Friday, May 31, 2013

BRAMBLES: Grape A to Z

Alexander Valley Zinfandel
As with old vine Zinfandel, long-in-the-tooth persistence can pay off.  I've been on a long quest for a prized certification, and have been frustrated with my results as of late.  With age comes perspective, they say, and so I have come to recognize that this coveted prize is just as much about how you get there as the goal.  As a result, I've decided to pull back, to go back to the basics to begin anew an understanding of the composition of wine and why we taste it the way we do.  For me that means going back to wines origin: the grape.

ACID:  important in the production and life of wine, acids can make a wine taste flat or it can make it taste tart, even sour. Acids are also responsible for a wines freshness, its crisp mouthfeel, and are  building blocks for the longevity of the wine.
  • Tartaric is the principal organic acid in all wines, and naturally, largely comes from the outer layers of the grape as this chemical factory in edible skin develops.
  • Malic acid is common and widely fixed in many fruits; in winegrapes it is sharp and tart(think green apples), concentrated in the flesh of the berry.
  • Citric is in all wines, but relatively minor compared to other fixed acids. Cool climate grapes are generally high in fixed acids(as in Riesling or Marlborough(NZ) Sauvignon Blanc), where warm climate grapes offer fixed acids at more moderate levels.
  • Volatile acids, like Acetic acid, which has a hard, vinegar-like taste, is produced by the process of fermentation. The other fermentation acids: Lactic acid, which is not a 'sharp' acid(think dairy, please)  and Succinic acids(bitter-sour), are fixed in fermentation.
AIRE'N: Native to Spain, Aire'n is the most widely planted white grape variety in the viticultural world. A late ripening, trailing variety, it is quite drought tolerant, and also harvested as an eating grape.

GRENACHE: Among the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world, if not the most widely planted.  It is a world traveler, likely native to Spain(Aragon), it has spread globally from southern France to Australia, and as a result, known by many synonyms(Garnacha, Alicante. Connonau, etc.).  Its nature is to be high in sugar, light in acid, tannin and color; it buds early and ripen late, making it adaptable to warmer climates where it is principal in many blended wines and rose'.

GRAPE: Vitis, by genus, and for most of the world's winemaking, vinifera by species A wines character and personality is defined mostly by the outer layers of each grape. As a bio-chemical factory, dark berries are typically richer sources of poly-phenols, anthocyanins,  and other nutrients.  Traces of minerals, vitamins and pectic substances are also composed within the grape, but the grape berry is mostly water by volume.

IMBALANCES:  Opposite of  balance in wine, where these identifiable characteristics, traits or measures stand out and prevent harmony in any wine.

OFF AROMAS: Smells that are perceived as being out of balance, as is stale, un-fresh or fowl, dominantly sherry-like( and its not a sherry), dirty or alcoholic.

PHENOLIC COMPOUNDS: Contributing color, flavor and texture to wine, they are naturally found in the seeds and skins of winegrapes. Tannin is a phenolic compound that provides structure and texture to a wine, and anthocyanin compounds provide color.
SUGAR: Carbohydrates Fructose and Glucose comprise about 20 - 25% of the fruits volume at harvest, and are the grapes ferment-able six carbon sugars.

TANNIN: found on the grape stalks(pedicel), skins and seeds, is a structural building block for the wine, providing flavor and aroma. Tannin, an organic phenol compound, is part of our natural world.  It exists in the bark of trees and in the pits/seeds of fruit.  In wine, tannins, will produce an astringent or drying effect in the mouth, just like black tea(which also is tannic), and are largely responsible for the color stability of red wines.

 VITIS LAMBRUSCA: Native to North America, the most widely know variety is the Concord grape.  This species of grapevine is generally characterized by its pronounced musky or earthy(foxy) aromatic compounds. Delaware and Niagara are other popular cultivars.

The pulp of the matter is that there is so much more to the fruiting berry known as grapes.  But, history to production has been covered, in part, by other entries in this journal, and the chemistry may be over my head.  As I have been given a unique opportunity by the Society of Wine Educators to fulfill my ambitions in wine education, this survey was about being reminded of wine's foundations.   I continue to gather and store more wine information, so it is necessary on occasion to step back and gain(hopefully) perspective.  After all, the long and storied history of wine has been part of our human culture for thousands of years...just like Zinfandel.

Cheers - A Glass full of Life!


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