Sunday, February 3, 2013
The wines of Madeira generally may be divided into three denominations, and may be thus described.
Tinto is a red wine, the produce of the Burgundy grape, transplanted to Madeira. It is drank in perfection in the second and third years, before it has deposited its extractive matter, after which it becomes a full bodied Madeira wine, of the usual colour and flavour.
Sercial is the produce of the Hock grape: a pale, lively, and very high-flavoured wine. It ought not to be drank in less than seven years, and it requires a much greater age to reach perfection.
Malmsey, when genuine, is a rich and highly cordial wine. There is a variety of it called green Malmsey, bearing some resemblance to Frontignan.
The first quality of the Madeira wine is certainly equal to the finest production of the grape in any part of the world, for its aromatic flavour and beneficial effects: therefore it is much to be lamented that so small a quantity of it, in its pure state, should find its way to foreign markets: and that its character should be sacrificed to the sordid speculations of any unprincipled traders. Wine drinkers in England are very commonly deceived into the idea that a voyage to the East or West Indies is sufficient to ensure the excellence of the wine; but this is an obvious fallacy, for if the wine were not of a good quality when shipped from the island, a thousand voyages could not make it what it never had been. It is well known to every merchant in Madeira, that a great proportion of the wines so shipped are of an inferior quality, and are purchased in barter by persons who are commonly known by the name of truckers.
I may here observe, as a general remark, that fine Madeira wines are equally improved by the extremes of heat and cold, and that damp is always hurtful to them.
Burgundy vines have lately been introduced into Madeira. The generally received opinion that the wines of Teneriffe and the Azores are brought here for the purpose of giving them the Madeira flavour, and sending them to foreign markets as the produce of the island, is very erroneous. Although smuggling is openly carried on, and to an extent that ought to set at rest so fallacious an opinion, any one acquainted with this island must be aware of the utter impossibility of introducing foreign wines with a view to exporting them again as native produce; for, in the first place, the whole of the inhabitants would be likely to resist such an attempt, from a conviction that the introduction would militate against their own interests, and from the obvious apprehension that the increased quantity as well as the inferior quality of the adulterated wines, would injure the character and reduce the price of their own.
The great increase too, which it would occasion in the amount sent out of the island, would render it very difficult for the speculators in the spurious wines, to avoid detection. It is, therefore, much more reasonable to suppose, that these mixtures take place in the markets to which the wines are sent: the great demand for them tempting the persons engaged in the traffic, to embark in an imposition which has had the effect of deteriorating the wines so materially, that at last they began to lose their previous character, to get out of fashion, and, consequently, to fall off in demand as well as in price. This system of intermixing different wines, to swell the quantity of some favourite wine, is known to prevail to a great extent in those of France and Portugal. The Clarets of the London market, are principally prepared for the purpose, and, in the transit, lose much of the pure nature of the original production: and the quantity of adulterated Port that is sold in England is almost incredible. It is also a well known fact, that there is more Tokay sold on the Continent and in England, in one year, than the limited space where it is grown, on the mountains of Hungary, could produce in twenty years.
But there is also, independently of this vitiation to which the wines are liable, another cause for the inferior quality of those wines which are really the produce of the islands. A few Englishmen, and other foreigners, of a grade very different from that of the respectable English merchants who have been long established here, hit upon the expedient of exporting wines instead of attending to the business which they had originally established on the island. They thought it would turn out profitable to buy up cheap, and, of course, inferior wines, for the purpose of sending them to the European markets, under the impression that any thing would sell that was known to be the genuine production of Madeira. By this method of enlarging their business, the worst description of the native produce got abroad, and was substituted in place of the best. There are, of course, a great variety of qualities; but there is not a greater quantity of the first quality than is required to flavour their inferior wines; and it is only by appropriating it to that purpose, that they could be enabled to furnish a sufficient quantity for the immense demand in the various markets which they have to supply.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
In California the manufacture of sparkling wines is carried on with considerable success, and at the Vienna Exhibition the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society of San Francisco was awarded a medal for progress for the excellent samples it sent there.
The society was originally organised by Colonel Haraszthy, the pioneer in recent times of Californian viticulture. It commenced manufacturing sparkling wines with the assistance of experienced workmen from Epernay and Ay; but the endeavours, extending over some three or four years, were attended with but indifferent success, very few cuvées proving of fair quality, whilst with the majority the wine had to be emptied from the bottles and distilled into brandy. The son of Colonel Haraszthy subsequently succeeded, in conjunction with Mr. Isidor Landsberger, of San Francisco, in discovering the cause of these failures, and for ten years past the wine has been constantly improving in quality owing to the increased use of foreign grapes, which yield a vin brut with a delicate bouquet and flavour approaching in character to the finer champagnes.
