Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  Not Just Wine Issue 49, February 2007   
Maize - CornMaize - Corn AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 48, January 2007 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 50, March 2007

Maize - Corn

For ancient civilizations of Latin America it was considered the plant of life, an irreplaceable means of support which is still today common in many countries of the world

 For many people maize was considered the plant of life. Today this plant is getting more and more common, also for the use in animal's nutrition, however it is, for many people, the main means of support. «They then brought bread, many fruits, red and white wine, not made of grape, indeed they were made with fruits, the red was of a type and the white of another, as well as some other wine made of maiz which is a sort of grain contained in a spike similar to a panicle which I brought in Castilla where it is quite common already; it seems the best one is considered of having great excellence and great value». This wrote Christophorus Columbus in his letter-report for the Sovereign Catholics during his third journey, in 1498.

 

Short History of Maize

 Maize, also known as corn and whose scientific name is Zea Mays, is an annual herbaceous plant belonging to the family of Graminaceae. Researches done on this plant suggest it derives from a small wild plant from Mexico and Guatemala: teosinte. Biologists of the University of California have in fact discovered in maize the presence of the barren stalk 1 gene who relates this plant to teosinte. This gene allowed the agriculturists of Central America lived 7,000 years ago to obtain maize. The name maize comes from the term Maiz of Arauca origins. The state of Arauca is one of the departments in Columbia and it is found in the central part, near the borders with Venezuela. The cultivation of maize is believed to began about 7,500 years ago. In the New Mexico has been found the most ancient variety and its cultivation spread from Southern-Central America to north in the region of great lakes.


Boiled maize: the most common way to consume
the grains of this plant
Boiled maize: the most common way to consume the grains of this plant

 Maize, for the people of Central America, has a fundamental importance, it was the base element for the diet, a plant deeply associated to the survival of people and it was also part of Mayan mythology. According to Maya legends, man was created from a small ball of maize and water. Maize has such a dignity and importance as to deserve a god on its own, Yum Kaa, the god of maize.

 Also Aztecs had a god dedicated to the maize - Centeotl - and they too had ceremonies and sacrificial rites associated to the maturation cycle of the plant. One of these sacrificial ceremonies was done when maize was ripe: a young woman was beheaded representing the harvesting of maize cobs. At the end of harvesting, a second young woman was killed and skinned, a representation of maize decortication. Many other legends and tradition connects the people of the New World to the cultivation of maize. Ancient people of Central America, cultivated maize together with climbing plants of beans, by letting them to climb to the high stalk of maize. It was, for many years, the base cereal for the nutrition of Maya, Aztecs, the ancient people of Nevada state and Inca in Peru. Machica and Chimu people (along the northern coast of Peru) also made an alcoholic beverage from it.

 To introduce maize in Europe was certainly the famous explorer Christophorus Columbus. As soon as it arrived in the Old World, it slowly spread in Italy and in France. In these countries it had a slow spreading because, according to the historical witnesses of those times, it required a too fertile soil and alternative cultivations, such as hemp, ensured a more profitable income. The new cereal also spread in the Balkans and it spread very quickly because it ensured a higher yield, sometimes as much as twice, than the traditional grains. Moreover, as it was not included in the list of “imposed” cereals by law, it was, for the moment, a product exempted from taxes. In later times the cultivation of maize spread from Italy to Germany and then it spread all over the Mediterranean area.


 

 In Italy its spreading began in the Po valley by using the “three fields” technique: one cultivated with maize and two with wheat. The field cultivated with maize ensured the essential support for nutrition - polenta - whereas the other two produced wheat to be used for paying taxes. In the last 40 years the production of maize in Italy has raised significantly, both in quantity and in quality. The new hybrid varieties ensure yields of about 12-15 tons per hectare, instead for the 2-3 tons which could be usually obtained with the old varieties. With these yields, maize has become very productive according to an economic point of view and from marginal soils, it now occupies the fertile and well irrigated soils, in order to get the most out from production. Northern Italy is the area in which it is concentrated 33% of national production.

