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General Presentation of Wine

General Presentation of Wine

Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented grape juice. Growing grapes for wine is one of the world's most important farming activities, and the industry is a major feature of the economy of many wine-producing countries. Wines may be either red, white, or rose and also dry, medium, or sweet. They fall into three basic categories: natural, or "table," wines, with an alcohol content of 8 to 14 percent, generally consumed with meals; sparkling wines, containing carbon dioxide, of which CHAMPAGNE is archetypal; and fortified wines, with an alcohol content of 15 to 24 percent, drunk either as an aperitif or with dessert, depending on their sweetness. The various types include PORT, SHERRY, and aromatic wines and bitters, such as VERMOUTH.


Old World

Cultivation of the vine began several thousand years before Christ and is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. The ancient Egyptians made wine; the early Greeks exported it on a considerable scale. During the Roman Empire vine cultivation was extended to such a degree that a surplus ensued, and in AD 92 the emperor Domitian decreed that half the vines outside Italy be uprooted. When replanting was later permitted, vineyards extended into northern France and Germany and even into southern England. The Middle Ages, AD c.400-1200, saw little progress in viticulture. From about 1200, monasteries kept alive the art of wine making. Later the nobility also owned extensive vineyards. The French Revolution and the secularization of the German vineyards by Napoleon, however, removed many vineyards from ecclesiastical hands. From the beginning of the 13th century, the wines of Bordeaux (an area under the English crown from 1152 to 1435) were commonly shipped to England, the Hanseatic ports, and the Low Countries. By the 14th century wines from Spain and Portugal were also widely exported. Drinking habits were largely governed by changing fashions at court, political relations with producing countries, and changing rates of excise duty. During the 18th century heavy duties on French wines and an English alliance with Portugal led to a sharp rise in English consumption of Portuguese wines. For convenience in commerce, the Bordeaux merchants classified their finest red wines as early as 1725, but it was not until 1855 that such a classification, based on the market price for each wine, received official recognition. The wines of the Medoc district were divided into five classes, or crus. The 1855 classification stands today with only one recent significant change. During the middle and second half of the 19th century the European vineyards suffered from a series of disastrous diseases and pests, particularly mildew, Oidium, and the plant louse, Phylloxera. First discovered in 1863, Phylloxera spread across Europe, destroying the vines by attacking their roots. Not until about 1880 was the grafting of European vine species onto immune American rootstock accepted as the only viable solution. Selective replanting also led to improved grapes. Simultaneously, a movement began to ensure the authenticity of wine, culminating (1936) in France when the appellation controlee (quality control) law, now the model for similar legislation in other countries, came into effect. The law allows only wine made from grapes grown in the Champagne region, for example, to be called "champagne."

New World

European colonists endeavored to produce wine wherever possible and were particularly successful in Australia, South Africa, South America, and California. The last is still the most important wine-producing state in the United States. Its earliest vineyards were planted by Franciscan monks in 1769, but it was not until the mid-1830s that wine was produced on a commercial scale. The industry grew until the devastation to the wine market caused by PROHIBITION. Following repeal in 1933, the California wine industry revived gradually: in 1934 the California Wine Institute was founded, and following World War II the University of California became a center for wine research. Methods of viticulture and enological practices in California are now among the most advanced in the world. Production is large and increasing, and the finest California wines are now acknowledged to match many of the long-established European classics.



French wines lead the world in quality. The area adjacent to the port of Bordeaux is the home of the widely planted "noble" vine, the Cabernet Sauvignon, which, with other related varieties, principally Cabernet Franc and Merlot, produces such famous red wines as the chateaux Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton-Rothschild in the Medoc district; Haut-Brion from the Graves; Cheval-Blanc and Ausone in Saint Emilion; and Petrus in Pomerol. Equally renowned is Chateau d'Yquem, a luscious white wine produced in Sauternes from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. A large number of other chateaux produce a vast quantity of red and white wine of middle and lesser quality. Burgundy is a smaller region but produces many famous wines from two related grape varieties: Pinot Noir for reds and Chardonnay for whites. The best reds come from the Cote d'Or, a narrow strip of hilly land that follows the course of the Saone River and extends roughly from Dijon for 60 km (37 mi) south to Chagny, a town 20 km (12 mi) to the south of Beaune, the municipal heart of the Burgundian wine trade. The Cote d'Or is traditionally divided between the stronger, heartier red wines of the Cote de Nuits, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanee, and Nuits-Saint-Georges, and the more delicate reds of the Cote de Beaune, such as Beaune, Pommard, and Volnay. Of equal standing are the dry white Burgundies: Chablis from the north; and Corton-Charlemagne, the Montrachets, and the Meursaults from the southern part of the Cote d'Or. Southern Burgundy has extensive vineyards producing good red wines of lesser quality: Macon Rouge, Mercurey, and Beaujolais from the Gamay grape, plus dry whites, including the currently popular and overpriced Pouilly-Fuisse. The Champagne region in northern France produces indisputably the best sparkling wine in the world (see CHAMPAGNE). Other good sparkling wines are produced in the Loire, Burgundy, and Savoie. The Rhone valley produces excellent full-bodied reds such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cote Rotie, and Hermitage; rare and subtle whites such as Condrieu and Chateau Grillet; and the most renowned rose, Tavel. Alsace, in the Rhine valley to the east, produces consistently good quality white wines named for the grape variety: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Sylvaner, and others. The Loire valley, in west central France, produces excellent, light, and refreshing white wines such as Sancerre and Muscadet; the well-known rose d'Anjou; and the minor reds Chinon and Bourgeuil. The Midi and Provence regions in the south of France produce a great deal of ordinary wine, as well as some aperitif and dessert wines and popular roses.


