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  Editorial Issue 82, February 2010   
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Issue 81, January 2010 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 83, March 2010

Back to the Autochthonous


 Wine is not a beverage only. Wine is a complex phenomenon for the élite and for marketing, going beyond the simple definition of beverage. It follows fashions and trends, not only the ones concerning taste, but also the ones suggested by a simple opportunism, commercial, of course. Everyone will remember, for example, the fashion, or better to say, the fashions going on in the 1990s, result of past decades: a wine became magically important and of quality in case in the label were written the names of the famous French grapes or the magic barrique. Moreover, barrique was also a word abused by experts or by the ones believed to be experts: by saying “barrique” you were seen as an expert. And the use of barrique made a wine - and maybe it still makes it - of indisputable quality. Wine could have been made with disputable quality methods, but in case it was fermented or aged in barrique, it was a great wine, something even justifying deplorable speculations. The same can be said in case a wine was produced with Chardonnay, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon - three magnificent grapes for sure - but they are not enough, alone, to make a great wine.


 

 The effects of this fashion have however been deleterious. In all the regions of Italy - each one rich of an unique heritage of grapes - they uprooted local varieties in favor of the new international grapes and to the magic they promised as soon as they were bottled. Then someone started to doubt of all of this magic and started to realize the magnificence of French wines was not only because of their grapes, but also - and first of all - of what they did in vineyard and then in cellar, as well as giving a fundamental importance to the territory, of course. Grape, despite it is important, seemed to be not so important for French vintners. It is not by chance, in France the names of grapes are rarely mentioned in labels; indeed, it is shown the place of origin, the vineyard, the small fraction of a territory. After a long period in which international grapes dominated the scene, in Italy the fashion is now changing by returning back to the autochthonous varieties, to the grapes found in the territory since memorable times. Today when a wine lovers talks about Merlot or Chardonnay, he or she is not considered as an expert, becomes an expert in case he or she mentions - and possibly knows - the autochthonous varieties of every region, including the most obscure and unknown ones.

 Now that in Italy they realized at last - since many years, to tell the truth - the rich and immense heritage of grapes in our country, a new return back to the autochthonous is taking place: the one of yeast. Wine making technology, with no doubt, has seen an intense and fundamental development in the last 150 years - like never in all of the millenarian history of wine - when the great French scientist Louis Pasteur discovered the secret of fermentation, by identifying the microscopic organisms responsible of this phenomena: yeasts. From that moment on, the studies and researches about these precious micro organisms have been important and fundamental, as to classify the species and the behavior during fermentation. These important researches allowed the selection of the most efficient yeasts for the production of wine, up to making them easily available to the market and therefore usable by anyone who wants to make the beverage of Bacchus, from the home maker to industrial wine makers.

 As it is commonly known, the fermentation process is not only about the transformation of sugar in alcohol and in other byproducts: this process greatly affects the development of aromas in wine as well. This means that, by using the same type of yeast, the aromas we will find in a glass will smell like the ones of many other wines, just because of the mark given by the yeast. It should also be said yeasts are naturally found in the air and in grape's skin. When the grape is being crushed, yeasts come in contact with the juice, therefore starting fermentation. Not all the yeasts are the same and some of them have such a strong and intense activity and overcome the other strains, including the ones naturally found in a territory. This is what actually happens by using selected yeasts: it is given the wine specific organoleptic qualities by eliminating - as a matter of fact - the action of autochthonous yeasts, the ones naturally found in grape's skin. There are many who say selected yeasts contribute to change environmental conditions naturally offered by the production place, therefore rightly recognizing to the autochthonous yeasts an important role in the definition of the so called terroir.

 As the yeast greatly contributes to the development of aromas in a wine, as well as contributing to its autochthonous character, today there are many wineries which prefer not to use selected yeasts, therefore favoring the activity of the autochthonous ones found in their territory. Moreover, many wineries have started interesting collaborations with research institutes and universities in order to study the population of autochthonous yeasts found in their estates and cellars, therefore identifying the strains and favoring the development of the most characteristic ones for the fermentation. These researches not only will reevaluate the heritage of autochthonous yeasts of every area, but also the character and terroir, in order to make wines with a better personality and with organoleptic characteristics different from other wines. The contribution of selected yeasts - certainly important - has allowed the creation of similar wines: by using autochthonous yeasts will be enhanced the differences among wines produced with the same varieties even in neighboring areas.

 The trend of using autochthonous yeasts more and more, will certainly enrich the sensorial experience of tasting, contributing to the creation of truly different wines, while giving an element of typicality and quality. The use of autochthonous yeasts is a characterizing factor, just like any other element or tool used in wine making. In this sense, we'd better not to believe again to the illusion given by the barrique or by international grapes: it would be a mistake to consider a wine made with autochthonous yeasts superior to a wine produced with selected yeasts. In other words, it is not the tool or the technique to make a good result, indeed, it depends by the way they are used. The return back to autochthonous yeasts is however something to be welcome, a new step to make wine distant from the homologation that in the past few years seemed to be the only possible way. In fact, too many wines seemed to be the same like many others. Autochthonous yeast does not promise a striking success, it will certainly contribute to enrich wine with small and big, however significant, differences and characteristics. In conclusion, it also depends on market, as this is the phase in which it is decided what a wine maker will produce. In case a wine produced with autochthonous yeasts does not meet the favor of market, producers will certainly resume using selected yeasts. That's the way the world it is.

 







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  Editorial Issue 82, February 2010   
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