- Wine, in reasonable quantities and without abusing it, is good for your health to a certain extend.
- Wine is a natural agricultural product that has existed and has been domesticated by men (and women) for at least the past 4-5000 years (and may be more), and so far nobody died from drinking and consuming wine in regular basis in moderate quantity.
- The natural vitamins, minerals, tannins and anti-oxidant that it contains are really beneficial for your body and blood.
- Wine also opens your appetite and triggers conversations around the table with friends and family. It also ease business lunches or meetings.
- If you are stress or tense, a glass of wine is often a good way to de-stress and relax, in front of the TV, listening music, or reading a good book.
- From Pasteur's point of view, it is the most hygienic drinks of all and I'm sure most of today's doctors and scientists still agree with him.
- from an old official French road book, this very convincing French advertisement from 1933-34, on the front page of the "Cartes Taride" France Routière Kilometrique Reference # 75 (see my post on Highly Expensive Wines of 07.31.09), which contains one of Pasteur's most famous sentence:
- and few more funny French classic sentences and statistics of this period (mid-1930):"Give the preference to restaurants that include wine in the price of the meal.""Human Average Life: 59 years for a water drinker against 65 years for a wine drinker"
"87 % of the centenarian are wine drinkers."
"Wine is the milk of the elder."
In the 50s and 60s, the end of the 2nd World War and the baby boom explosion that increased the world population from approximately 2.5 billions (in the 20s-30s) to roughly 4 billions people (in the mid 60s) multiplied the wine (and other agricultural) production and thus consumption. Therefore, growers and producers, due to an increase of the demand, started to plant vines everywhere without paying too much attention to the type of soil, Terroir, micro-climate, etc.. The idea was to satisfy the demand fast. So, they over-produced and spoiled the soils using chemicals like herbicides, pesticides and unnatural fertilizers. The use of spraying and harvesting with machines was more frequent, although it compromised the quality of the wine, it was faster and somewhat less costly. Those were dark years for some and extremely good years for others. In any case, demand was satisfy with detriment to nature. Greed was here again and has always a destructive factor.
Fortunately, by the end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s, researches and studies confirmed the presence of chemical residues in certain wines from certain wine regions, which could be harmful to a certain extend and after long recurrent consumption. It also confirmed abuse of unlawful methods and practices. People started to get upset, pointed fingers and accused these "malfaçons". Things were changing for the better and people's mentality slowly reshaped with the right or more appropriate (should I say) attitude.
However, by the mid 90s and beginning of 2000s, population has grown up to 6.5 billions on our little planet and demand still increased. Consumers were more and more knowledgeable and eager to learn and taste more from various regions all around the world. Important and needed researches and studies of the soil's type, difference of Terroir, sun exposition, climate and micro-climate, and more importantly the planting and replanting of the most appropriate type of grape variety, leaded to better quality wines, still massively produced somehow yet with less chemicals and more nature oriented concerns.
Since the mid-2000s, after nearly 30 years of specific governmental and non-governmental organization's warnings against global warming, extreme temperature variations, pollutions of all sorts, season's natural cycle changed, melting of Polar ice caps and glaciers, ozone layer, gas carbon emissions, weakening of the planet's natural protecting barriers against the sun, unexplained and misunderstood animal behaviors, more endangered species due to the destruction of their natural habitat, shortage of clean water supply and the various campaigns to return to a greener and more natural way of producing, it is, as it has always been, the agricultural world, those close to nature and the environment, that first heard the call and pulled the alarm.
Now in 2010, with about 7 billions people on the planet, and more aware than ever before about our planet scarred ecosystem, but still far from being able to reverse the process yet, the trend of coming back to the natural and biological winemaking and other agricultural producing ways of our great-grandfather, finally settled in the minds of some people that are ready for a change for the better. We are still a minority that are trully interested in the future of our planet and try to listen and act accordingly for a greener, more natural and less polluted world, but we getting there slowly and hoping many more will understand and follow and especially act: by replanting a three where one has been uprooted, using less water, less electricity, less gas and preserve the environment by using greener, organic, biodynamic, sustainable and recycled products.