The wine is perfectly pure, no flavouring extracts or spirit being employed in the composition of the liqueur, which, is composed merely of sugar-candy dissolved in fine old wine. A French connoisseur pronounces sparkling Sonoma to be the best of American sparkling wines, “clean and fresh, tasting, with the flavour of a middle-class Ay growth, as well as remarkably light and delicate, and possessed of considerable effervescence.” The Sonoma valley vineyards produce the lightest wines of all the Californian growths, some 211 of the white varieties indicating merely 15° of proof spirit, and the red ones no more than 17½°.
The vintage takes place towards the end of October, and the grapes are gathered by Chinese laborers, who will each pick his 12 to 14 cwt. of grapes a day for the wage of a dollar. Light wooden boxes are used for holding the grapes, which are stripped from their stalks on their arrival at the press-house, and then partially crushed by a couple of revolving rollers. An inclined platform beneath receives them, and after the expressed juice has been run off into cask they are removed to the press, and the must subsequently extracted is added to that forced out by the rollers. When white wine is being made from black grapes the pressure is less continuous, and the must is of course separated at once from the skins.
The fermentation, which is violent for some ten or twelve hours, ceases in about a fortnight, providing a temperature of from 70° to 75° Fahr. is maintained in the vaults. The wine is racked at the new year, and again before the blending and bottling of it in the spring.
The Californian sparkling wines not only find a market in the eastern States, but are sent across the Pacific to the Sandwich Islands, Japan, China, and even to wine-producing Australia, which has not yet succeeded in producing sparkling wines of its own.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
The vine is cultivated throughout the length and breadth of Italy, but while in some of the districts of the south and centre it occupies from 10 to 20% of the cultivated area, in some of the northern provinces, such as Sondrio, Belluno, Grosseto, &c., the average is only about 1 or 2%. The methods of cultivation are varied; but the planting of the vines by themselves in long rows of insignificant bushes is the exception.
In Lombardy, Emilia, Romagna, Tuscany, the Marches, Umbria and the southern provinces, they are trained to trees which are either left in their natural state or subjected to pruning and pollarding. In Campania the vines are allowed to climb freely to the tops of the poplars. In the rest of Italy the elm and the maple are the trees mainly employed as supports. Artificial props of several kinds—wires, cane work, trellis work, &c.—are also in use in many districts (in the neighbourhood of Rome canes are almost exclusively employed), and in some the plant is permitted to trail along the ground.
The vintage takes place, according to locality and climate, from the beginning of September to the beginning of November. The vine has been attacked by the Oidium Tuckeri, the Phylloxera vastatrix and the Peronospora viticola, which in rapid succession wrought great havoc in Italian vineyards. American vines, are, however, immune and have been largely adopted.
The production of wine in the vintage of 1907, which was extraordinarily abundant all over the country, was estimated at 1232 million gallons (56 million hectolitres), the average for 1901-1903 being some 352 million gallons less; of this the probable home consumption was estimated at rather over half, while a considerable amount remained over from 1906. The exportation in 1902 only reached about 45 million gallons (and even that is double the average), while an equally abundant vintage in France and Spain rendered the exportation of the balance of 1907 impossible, and fiscal regulations rendered the distillation of the superfluous amount difficult.
The quality, too, owing to bad weather at the time of vintage, was not good; Italian wine, indeed, never is sufficiently good to compete with the best wines of other countries, especially France (though there is more opening for Italian wines of the Bordeaux and Burgundy type); nor will many kinds of it stand keeping, partly owing to their natural qualities and partly to the insufficient care devoted to their preparation.
There has been some improvement, however, while some of the heavier white wines, noticeably the Marsala of Sicily, have excellent keeping qualities. The area cultivated as vineyards has increased enormously, from about 4,940,000 acres to 9,880,000 acres, or about 14% of the total area of the country.
Over-production seems thus to be a considerable danger, and improvement of quality is rather to be sought after. This has been encouraged by government prizes since 1904.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
|The Price of Wine in 1900.|
After inflation, this is $33/gallon and $19.80/gallon respectively.
