Tuesday, September 15, 2015

ANCIENT FRENCE

In the 1800’s the French vineyards was devastated by many diseases but the main to afflict the vines was Phylloxera an insect which attacks the roots of the plants (this was coinciding with when the Greeks started growing raisins). If it weren't for the use of American root stock (which is immune to Phylloxera) being grafted with French vines then many of the grape variety we know today would be extinct. Every vineyard was replanted and now immune to the dreaded Phylloxera.

The French also hugely developed the effects that the barrel used for ageing has on the wine. They learnt that dampening and then placing the half completed barrels or Rose over a small fire chars or “Toasts” the inside of the barrel this will then affect the characteristics of the wine aged in the barrel. When buying a barrel from a cooper there are 3 options given light, medium or heavy toast, the toast chosen will depend on the grapes used and the desired style of the resulting wine. This heating also allows the wood to be bent to form the arches to obtain the shape of the wine barrel. They also learnt that white oak is the best wood to be used as this has the tight grain and fine tannin content as well as being particularly tough and it's bend ability which is fairly stable when going through wet swelling and dry shrinkage and, of course, it has desirable flavours to impart to the wine. Later on it was discovered that chestnut wood could be used, but they had to have the inside covered in paraffin or something similar to mask the bitter flavours. A wine barrel can be used for 5 years but after that the barrel stops imparting any flavour to the wine and should be disposed of. This is, of course, expensive and so several techniques have been employed to carry on using barrels. One is to shave the inside of used barrels and then insert new thin inner staves that have been toasted. Another option is to very simply to keep the wine in stainless steel containers and put bags of oak shavings in with the wine. Neither of these has managed to produce quite the same effect as a freshly made barrel.

Have you ever notice in French nostalgic wine posters that the peasant farmers always armed with a bottle of wine in one hand and a block of cheese in the other. Now I've brought this to your attention you may be wondering why wine and cheese are generally consumed at the same time. The reason for this is something Europeans learnt hundreds of years ago which was that the fats in cheese temper the bitter taste of tannin that cheap (especially red) wines have and makes the wine taste much better. So next time you're in the mood for a good wine but are short of cash you can substitute a good bottle of wine with your favorite cheap box of wine and a block of cheddar.

Now on to one of wines proudest moments in its long history I of course am referring to the creation on champagne. Despite common belief champagne was not created by the monk Don Perignon but was in fact was researched 30 years earlier by an English scientist and physician called Christopher Merrett in the paper he presented to the royal society in 1662 called “Some observations concerning the Ordering of wine”. Champagne was reserved for very special occasions such as French Coronation Festivities. Kings appreciated it so much they even sent it to as homage’s to other monarchs. The reason for champagne being held with such high regard was that because of the pressure on the bottles often caused them to explode. Also, the explosion from one bottle disintegrating would often cause a chain reaction amongst the bottles. This meant that it was common to lose 20-90% of champagne. The bottles were so volatile that the monks brewing had to wear heavy iron masks to protect themselves when in the cellars. The monks referred to champagne as “Devil’s wine” and so strongly did they dislike it that Don Perignon was sent down to the cellars with the specific job of getting rid of his Devil's wine. Fortunately, Don Perignon instead chose to accommodate for the new sparkling wine, with several different techniques. One was to thicken the glass of the wine bottles so they could withstand the pressure of the second formation. The other was his marvelous invention of the wire collar which also helped the cork withstand the pressure and meant that the monks could finally get rid of the iron masks. The difference in the making of champagne to wine is that there is a second fermentation process, which involves adding several more grams of yeast at least and then letting it ferment in the bottle. The carbon dioxide produced by this second fermentation then causes the bubbles (of carbon dioxide) to be released rapidly when the bottle is opened because carbon dioxide is not very soluble. It was also soon realized that imperfections in the glasses the wine was drunk from meant that a steady stream of bubbles. This led to the etching of glass to better the drink that little bit more. The champagne at this time was in fact far sweeter than what we drink today; this was because the Russians liked to have at least 300g per liter. It was not until 1846 when Perrier Jouët decided not to sweeten the champagne before exporting it to England. This then led to the trend towards the drier champagnes that we enjoy today.


Now on to new world wines such as Australia and the Americas, these wines are often looked down upon as inferior to European wine. Although they are now starting to produce some exquisite wines but it must also be said that these countries supply a large amount of standard table wine and less fine wine compared to Europe. There isn't much history to the Americas and Australia as they are recently founded countries so the accounts will be brief.

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