However, the increasing production of more natural, biological and organic wines from sustainable cultures and "Lutte Raisonnée", using less or no chemicals, herbicides, pesticides and more use of fertilizers made with natural composts less harmful for the soils, the wines, the environment and the consumers, is also a sign of the awareness and willingness for people to produce and drink more natural and healthier wines that won't harm their body (or anything else) with unwanted chemical residues and unnatural modified components. Remember, less than 10 years ago, rare where the people who wanted to taste, eat or drink organic products. Nowadays, more and more people want natural products and try to be greener by doing simple acts in their everyday life.
In short we can say that wine is getting better after nearly 50 years of trying to modify our great-grandfathers methods, which in fact were much better than anything that we try to invent since the post 2 World War years. The addition of new technology to better understand and better produce was needed and end up by being beneficial for the people to comprehend what we did wrong. Matter of fact, nature and technology are totally compatible when used and blended for the good reasons and progress for the better rather than by greed and financial dividends.
I realize after years in the business that customers always make the same little mistakes when choosing wines in wine stores. Lack of attention or lack of knowledge? That is why, I'm always trying to aware my customers about the few little things that will surely enhance their (and now yours) shopping and drinking experience (if you follow them too):
- always choose a bottle laying down rather than a bottle standing up, unless no choice.
- a bit of dust on a laying down bottle is not a bad sign, it just means that it never really been moved, which is often better, especially if the store is at constant and controlled temperature. Yet a dusty standing up bottle is always a bad sign and the wine may be bad or oxidized.
- the front standing up bottle is the last one you should chose for 3 reasons: it is always the one that people take, check and put back on the shelf; it is also the one that receive the most light and wine doesn't like light; the last reason is that if you happen to buy a bottle of wine standing up in retail store where there is not much turn over (and obviously not much business), the cork may have dried and the wine may be oxidized or totally off.
- a temperature controlled store (or room) will always be better than a store (or room) where the temperature is constantly going up and down which will accidentally accelerate the evolution of the wine in the bottle or even cook it if the temperature is constantly high. A temperature controlled store where the temperature is cool and controlled, is always a good sign; at least it means that the owner of the store cares about the appropriate conditions to display and store his bottles, and try to offer his wines in the best possible conditions.
- If you happen to shop in a store where the shelves go up to the ceiling, never choose a bottle of wine (laying down or standing up) which is located at the very top shelves near the ceiling of a store (especially if dusty) because during winter, even if the store is temperature controlled, it is where the heat of the room will concentrate and surely deteriorate the wine in most bottles.
- also, never buy standing up bottles that are located near the windows or opening doors, first for temperature variations which may damaged the wine; secondly for the light which also may alter the wine; and thirdly and more importantly, because if it is really sunny (cold or warm outside), the ray of sun may in any case warm up the bottles and surely deteriorate the wine inside.
- the best wine retail stores and warehouses are usually temperature controlled or usually have a temperature controlled room, generally in the basement, that they use for the best and age worthy wines that need more time, care and attention.
- sometimes, wine consultants may be annoying by asking to many times if you need help or if you would like a recommendation or a suggestion, but in my opinion, it is better than a store where nobody cares about you and service comes last. A knowledgeable wine consultant is often more helpful than annoying, and usually he or she tasted quite a few of the wines on the shelves, and should be able to advise you and/or at least point out the wines that will correspond to your taste and/or your need.
Here are a few things that you may already know, however, it is always good to keep them in mind:
- Along with ripe fruit and tannins, acidity is crucial for the longevity of a wine; as a result a wine that has optimal ripeness, good acidity and tannin structure will surely aged longer than a wine which is over-ripe and full of alcohol or a wine which is lean, acidic and under-ripe.