At least it is relatively cheap to taste for oneself what "Extra Dry Sweet" means...
Saturday, September 8, 2012
From "Scientific American Supplement", December 12, 1891
The French wine law (Journ. Officiel, July 11, 1891) includes the following provisions:
Sect. 1. The product of fermentation of the husks of grapes from which the must has been extracted with water, with or without the addition of sugar, or mixed with wine in whatever proportion, may only be sold, or offered for sale, under the name of husk wine or sugared wine.
Sect. 2. The addition of the following substances to wine, husk wine, sugared wine, or raisin wine will be considered an adulteration:
1. Coloring matters of all descriptions.
2. Sulphuric, nitric, hydrochloric, salicylic, boric acid, or similar substances.
3. Sodium chloride beyond one gramme per liter.
Sect. 3. The sale of plastered wines, containing more than two grammes of potassium, or sodium sulphate, is prohibited.
Offenders are subject to a fine of 16 to 500 francs, or to imprisonment from six days to three months, according to circumstances.
Barrels or vessels containing plastered wine must have affixed a notice to that effect in large letters, and the books, invoices, and bills of lading must likewise bear such notice.
Monday, June 25, 2012
This being the season of the year when the wine may require attention, the reasons for racking and the manner of effecting it are presented :
This operation is performed to separate the wine from its ferment, in order to prevent further change, either spiritous or acetous — to separate it also from the lees, containing, beside the yeast, cream of tartar, and coloring matter which has accumulated at the bottom of the cask. This process also enables us to avoid the exposure of the surface of the wine to the influence of the air, by which it would suffer more evaporation and be liable to be covered with mould, a white cryptogamic plant which covers the wine and gives it a putrid taste.
To effect the first object, frequent racking is required, say 1st, at the end of December ; 2nd, at the end of February, in March or early April; and then again in the autumn, at the end of October : such is my treatment of the Catawba wine during the first year ; after this, it is only racked in the fall. The latter object is to be attained by keeping the cask always bung full to exclude the air arid prevent alcoholic evaporation or absorption of air, to produce putrefaction.
The bung should be made of clear wood, wrapped with clean linen to insure tightness; a caution should however be had to loosen the bungs in April, when the wine is apt to undergo a fermentative change, and should the bung be too tight, so that the gases cannot drive it out, the bottom of the barrel may have to yield before the pressure, and thus the wine will be lost.
In racking, the first requisite is a good wine-green cask, which has previously contained similar wine; it should be carefully examined to ascertain that it is quite clean and has neither a sour nor other bad smell. After the cask is thoroughly rinsed with clear, fresh water, burn a piece of brimstone paper, one by three inches large, suspended from the bung by a piece of bent wire. This is made by dipping paper into melted sulphur. Then fill the cask, but endeavor to expose the wine as little as possible to the air. Never use a new cask in this process, as the wine will acquire a bad smell and taste from the fresh wood. Neither should you think of taking a barrel that has contained brandy, Madeira, or other wine than good Catawba, as these substances always impart a taste to the wine, and thus destroy the fine flavor of our delicate product.
Casks become what is called wine-green, or fit for old wine, after having had fermented in them sweet cider or grape must.
Empty casks may be kept in good order by being thoroughly cleaned, and after they have been left to dry for a few days, burn a piece of sulphur paper and bung them tightly, this may be repeated every three or four months. The burning sulphur produces sulphurous acid gas, which prevents putrefaction and acidulation, but they should be well rinsed before they are again used.
Special caution is given after racking the wine to keep the cask always bung-full; this requires frequent examination, cay every three or four weeks, when it should be filled up. In a cask that is not kept full, there is more evaporation, and in presence of the atmospheric air, acetous or vinegar fermentation is apt to be commenced, the white mould formed, and the wine is spoiled, never to be restored.
A great many persons believe that the racking of wine is not necessary, they say that it is thereby weakened, because the yeast and all the sedimentary matters gives strength to the wine. The temperature of the must during the first week of the first or quick fermentation is very much increased, the liquid from being clear, becomes turbid, owing to the separation and precipitation of the decomposed and effete ferment, the cream of tartar and other matters which are kept in continual motion by the escaping carbonic acid gas. In the second week the fermentation is moderated, the temperature is reduced; in the third week this reduction is still more observable, and fermentation nearly ceases, until the temperature becomes almost the same as the surrounding air, and cold weather comes on. At the end of December the wine will be nearly clear, and this is the time I recommend for the first racking.
