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  Editorial Issue 131, Summer 2014   
Fads and Fears of WineFads and Fears of Wine  Contents 
Issue 130, June 2014 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 132, September 2014

Fads and Fears of Wine


 I am into wine for more than twenty years now, focusing my interest - in particular - to historical, technical, productive, territorial and sensorial aspects. In all of this time I had the chance to see - sometimes in a very funny way, sometimes quite perplexed - to the many facts which characterized the fate of wine. Twenty years, or a little more, can seem to be a lot, indeed they are passed with a surprising speed, just like all the many fads and fears which characterized the world of wine. Many of them have been a sort of meteors, others evidently had a quite long life, however destined to an unavoidable decline, sometimes even consigned to oblivion. Because of my predilection for technical aspects, it is quite unavoidable to me not considering fads and fears of wine according to this point of view. Most of the times they sound like ridiculous truth unfolded to the world with the evident goal of supporting personal and commercial interest of some or to just revealing the ignorance of others.


 

 Like all the subjects being of interest for a remarkable number of persons, opinions, ideas, remarks and fads happens frantically and, sometimes, chaotically. Wine is no exception to this phenomenon, of course. In about twenty years - despite this is a quite short time - I personally witnessed many fads and trends about wine. When I started being into the nectar of Bacchus, saved in rare exceptions, when you were talking about quality wine, you unavoidably ended up talking about French wine, by considering it a sort of impossible dream. The rest, including Italy, was irremediably behind: you were talking about it but your dreams would however fly to the magic places of France, in particular Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. It was a time in which Italy was trying to recover from the wounds of the so called “methanol scandal”, wine production was abundant; juts like today the choice was wide and diversified. Of course, wineries which have always seen in wine a quality product with no compromises, continued to keep the good name of Italy all over the world.

 The interest for France and its undeniably quality wines, introduced everywhere in the world the fad of barrique, Merlot and Chardonnay, just to mention the three most famous examples. It seemed the secret of quality could be obtained with these three simple elements only. A wine produced with Merlot and fermented or aged in barrique meant - most of the times - the indisputable consecration to the Olympus of Bacchus. The same happened with Chardonnay, of course. Moreover, the humble Italian grapes, despite they had centuries of glorious history - at those times considered rough and vulgar - rose to nobility thanks to the marriage to Merlot and Chardonnay. The added value of the barrique meant apotheosis. Today, just by mentioning Merlot, Chardonnay and barrique - even inadvertently or by chance - causes to most of wine lovers a sneer of disapproval. Expert wine lover - or supposed ones - are even capable of hurling a curse at you and to propose you to excommunication, or even sending you to a saving quarantine in order to get a proper wine reeducation. How times change.

 There also were wines, in particular white wines, having pretty common aromas and universally considered agreeable: sometimes certain grapes generally classified as “non aromatic”, had charming aromas of grape and tropical fruit. They were liked by everyone, everyone was looking for them. Magic of selected yeast, many will say, or - in practical terms - result of research and studies, years spent in understanding there are positive yeasts for wine making and others less positive ones. Fermentation done with indigenous yeast? It was a peasant practice, of rough and vulgar wines. Today selected yeast is rejected while spontaneous fermentation is celebrated everywhere, the one done with a yeast chance and Nature have brought to grape skins or inside a winery. Selected yeast? It is the alchemist business, nasty and vulgar sorcerers. Aromas change but, in practical terms, the result is the very same. If it is true selected yeast characterizes the sensorial profile of a wine, the very same happens with indigenous yeast. Yeast, no matter of its origin, always gives the wine its personality, with no exception.

 When the fear for selected yeast passed, it arrived - strong and alarming - the fear for sulfur dioxide. Let's make this clear: this gas, when assumed in high quantity, causes health disorders, in particular in sensitive subjects. In this regard, it is obvious a wine to be the least harmful possible for health is something interesting every wine lover. The use of sulfur dioxide in wine making is as old as the history of wine itself. Its antioxidant and antiseptic qualities are known to everyone, also and above all to the food industry. This is a job it can do very well and, moreover, at a very low cost. We pay attention about drinking a wine having the least possible quantity of sulfites, but we do not have the same concern when we consume most of food and beverages containing a lot more than what the law permits in wine. We should then notice fermentation always and with no exception produces sulfur dioxide and, sometimes, certain natural yeasts produce more than what selected yeasts do. After all, selected yeast was introduced also for the purpose of limiting sulfur dioxide production during fermentation. Nevertheless, today, both are considered as elements of adulteration and of deplorable wine making standardization.

 Talking about harmful substances found in wine, or potentially such, I have rarely seen shouting floods of words - in a way they do or did for sulfites, selected yeast and other - for what is notoriously considered a toxic substance: ethyl alcohol. In the last twenty years we have seen a progressive increasing of ethyl alcohol in wines and not so many have complained about this or fought any crusade like they did - fiercely and sometimes hypocritically - for other aspects about wine. Twenty-five years ago a wine with 12.5% of alcohol by volume was considered “strong”; today we have wines reaching even 15% and are considered “normal”. Nevertheless, ethyl alcohol has non properly positive effects on health and the excess - just like sulfur dioxide - can even cause death. Towards ethyl alcohol, it is too obvious, there is a higher tolerance and acceptability than sulfur dioxide and selected yeast. Wine, just like every other thing, in order to keep the interest high and to make profits, must live of fads and fears which born, explode in furious debates, then fade away and are forgotten by everyone. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Antonello Biancalana






   Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 131, Summer 2014   
Fads and Fears of WineFads and Fears of Wine  Contents 
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