- funkiness like animal or mushroomy or musty notes on the nose may not be often attractive, but it isn't necessarily a default. It may have been created by brettanomyces or may be the result of a slight oxidation or wine disease or even slight corkness, only in these specific cases, it is a default. Certain funky aromas and flavors may be created by the environment of the wine in the cellar (unclean barrels, vats or cellar) or in the vineyard (close to a busy road, a factory, etc..) or even by some components in the soil.
- Acidity is very important for the balance and the freshness of the wine; but if too present in the palate, it can also alter the wine and give it a sour taste, and in some case a puckering sourness which is unpleasant. Acidity never really comes down in the wine, it remains until the end, fruit may drop and the wine may die but the acidity will still be there.
- Tannins are important for the structure of the wine: they frame all the components has a base for the wine. However, if green, under-ripe or too present and dry, tannins can also alter the wine and give it a green, bitter taste, even sour at time. Tannins should normally mellow down and become more integrated with time and complement the fruit and the overall profile of the wine.
- Alcohol is an important component of the wine, often indicating the ripeness, the fullness or heaviness, and strength of a wine. Yet, here too, if not well integrated and too present, alcohol may be a default and bring some bitterness to the wine along with an unpleasant firing sensation in the back palate.
- An harmonious wine, even a rustic or earthy or funky one, usually balances fruit, acidity, alcohol and tannins in such a way that it is pleasant from beginning to the end; it is focus and makes you want another glass immediately.
- An inharmonious wine, even a rustic or earthy or funky one, is usually unbalanced, has little or no focus at all and can appear disjointed, mono-dimensional or even presents some angularities: too much tannins, too much acidity, too much alcohol, too much oaky toasted flavors, too dry, too lean, too thin, too much upfront in the attack or too much in the back palate, no mid-palate, etc...
- In the bottle, sediments are usually a sign of a naturally made wine that has been bottled without fining or filtration (or just a light filtration). It is not a default and can also be a sign of age, the depot of sediment lay down on the side of the laying down bottle, creating like a stain. This type of wine usually requires a little decantation with or without a fennel (with or without a filter mesh). like I used to do it when I when a Chef Sommelier, you can also help yourself with the flame of a candle to control the sediments during the decanting. If you checked a bottle containing sediments just make sure that you let it rest before decanting it or pouring it, to allow the sediments to slowly fall back down at the bottom of the bottle.
- Another form of sedimentation can appear at the bottom of the cork under the form of small crystallized shapes, but do not worry, this not a default either. It is just crystallized natural components of the wine, and it is called a tartaric precipitation. It usually occurs, less and less due to new technology and cold stabilization, when a wine hasn't been cold stabilized or when an important change of temperature has happened during transportation or storage (if the warehouse or the wine fridge is too cold). Nowadays, most whites are cold stabilized and the phenomenon rarely happen to most whites but can still be seen with some reds. The change of temperature may have alter the wine a little, but because it is normally caused by lower temperatures, it may just have slow down the evolution of the wine in the bottle rather than damaged it (although if not too recommended, it is not necessarily a bad thing).
- If the level of the wine in the bottle is low, it may be a sign of age and slight natural evaporation of the wine with time. Yet, in some cases, it may also be the result of a bad storage of a bottle that has been standing up for too long and the cork may have dry up a little. In any case, when you buy a bottle of wine in a store or in a restaurant, especially if it is an old vintage, always ask to see the level of the bottle. Higher neck to up shoulder is usually respectively good to OK, lower shoulder of the bottle could be a problem and the wine may oxidized or even off (yet you will only be able to figure it out by tasting the wine).
- In the glass, color doesn't mean anything. Some people may say that it is a sign of concentration and heaviness of the wine, well I will say that it is only a sign of extraction of the different component of the gapes contained in the skin (color, tannins, etc..) during the maceration and alcoholic fermentation. Basically, the more concentrate you want the color of your wine to be, the longer the maceration and part of the alcoholic fermentation will be. But color doesn't impart or influence smell, proof is that it exist some very light in color wines that have a lot of aromas and that are very expressive... as you can have very deep, opaque colored wine that are very tight, closed and totally inexpressive (and vice et versa).
