. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: July 2006

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Endangered Species

Recent developments of globalization have made possible the unthinkable.
The EU has authorized the use of wood chips and water as part of the vinification process.
Not long ago the US signed a treaty with the EU that allows wood-chip wines, considered a fraud up to a week ago, to be sold in Europe. In exchange it will be easier to import European wines to the US (what a fair trade).
Now every Country of the Union, starting with France, is updating their laws so that the European wine producers can be competitive in the market.
I’ve been reading funny stories in specialized magazines about how these practices are necessary to bring “quality’ to the everyday consumer, about how the wood-chips are meant to give the characteristics of a barriqued wine without paying the high cost of the barrels. So how dumb were all these producers that had invested in all these years a lot of money, time and wood to let the wine age in barrels, when all they needed to do is to run to the lumberjack and pick up some wood-chips.
I can’t stand this short cut philosophy, especially when applied the process of making eatable and drinkable products.
Why do we globalize the negative?
Why can’t we globalize good taste, artisan products, seasonal produce that is available only when it’s supposed to and not all year long? Why can’t we “globalize” the respect of Mother Nature that needs to be in good shape in order to meet our needs?
Growing up in Italy I loved to look forward to spring time to eat great and tasty fava beans or some fresh and crunchy “puntarelle” (a roman salad with the typical anchovies, oil, garlic and vinegar dressing), as well as the summer for strawberries and fall for chestnuts.
Today we do have available all sorts of produce, meats and fish all year long in unlimited supply the only down side is that most of the time it doesn’t taste like much and at times even dangerous for our health. Remember the mad cow disease?
The same dynamic applies to the wine world; the grapes for industrial wines are grown were the labor cost little to nothing, the yields are so high that the grapes has no substances, and because of that in need of correction and manipulation.
Globalization has brought standardization and the standards are not, unfortunately, so high and I doubt that wood chips and watered wines help to raise the benchmark.
I also fear that in the next couple of decades good wines and wine lovers will need the protection of the WWF as endangered species.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It Takes Time to Experiment

A lot of people have been talking about alternative closures for a bottle of wine. The reason, of course, is that the traditional closure the cork isn't perfect. Cork, like wine itself, is an agricultural product, and like wine, cork can have flaws. When cork fails, the results can be disastrous and costly. Elio Altare, for example, had to pour away the entire production of his 1997 Barolos because of failed corkage. That cost Mr. Altare and the cork producer hundreds of thousands of dollars, and trust me, the loss of a year's worth of loving effort cost more than a few tears too.

For a while we heard a lot about plastic corks. In a strange echo across the decades, we were told "there is a great future in plastics." And like the hesitant Ben in 1967 classic film "The
Graduate," we weren't sure about it. Right now, the screw top is in the spotlight. It's gotten praise from several winemakers in both the new and the old world, and from what seems like the entire country of Australia, where the screw top is being exalted as the cure that solves all the problems. Like the cover girl du jour, the screw top has been on the front of several wine magazines recently, and a blitz of marketing has even lead to a debate about the proper way to open a screw top bottle in fine restaurants.

Whether the screw top really is a panacea is not an issue to be decided soon. The traditional cork has been used for centuries and we know there are pros and cons of using it. We know it can be good for wine, controlling that subtle refinement that wine undergoes in the bottle, and we know it can be destructive. Experimentation with other forms of sealers has just begun and with only a decade or so of experience, we don't know much about how wine will change and develop over time with anything but a cork.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the screw top. I do have some wine with plastic corks, mostly whites and reds that don't need any cellaring. I don't want to jump into the argument here (although I do find the amount of press, and the amount of positive press in particular, a bit suspicious) but I would like people to keep in mind is that; no one can make any conclusive judgment, against or in favor, of any new wine closures at this time. If it turns out that the screw top is, in fact, like The Wolf from the 1994 classic "Pulp Fiction" and "solves the problems," I will be happy to admit it. But, of course, by the time we know for sure, I might not be alive!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti!