Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Good French Bordeaux Claret in 1815

Bordeaux, FranceThe following is excerpted from "Process for making and preparing Claret Wine for shipping; without which preparation such wines are considered unfit for exportation, being in its natural state about the strength of our common Cider.", The American Practical Brewer and Tanner, by Joseph Coppinger, 1815. It provides an interesting description of how the Bordeaux grapes were trod by foot, fermented, and aged, and of the different "growths" produced.

Claret wine, before the French revolution, was the staple article of export from the great commercial City of Bordeaux, to every part of Europe. And, it may be presumed, will soon again re-assume its wanted importance.

The vintage generally begins, for making this sort of wine, about the middle or latter end of September, and is generally finished in all the month of October. The mode by which the juice is expressed from the grape, is by the workmen trampling them with their bare feet in a large reservoir or cooler, (not the cleanest operation in the world,) which has an inclination to the point where the spout or spouts are placed for taking off the expressed juice, which is conveyed to large open vats, that are thus filled with this juice to within ten or twelve inches of the upper edge; this space is left to make room for the fermentation, which spontaneously takes place in this liquor.

After the first fermentation is over, and the wine begins to purify itself, which is ascertained by means of a small cock placed in the side of the vat, and takes place generally by the middle of February, or beginning of March, in the following year; it is then racked off into hogsheads, carefully cleansed, and a match of sulphur burned in each cask before filling; when thus racked off, it is bunged up, and immediately bought up by brokers for the Bordeaux merchants, and here it is made to undergo the second or finishing fermentation, in the following manner: It may be proper here to remark, that claret wine is generally divided into three growths, first, second, and third; the first growths, namely, Latour, Lafeet, and Chateaux Margo (editor -- now called Chateau Margaux), are uniformly rented for a term of years, at a given price, to English merchants, through whom, or their agents only is there a possibility of procuring any portion of this wine.

The second growths are shipped to the different markets of Europe, North and South America; and the third growth principally to Holland and Hamburgh. In order to strengthen the natural body of claret wine, and to render it capable of bearing the transition of the sea, the first and second growths are allowed from ten to fifteen gallons of good Alicant wine to every hogshead, with one quart of stum. The casks are then filled up and bunged down. They are then ranged three tier high from one end of the cellar to the other, each tier about eighteen inches, with two stanchions of stout pine plank, firmly placed between the heads of each hogshead, from one end of the cellar to the other, until they have reached, and are supported by, the end walls of the building. This precaution is necessary to guard against the force of fermentation, which is often so strong as to burst out the heads of the hogsheads, notwithstanding the precautions taken to secure them in the situation during the summer heats.

The wine cooper, who has the charge of these wines, regularly visits them twice a day, morning and evening, in order to see the condition of the casks, and when he finds the fermentation too strong, he gives vent, and thus prevents the bursting of the casks.

The third, or inferior growth, is exactly treated in same way, with the single exception of having Benicarlo wine substituted for Alicant in preparing them for their second fermentation, as cheaper and better suited to their quality; both these wines are of Spanish growth, and brought to Bordeaux by the canal of Languedoc: they are naturally of a much stronger body than native claret.

Thus mixed and fermented, the claret becomes fortified, and rendered capable of bearing the transition of seas and climates. About the latter end of September, or beginning of October, the fermentation of these wines begins to slacken, and they gradually become fine; in this state they are racked off into fresh hogsheads carefully cleansed, and a match of sulphur burned in each before filling. After this operation, they are suffered to remain undisturbed (save that they are occasionally ullaged,) till about to be shipped, when they are racked off a second time, and fined down with the white of ten eggs to each hogshead; these whites are well beat up together with a small handful of white salt; after this fining, when rested, the hogsheads are filled up again with pure wine, and then carefully bunged down with wooden bungs, surrounded with clean linen to prevent leaking; in this state the wines are immediately shipped.

Here it may be proper to state, that the lees that remain on the different hogsheads that have been racked off, are collected and put into pipes of one hundred and forty, or one hundred and fifty gallons each, and this lee wine, as it is termed, is fined down again with a proportionate number of eggs and salt. After which, it is generally shipped off as third growth, or used at table mixed with water.

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