 To introduce the cultivation of maize in Spain were Arabs, who imported from Turkey the cultivation techniques. This explains the origin of the term “Turkish wheat”. Also Portuguese knew about this new plant and they exported it in their colonies, therefore, thanks to them, it was introduced in Africa, and in the colonies of Southern Asia, and from here, it was introduced in China. It was the second half of the 1500s. In 1775 maize was introduced in Japan, however it is not clear how this happened.

 Carl Nilsson Linnaeus, better known with the Latin name Linnaeus, the great Swedish biologist and creator of the modern scientific nomenclature for the classification of plants and animals, was the first to have the need to give the new plant an official name, therefore it was named Zea Mays. The name comes from a research done in ancient classical books, the “grano primus antiquis Latio cibus”, as it was called by Pliny the Elder, or the cereal of life “zea”, as it was mentioned in the Odyssey. These two definitions certainly were not referred to maize and Linnaeus knew it very well, however he liked the concept of “cereal of life” and therefore he decided to call it “zea”. The term “mays” is found in the book “Historia natural y moral de las Indias” (Natural and moral history of Indies) written by the Jesuit Josè de Acosta in 1590.

 

The Plant

 Maize is an annual herbaceous plant, it prefers a fertile soil, well drained, with a full exposition to sun rays. The stalk can reach two or three meters in height and it ends with an inflorescence, called panache, whereas at the base of leaves are found female inflorescences: the cobs. The production of cobs varies according to the variety of the plant. Some produce just few cobs, whereas other may also produce more than twenty. Although the most common type of maize has a yellow color, there are also other varieties with white, purple, blue, red, pink and black grains, as well as of other colors. The difference of the colors in grains depends on the different concentration of carotenoids and flavonoids, contained in the external part of the grain.

 Maize is not used for human nutrition only: it is widely used for the nutrition of animals, in the production of liquors, beer and in the production of 100% biodegradable plastic. With maize is also made the famous “popcorn”, from the buds is produced maize oil. Maize syrup is made from grains' starch, which is processed with two enzymes found in two fungi. The syrup increases elasticity and consistency of foods, slows down the loss of humidity, therefore increasing keeping time. In the countries of Andes, it is used for the production of a beer with a low alcohol by volume, obtained by the fermentation of maize and other cereals: a tradition going back to the times of Inca empire. Food industry uses it in the production of traditional baked products, in particular products destined to subjects with gluten allergy, and in the preparation of precooked foods. Paper industry uses it as an additive for improving or rectify the quality of cellulose paste. Pharmaceutical industry uses it as a “vehicle” for many medicines and for the production of soap.

 From the refinement of maize is produced maizena (maize starch), used in cooking as a thickener. To make a soup or a sauce thicker, it is enough to melt some maize starch in little cold broth, milk or water: for 500gr of sauce it is enough one spoonful. Maizena can replace, totally or in part, wheat flour in the preparation of cakes or puddings. In herbal medicine it is used dried maize silk which has diuretic, depurative, hypotensive and anti inflammatory properties.

 Maize is poor in lysine - an essential aminoacid which must be introduced by food intake as the body cannot synthesize it - and tryptophan. Therefore, 60-80% of vitamin B3 contained in maize cannot be assimilated by the human body. These characteristics explain why some people who mainly based their nutrition on maize suffered from pellagra, which was caused by the lack of lysine which in turn caused the lack of niacin, therefore causing pellagra. Not all the people who based their nutrition of maize suffered from this disease. Mesoamerican people learned how to properly eat maize: they boiled it in alkaline substances, also adding lime; in this way it was diminished the content of lysine while increasing the content in vitamin B3.