At the end of February, the weather is still colder, and more of these foreign ingredients are separated, hence this period is recommended for the second racking, the wine will then be mellow and nearly clear.
In the middle of April, when the vines begin to push forth their buds, the wine ferments again, but if it has been well racked, it possesses little yeast, and the fermentation will be slow, and more of the sugar will be retained in an unchanged condition, so that the wine is more palatable.
What happens, on the contrary, with wines that have not been racked? With the increasing temperature of the season, in April or May, fermentation commences, and the escaping carbonic gas stirs up all the sediment from the bottom of the cask, bringing it into contact with the wine, which retains a portion of what it had before thrown off, the yeast also, thus mixed, will decompose more sugar, and the result will be a too hard and too astringent wine, that must require years to render it again mellow.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
There are four distinct stages in the making of wine after the grapes are grown.
The first is the harvesting of the grapes when they have reached the proper stage of maturity, which is known as "wine-making ripeness." This stage of ripeness is determined by means of a must-scale or saccharometer. The wine-maker squeezes the juice from a number of bunches of grapes into a receptacle into which he drops the must-scale, whereupon the sugar-content of the juice is indicated on the scale, determining whether the proper stage of ripeness has been reached. Suitable varieties of grapes having been grown, it is necessary that they be permitted to hang on the vine until the proper degree of ripeness is developed, after which they are delivered at the winery as free as possible from injury or decay.
The second stage is the preparation of the grapes for fermentation. The grapes are weighed on arriving at the winery and are then conveyed either by hand or more often by a mechanical conveyor to the hopper or crusher. The ancient method of crushing, which still prevails in some parts of Europe, was to tramp the grapes with bare feet or wooden shoes. Tramping has been superseded by mechanical crushers which break the skin but do not crush the seeds. The best mechanical crushers consist of two-grooved revolving cylinders. As the grapes pass through the crusher, they fall into the stemmer, a machine which tears off the stems, discharging them at one end, while the seeds, skins, pulp and juice pass through the bottom to the presses usually on the floor below. There are several types of wine-presses, all of which, however, are modifications of screw, hydraulic or knuckle-joint power. In large wineries, the hydraulic press has almost driven out the other two forms of power and when great quantities of grapes must be handled a number of hydraulic presses are usually in operation. The grape pomace is built up into a "cheese" by the use of cloths and racks variously arranged. The "cheese" is then put under heavy pressure from which the juice or "must" is quickly extracted.
The third stage is fermentation. The "must" is carried from the press into open tanks or vats which hold from 500 to 5000 gallons or even more. The yeast cells which cause fermentation may be introduced naturally on the skins of the grapes; or in many modern wineries the "must" is sterilized to rid it of undesirable micro-organisms and a "starter" of "wine-yeast" is added to start the fermentation. Yeast organisms attack the sugar and must, breaking it up into alcohol and carbonic acid gas, the latter passing off as it is formed. When active fermentation ceases, the new wine is drawn from the pomace and is put into closed casks or tanks where it undergoes a secondary fermentation, much sediment settling at the bottom of the cask. To rid the new wine of this sediment, it must be drawn off into clean casks, an operation called "racking." The first racking usually takes place within a month or six weeks. A second racking is necessary at the end of the winter and a third is desirable in the summer or fall.
The fourth stage is the aging of the wine. Before aging begins, however, the wine usually must be rendered perfectly clear and bright by "fining." The materials used in fining are isinglass, white of egg or gelatine. These, introduced into the wine, cause undissolved matters to precipitate. The wine is now ready for bottling or consumption. Most wines acquire a more desirable flavor through "aging," a slow oxidation in the bottles.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
The experienced taster, when called upon to give his opinion, looks at and attentively examines the wine. He then agitates it by shaking the glass, and, when necessary, places his hand round the glass in such a way as to warm the wine, thus favoring the volatilization of those matters which affect the olfactory organs; he then tastes it.
Sometimes the simple agitation of the wine by twirling the glass is not sufficient, especially when the sparkling and bouquet are to be particularly noticed. In this case the wine must be more thoroughly shaken, which is done by placing the palm of the left hand over the mouth of the glass, and then striking the bottom of it forcibly against the knee. This causes the wine to give off its odors, and in the case of sparkling wines its carbonic acid, more freely. The method, writes Ottavi, is not very polished or elegant, but accomplishes the purpose very well.
