Know your wine – An Introduction

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Well, I finally did it and got off ma erchie to help, in a small way, the Newsnet crusade of bringing truthful news to the Scottish people. Never have so many been so ill served by their news providers, state or free enterprise, than Scotland.

Newsnet deserves to develop from a web based blog to a full scale media service bypassing the dead hand of the unionist masters.  So, I have decided to offer a series of articles on wine, maybe beer and spirits too, to help them develop some news breadth and increased interest. I hope so anyway.

Me, well I am an ex-patriot Scot living in SW France, still working away in an industry I love and enjoy; ra bevvy or at least the technology of the production of it rather than the consumption. OK, I tell porkies, I enjoy a wee swally of the red biddy too.

My perspective on wine is that of a production technologist focused on certain quality aspects, that of faults and their correction.

These series of pieces will focus on an analysis of the World of wine rather than the specifics or tasting notes on different wines. The tasting and thus the enhancement of your appreciation I leave to each and every one of you to pursue alone, in wee groups or just gently doon the howf with delightful company.

My background is that I am a professional brewer (Tennents) and Scotch distiller who wandered into the wine industry as an “expert” in the fermentation process. I have worked with companies and organisations in most major countries where alcohol is fermented for oral consumption or even to power cars. I have worked with people who have broken laws to make moonshine, although I never encouraged them to do and never actually saw them do it; I just provided the technological nous which they put into practice. If you have drunk homebrew, in the UK, Scandinavia, USA and Canada as well as micro brewed beer you have probably benefited from my savvy and unfortunately for me, my employer benefited more than I did but at least I did to visit countries and see places I never imagined when I set out on my journey.

So, now a global perspective on wine

Vineyards occupy about 7.6 million hectares of the Earth and this figure hasn’t changed much in the last twenty years, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. This about the same as the surface area of Scotland, not a lot of the World but economically and (organoleptically) gratifyingly significant.

Actual wine production is about 270 million hectolitres or in real money, 27,000,000,000 (27 billion litres). The World’s population is about 7 billion and so this amounts to just under 4 litres of wine per man, woman and child. Judging by my consumption there must be a lot of teetotalers out there which is a pity, because there is ample evidence that modest consumption of alcohol does increase life expectancy. Moderate alcohol use, especially when the beverage of choice is red wine, is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability. How to arrive at a definition of moderate consumption is something I will try to tackle later in the series.

By continent Europe is easily the largest producer of wine, as it has always been although production is in real terms declining, from about 78% in 1988 to about 68% in 2009.

The production crown in Europe moves between France and Italy harvest by harvest, between 45 to 50 million hectolitres per year (4.5 to 5.0 billion litres). This amounts to about 80 litres per person.

Between them, France, Italy and Spain account for about 48% of the World’s production.

Effectively through the OIV (Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin) the technical standards of wine are defined and their imposition are managed, worldwide. As this is the de facto agency at the centre of the EU’s decision making process on all matters technical, the EU plays a very significant role in the controls of wine standards well beyond its boundaries. The member states are as follows:

Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Luxemburg, FYR Macedonia, Malta, Moldavia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Uruguay. 

Note the absence of the USA, Canada and the UK.

So wine really is a worldwide business of some economic consideration. It would interest you as a consumer that despite there being hundreds of grape varieties available most high quality wine are produced from only 11 classic varieties;

White

  • 1)      Chardonnay
  • 2)      Riesling
  • 3)      Gewurtztraminer
  • 4)      Chenin Blanc
  • 5)      Sauvignon Blanc
  • 6)      Semillion

Red

  • 7)    Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 8)    Merlot
  • 9)    Pinot Noir
  • 10)   Syrah
  • 11)   Grenache

There are other grape varieties used but these are the ones in most wines whether you realise or not, whether it is declared on the label or not.

How then can we have such a rich variation of wines if there are only really 11 grape varieties?

The answer is that wine reflects not only the grape but the soil the grape grows in, the climate and the weather, the viticultural techniques and process of transforming the grape into juice into wine.

Know your grapes, know the climate and soil (little but not too much) and what the winemaker is trying to do and you should be able to make a better informed choice of wine and be more able to profit from the bargains that abound for those in the know.

The process of peeling off the layers of mystery and marketing BS is about to begin.

…… to be continued.