 One hundred grams of maize provide 355 calories and contain 2.20g of fibers, 66g of starch, 75.8g of sugars, 3.80g of lipids, 9.20g of proteins, 62mcg of vitamin A, 0.36mg of vitamin B1, 0.2mg of vitamin B2, 1.5mg of vitamin PP, 256mg of phosphor, 2.4mg of iron and 15mg of calcium. In occasion of the international forum for agriculture and nutrition in November 2006, was presented the “belu” water bottle, having a similar look of a normal plastic bottle, however completely made from maize, therefore completely biodegradable. To make a bottle are needed 65 grams of maize, to make a plastic bottle are used 0.027 liters of petroleum as well as the release of 0.04 kilograms of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Preferring “maize plastic” also means safeguarding the environment where we all live in.

 






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  Not Just Wine Issue 49, February 2007   
Maize - CornMaize - Corn AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 48, January 2007 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 50, March 2007

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.



Most Uve Rosse Nobili, Bepi Tosolini (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy)
Most Uve Rosse Nobili
Bepi Tosolini (Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy)
Raw matter: Cabernet Franc, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, Montepulciano
Price: € 35.00 - 70cl Score:
This grape brandy is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of raspberry, strawberry, cherry, blackberry, plum and cyclamen with imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, excellent correspondence to the nose, balanced sweetness, pleasing roundness. The finish is very persistent with long flavors of strawberry, raspberry and cherry. Most Uve Rosse Nobili is distilled with steam operated discontinuous alembic still and ages for at least 12 months. Alcohol 40%.



Grappa di Pinot Nero Oltrepo Pavese, Il Montý (Lombardy, Italy)
Grappa di Pinot Nero Oltrepo Pavese
Il Montù (Lombardy, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of Pinot Noir
Price: € 17.14 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
This grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of cherry, plum, raspberry, strawberry, hazelnut, licorice and rose with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, good correspondence to the nose, balanced sweetness. The finish is persistent with flavors of cherry, raspberry and strawberry. This grappa is distilled with a discontinuous bainmarie alembic still. Alcohol 40%.



Grappa Giovane, Distilleria Zanin (Veneto, Italy)
Grappa Giovane
Distilleria Zanin (Veneto, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of grapes from Veneto
Price: € 10.00 - 70cl Score: Wine that excels in its category
The grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose denotes intense, clean, pleasing and refined aromas of pear, banana, broom, apple and hazelnut with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, good correspondence to the nose, good sweetness, pleasing roundness. The finish is persistent with flavors of apple and hazelnut. This grappa is distilled with a discontinuous alembic still. Alcohol 40%.



Grappa Stravecchia 20 anni Monte Sabotino, Distilleria Zanin (Veneto, Italy)
Grappa Stravecchia 20 anni Monte Sabotino
Distilleria Zanin (Veneto, Italy)
Raw matter: Pomace of grapes from Veneto
Price: € 50.00 - 70cl Score:
This grappa shows a brilliant amber yellow color, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean, pleasing, refined and elegant aromas of praline, vanilla, licorice, tobacco, dried plum, hazelnut, dried fig and chocolate with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with perceptible alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, excellent correspondence to the nose, balanced sweetness, pleasing roundness. The finish is very persistent with long flavors of dried fig, dried plum, hazelnut and chocolate. This grappa is distilled with a discontinuous alembic still and ages for twenty years in cask. Alcohol 40%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 49, February 2007   
Maize - CornMaize - Corn AquavitaeAquavitae Wine ParadeWine Parade  Contents 
Issue 48, January 2007 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 50, March 2007

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 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
2 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)
3 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
4 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
5 Don Antonio 2003, Morgante (Italy)
6 Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano 2003, Arnaldo Caprai (Italy)
7 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
8 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2001, Masi (Italy)
9 Soave Classico Monte Alto 2004, Ca' Rugate (Italy)
10 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
11 Sforzato di Valtellina Canua 2001, Conti Sertoli Salis (Italy)
12 Sagrantino di Montefalco 2003, Antonelli (Italy)
13 Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2002, Livio Felluga (Italy)
14 Barolo Cannubi Boschis 2001, Sandrone (Italy)
15 Barolo Bussia 2001, Prunotto (Italy)

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