholic wines is something which can also be seen in cooler areas where - according to some logic - there is less sun and therefore the sugar content should be naturally lower. Despite public awareness campaigns continue to suggest the consumption of alcohol - in particular among youngsters - is something to be done always and however in moderation, the tendency to make wine with higher content in alcohol seems to offbeat these suggestions. After all, if consumers continue to ask for more and more robust wines, having more body and consistency, maybe this is the price to pay. However wine - also and in particular quality wine - is not that only, of course not, it is, first of all, an emotion which is far away from deplorable drunkenness. Maybe it has come the right time to revaluate the sense of smell and to understand quality wine is - first of all - a wine having good and pleasing aromas and not alcohol only?

 



   Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Editorial column ABC Wine 
  Editorial Issue 47, December 2006   
The Ascent of AlcoholThe Ascent of Alcohol MailBoxMailBox  Contents 
Issue 46, November 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 48, January 2007

MailBox


 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 heard about traditional Barolo and modern Barolo. What is the difference between them? Are they two styles of Barolo provided by the production disciplinary?
Annamaria Parente -- Bari (Italy)
The subject of traditional Barolo and modern Barolo has no reference in the disciplinary regulating the production of this extraordinary wine from Langhe's Piedmont. Indeed, it is a matter of “school of thought” on how interpreting the production of Barolo and supported by producers who side one against another, sometimes with strong polemics. The two schools of thought are also supported by consumers who usually are in one or another side, sometimes in both. Traditionally, Barolo is being aged in large casks, a technique that, with Nebbiolo grape, requires long times of aging in order to allow the wine an optimal organoleptic evolution, most of the time recognizable for the licorice aroma instead of vanilla. This is the method used by the so called traditionalists, that is the producers who still use the most classic method for making Barolo. Some producers, in order to allow Barolo to age in shorter times and to release it sooner in the market, prefer using a smaller barrel - the barrique - recognizable for the dominance of vanilla aroma instead of licorice. Producers using this method are therefore defined as modernists. Saying what is the best Barolo of the two it is always a disputable matter, as it is undeniable that - besides being a matter of personal tastes - traditionalists and modernists producers have proven magnificent Barolos can be created with both methods.



Most of Chardonnay wines are fermented and aged in barrique, supporting most of the times the idea this is a French custom. Nevertheless in France there are many excellent Chardonnay wines produced without using any wood, such as the excellent wines from Chablis. Why is Chardonnay frequently associated to barrique?
Patrick Gillot -- Dijon (France)
If we consider wines produced with white berried grapes fermented or aged in barrique, the percentage of the ones produced with Chardonnay is indisputably high. For this reason, the association of Chardonnay with barrique is very frequent. Indeed - like you rightly suggested - Chardonnay is capable of excellent results also without using the barrique or other kind of cask, something which is widely demonstrated by most of the wines from Chablis and many whites from Burgundy. Indeed, the “fashion” of making Chardonnay with a strong touch of barrique, was not born in France, but in Australia, in particular Southern Australia, when they began producing wines which will be then defined as New World's wines. Around the half of 1980s, Australia was in fact successful in impressing the whole world with this style of Chardonnay, as to shadow the prestige of the Chardonnay wines produced in Europe. As a matter of fact, they created a new way of interpreting Chardonnay, which was soon adopted in the countries belonging to the so called New World which then arrived in Europe. Among white berried grapes, Chardonnay is in fact the one being more suited to the vinification in barrel - or however in barrique - as the organoleptic qualities of wood can be better amalgamated with the wines produced with this grape than with others.



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  Editorial Issue 47, December 2006   
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