Mainly light, fruity white wines are made in Germany. The finest of these are made of the Riesling grape from three districts on the banks of the Rhine: from the Rheingau, Rheinhesse, and Rheinpfalz; from the Nahe Valley; and from the Mosel/Saar/Ruwer valleys. The alcoholic content of German wine is low, about 9 percent, and the wines vary from dry to extremely sweet. The Germans tend to enjoy their wines drunk alone rather than with food. German wine laws, revised in 1971, are complicated: wines are classified according to must weight (the sugar content of the grape juice) and labeled by town of origin, vineyard, vintage, grape variety, and quality. Quality designations in ascending order of sweetness and price are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese.


From southern Spain comes SHERRY, the most versatile and classic fortified wine. Sherry ranges from the dry manzanilla and fino through the medium-dry amontillado to the sweet oloroso and "cream" styles. Sherry is blended, may be sweetened, and is usually fortified with brandy. In northeast Spain, on the banks of the Ebro River, is the Rioja, now acknowledged as the country's leading table-wine area, producing excellent, long-lived reds and dry whites. Farther east, near Barcelona, the Torres family of Panades produces high-quality Catalonian table wine.


Portuguese wines vary from such popular light, slightly sparkling pink wines as Mateus and Lancers to the most renowned of all fortified dessert wines, PORT. The best reds come from the north central Dao region, which also produces some whites. In the far north of Portugal the light, acidic vinho verde ("green wine") is made. Madeira is made on and called after the Portuguese-owned island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Morocco. Along with sherry and port, Madeira is one of the oldest classic dessert wines. It is known by the four principal grape varieties used to make it. These are, in ascending order of sweetness and richness, Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.


Italy shares honors with France as the world's most prolific wine producer. The best-known Italian wines are from the north; Barolo, the sparkling Asti Spumante, and the wines used in making VERMOUTH from Piedmont; Chianti from Tuscany; Soave, Valpolicella, and Bardolino from Veneto; and the sweetish red Lambrusco, from central Italy. Grape varieties are numerous and include indigenous grapes, such as the Nebbiolo from Piedmont. A wine law passed in 1963 defined more than 200 wines of high quality. The quality seal is Denominazione d'Origine Controllata, or DOC.

South America

Argentina, a major wine producer, and Chile have both exported large quantities of inexpensive wine for many years. In response to an increasingly knowledgeable U.S. market, however, they now export some of their better wines, made chiefly from European varietals.


Algeria, once a colony of France, is a major wine producer. The South African wine industry dates from the mid-1600s, and Cape wines were fashionable for nearly 100 years, from about 1750. The area is now known for its sherry.


Vines were first planted in Australia by English settlers, and the industry grew rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. Australia is now one of the most wine-conscious countries in the world, producing and consuming wine of every style and quality.