- about the aromas, wine is easily influenced and tend to reflects some of the scents from its surrounding environment: bees and other insects usually pollinate all plants, even vines, and often leave minuscule particles floating in the air. The pollen mixes with the vines flowers and other surrounding scents are also absorbed by the vine leaves, that is why it is not surprising to retrieve some of these natural scents (and components) in the nose of a wine (and even in the taste). In the nose and in the palate, some wines can be fruity, floral, spicy, peppery and more. Toastiness, oakiness, some of the spiciness, smokiness, butteriness, woodiness are usually created by the oak barrels (or vats or foudres) treatments (new oak, used oak) and for how long. Minerality, earthyness, rusticity, animal aromas and flavors are usually created by the components of the soil (sand, stone, earth, schist, gravel, clay, limestone, chalk, slate, etc...) but also by some of the plants and trees around. Bad smell and taste can also created by the vinification conditions in the cellar: i.e. you can have the best fruit ever with the perfect ripeness, yet you can still make a bad wine due to lack of hygiene in the cellar (brettanomyces, etc...) and other bad cellar conditions.
- Terroir is usually a concept or a notion of factors and knowledge regarding a specific, delimited area that has particular soil characteristics, sun exposure, micro-climate, geographic and geologic typicality, giving the produced wines of this particular area specific and usually distinct character, smell, aromas, flavors and taste. Obviously, here again, wine is very influential and tend to take the best (or the worst) of what its area of origin has to offer.
- Taste is about as much as the quality of the grape, its specific grape variety, its region of origin and Terroir, its vinification, as it is the desired style of the winemaker. Proof is wines from the same region and even from vineyards close to each other can vary from the lightest to the heaviest and ripest, from the brightest and refreshing to the more alcoholic and tiring, from the earthiest most esoteric to the most crowd pleasing commercial style.
- Taste is very subjective, that is why one shouldn't only rely on only one critic or magazine or writer, one should learn how to diversify the source of its information and read the opinions of different people to make a decision or really make sure that the wine he or her wants to buy corresponds to his or her taste. The best thing to do is to read and taste as much as you can: to begin with teach your palate with different international white grape varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Muscat to start for the whites than slowly move up to Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussane, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Gruner-Veltliner, Muller-thurgau, Ugny Blanc, Colombard, Gros and Petit Manseng, Macabeo, Alvariño, Godello, Hondarribi Zuri, Garganega, etc...) and for the red (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Grenache, Syrah to start then move on to Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Cinsault, Carignan, Tannat, etc...).
- To develop your taste buds, buy 3-4 bottles of wine from different region or even country but made with the same grape variety for you to understand the difference in taste in between the wine. Invite some friends or family to make it more fun and interactive. For example, you could buy some Sauvignon(s) Blanc like a Sancerre, a Pouilly Fumé or even a Quincy (for budget oriented people like me) and compare them with a New Zealand, a Californian and a Chillean Sauvignon Blanc. You'll see it is fun and easy, and you will learn a great deal in no time (as well as the friends and family participating in these tastings). It is the best way to educate you palate: reading a lot, studying maps and geography with a touch of topography if you want to go deeper in the subject, but more especially tasting, tasting, and more tasting.
Wine opens discussions and debates around the tables of hundreds of thousands houses everywhere around the globe from lunch to afternoon to dinner to after dinner for any occasions. Consume it with moderation and don't abuse it, just enjoy it responsibly the way you want and more importantly the way you feel, 'cause with wines nothing is really written in stone and because tasting is so subjective and personal, no one can really judge you on your own taste buds sensation and reaction.
To be continued..... This post is long enough and as usual I wrote a bit too much, but you see, after my little family (my wife and my son) wine and writing are my two passions. I could continue for pages and pages, but I'll stop here for today.
LeDom du Vin AKA Dominique Noël (www.LeDomduVin.com)
Step into the Green! Drink more Biodynamic and Organic wine (and food) from sustainable culture and respect the environment! Support the right causes for the Planet and all the people suffering all around the globe!