As can be easily seen the wine taster should preserve his senses, that is, those of smell and taste, with their utmost sensibility; this is only done by avoiding excesses of all kinds, for these in course of time are bound to diminish that sensibility, or to destroy it completely. Thus he must abstain from all highly alcoholic beverages, from strongly salted or flavored dishes, from tobacco in any form, and in general from everything that acts too energetically on the organs of the above-mentioned senses.
Physical indisposition, more especially affections of the nasal organs, the mouth, or throat, diminish or destroy all sensibility of the senses of taste and smell.
"Wine should not be tasted fasting, or it will taste weak and insipid; nor after drinking wine; nor with a full stomach. Moreover, the taster should not have eaten anything sour, salt, or bitter, nor anything which might change his taste; but he should have eaten a little, but not yet have digested it." -- Carlo Stefano.
The taster should not attempt to give his opinion of more than a certain number of wines at a time, as after having tasted a certain number the senses become temporarily much impaired and incapable of nice discrimination; nor should he judge of a wine after an abundant repast, as the various flavors of highly seasoned or sweetened foods have a great influence on the palate, and prevent it from judging a wine critically.
It is a well-known fact that after eating sweet fruit a wine seems to be rougher and harsher than it really is, whilst cheese, nuts, artichokes, etc., make it appear smoother and more delicate.
With piquant cheese, like Parmigiano and Roquefort more especially, which Grimod de la Reyniere has called "the tippler's biscuit," all wines seem good, or at least much better than they really are. It is also true that strong and badly tasting wines when drunk undiluted destroy the sensibility of the palate; people habituated to these wines end by being unable to find any taste in the fine wines of delicate flavor which are the delight of the connoisseur.
Tasters who are accustomed only to high-class wines, when they taste ordinary or low-class wines are apt to underrate them, if they do not reject them as altogether valueless, though they may be sound and clean tasting. On the other hand, tasters accustomed to ordinary wines almost always deem the prices paid for high-class wines excessive.
This suggests the importance of habit as a factor in the modifications which the taste may undergo. It may easily happen that the prolonged use of a substance may render the sense of taste obtuse, and that the tongue may become " saturated," as Brillat-Savarin says in one of his happy aphorisms. Thus, when the palate has become habituated to a taste, that which at first was intolerable becomes often pleasing and even necessary. Generally, however, habit educates the sense of taste and renders it acute.
Sometimes a taster is called upon to give an opinion as to the character, the good or bad qualities of a wine of a certain locality or of some particular producer or vineyard; in this case, even though he may be well acquainted with the kind of wine, to be able to give his decision with more confidence, he will carefully provide himself with a wine of the same type as that which he is called upon to judge; he can thus receive material aid by making a comparison.
Naturally, a taster who is used to the wines of a certain locality or country will be more easily able to detect the slightest differences between the wines of that locality, especially those differences in fine wines which distinguish wines produced by different vineyards even in the same locality, and when planted with the same varieties of grapes.
A taster should be very cautious in giving an opinion of a young wine, or of one whose origin is unknown, and of pronouncing on its intrinsic worth; the youth of the wine will often mask defects, which, later, become apparent.
When it is found necessary to taste several wines in succession, it is a good practice to eat a little dry bread between each wine, or to rinse out the mouth with a little fresh water, to neutralize the palate, so to speak.
It is always good to rinse out the mouth with fresh water before commencing to taste.
Before commencing the tasting, or rather the final tasting that on which is based the concluding judgment the wines should be sorted; for example, if the wines are of the same kind, but of different ages, it is best to begin by tasting the weakest, thinnest, or greenest wines, reserving the maturer wines and those which are more 'aromatic, smooth, or alcoholic for the last.
The same is true when there are many and diverse wines, as at an exposition. In this case the tasting proper should be preceded by an arranging of the various wines, a thing which is not done at all, or badly done as a rule, much to the detriment of the exhibitors. This selection should be based not on the labels on the bottles, or on the statements of the exhibitors, but on a preliminary tasting; in this way those who are to judge the wines will not be presented successively with different type's of wine, with wines of different qualities and ages together, and, as is unfortunately the case, sometimes with defective or bad ones.
There are tasters who are ready at any time to pass judgment on a wine; they will even taste directly after smoking. Their opinion, to say the least, is of little value.
A good taster is not always in condition to exercise his art, and for that reason must sometimes refuse to make a tasting when he does not feel in a state to judge critically.