United States

Beginning in the 1950s the local reputation of the few fine wines made in California started to spread throughout the country. In the 1970s and '80s, demand for these wines expanded so rapidly that the number of premium wineries grew from fewer than ten to more than 600 by the mid-1980s. Nine-tenths of the U.S. vineyards are in California, where an ideal grape-growing climate and the support of wealthy and knowledgeable amateurs have encouraged growers and wine makers to strive for the highest standards. As a result California produces a large quantity of good commercial wines and some of very high quality. Although wine is made in no fewer than 34 states, only California wines can be said to rival those of France. French wines are usually named by the region, town, or vineyard where they are produced, and, occasionally, by a generic name (Beaujolais). California wines, on the other hand, are often named for the principal grape variety used in making the wine. The finest California red wines are made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. Others include the Pinot Noir, Grenache (a rose grape), Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. Fine whites are led by the Chardonnay, by Pinot Blanc, and by some late-harvested Rieslings. Wines from the Chenin Blanc and Semillon grapes are not in the same class. The finest wines are made in the Napa and Sonoma valleys north of San Francisco, in nearby Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and in an expanding grape-growing area to the south of San Francisco Bay as far as Monterey. Mass-produced table and dessert wines come mainly from the Central Valley. Every size and class of producer is found in California, from small, family-owned premium wineries to huge enterprises making inexpensive "jugs" through high-priced vintage wines. (Viticulture is also increasing in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, which produce their own characteristic wines.) Unfortunately, a new strain of Phylloxera has attacked the rootstocks of some of the vines that had previously been thought resistant. Making its appearance in 1979, it has gradually infested vineyards throughout the region but primarily in the premium wine-producing areas of Sonoma and Napa counties. As in the late 19th century, the cure remains in finding resistant rootstocks to replace the vulnerable types or in eliminating the production of wines made from particularly hard-stricken grapes, such as the Chenin Blanc varietal. The second most important U.S. wine-producing area is New York State, particularly the Finger Lakes region, south of Lake Ontario. Large and small growers battle high heat in the growing season and extreme cold in the winter to produce a large quantity of wines of varying quality.


The quality and quantity of grapes depend on geographical, geological, and climatic conditions in the vineyards, and on the grape variety and methods of cultivation. Some of these factors may be governed by local laws.


The crop is harvested in the autumn when the grapes contain the optimum balance of sugar and acidity. For the sweet white wines of Bordeaux and Germany, picking is delayed until the grapes are affected by a beneficial mold, Botrytis cinerea, which concentrates the juice by dehydration.


For red wine, the grapes are crushed immediately after picking and the stems generally removed. The yeasts present on the skins come into contact with the grape sugars, and fermentation begins naturally. Cultured yeasts, however, are sometimes added. During fermentation the sugars are converted by the yeasts to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol extracts color from the skins; the longer the vatting period, the deeper the color. Glycerol and some of the esters, aldehydes, and acids that contribute to the character, bouquet, and taste of the wine are by-products of fermentation. Traditional maturation of red wine, as practiced, for instance, in Bordeaux, then takes up to two years in 50-gallon oak casks, during which time the wine is racked--drawn off its lees, or sediment--three or four times into fresh casks to avoid bacterial spoilage. Further aging is usually advisable after bottling. The juice of most grape varieties is colorless. Grapes for white wine are also pressed immediately after picking, and the must starts to ferment. Fermentation can proceed until it is completed, which will make a dry white wine; or it can be stopped to make a sweeter wine. Maturation of white Burgundy and some California Chardonnays still takes place in oak casks, but vintners tend now to use large tanks of such modern materials as stainless steel. Minimum contact with the air retains the freshness of the grapes. To make rose wines, the fermenting grape juice is left in contact with the skins just long enough for the alcohol to extract the required degree of color. Vinification then proceeds as for white wine. The best and most expensive sparkling wines are made by the champagne method, in which cultured yeasts and sugar are added to the base wine, inducing a second fermentation in the bottle. The resulting carbon dioxide is retained in the wine. Other methods, such as carbonation, are also practiced. The alcohol content of fortified wines is raised by adding grape spirits. With port and madeira, brandy added during fermentation kills off the yeasts, stopping fermentation, and leaves the desired degree of natural grape sugar in the wine. Sherry is made by adding spirit to the fully fermented wine. Its color, strength, and sweetness are then adjusted to the required style before bottling.


Like other commodities, wine is subject to the laws of supply and demand. Wine is an agricultural product, and the time between planting new acreage and mature grape production is relatively long. Since the end of World War II the demand for table wine in the West has increased steadily. Also during this period the classic fine wines of Europe, with their traditional and limited production methods, have increased considerably in price. At the same time newer regions, including California, have increased and improved production to provide the consumer with everyday drinking wines. The great increase in wine consumption in the United States and elsewhere has by no means saturated production capacity; indeed, there is almost a permanent world overproduction of wine. The price of fine wines will likely increase still further under the impetus of the demand for them both for drinking and for investment buying. In the long term the price of fine and everyday wines will be affected by the performance of the economy of the West and the consequent affluence of the average consumer, and by inflation.

Bottle Storage

Wine bottles should be laid on their side to prevent the corks from drying out and the air getting at the wine. There should be no great fluctuation in temperature: 13-16 degrees C (55-60 degrees F) for reds, 10-13 degrees C (50-55 degrees F) for whites being ideal. Humidity should be 70 to 80 percent, and the storage place should be free from drafts, light, and vibration.


Red wine should be served at room temperature, 18-22 degrees C (65-72 degrees F). White and rose wines should be at refrigerator temperature, 6-10 degrees C (43-50 degrees F). Only wines that have thrown a sediment in the bottle, such as vintage port, red Bordeaux, and red Burgundy, need be decanted before drinking.

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