Wine – Bottled Poetry
“Wine is bottled poetry,” said Robert Louis Stevenson once. Perhaps that sentence alone sums up the richness, flavor and meaning that wine has held over centuries of human existence. From the solemnity of the Eucharist to wild Bacchanalian orgies to sensual literature to sun-bathed French cafes, wine has dominated our history, religion, culture and imagination like little else. With a tremendous complexity of flavors and a variety of health benefits to offer, it is no wonder that wine continues to be so sought-after. Which begs the question – what goes into the creation of this marvelous product?
Winemaking is, in reality, one of the most naturally occurring processes. As Danny May, wine connoisseur, points out, grapes want to become wine. All it takes is for the naturally occurring yeast cells in grape skins to convert the sugars in the grapes to ethyl alcohol. This simple process, known as fermentation, produces some of the most complex wines in the world today.
What makes one wine different from the other depends on the kind of grapes that are harvested, climate and temperature, the percentage of sugar in the wine and more. However, the basic process of winemaking remains the same.
Winemaking begins among the vines where the grapes which have been allowed to ripen in a warm environment, are harvested, de-stemmed and crushed to a pulp known as ‘must’. White wine is usually made from green or white grapes, the skins of which are removed before the grapes are crushed. Hence the wine’s clear transparent color. On the contrary, red wines, made from red grapes, get their brilliant hue from the grapes being crushed and fermented along with their dark skins. In a delightful European tradition, young men and women hike up their clothes and step into huge vats of grape 'must', stomping through the juice and skin, allowing the rich red color to stain the pulp through and through.
After the grapes have been crushed, they are allowed to ferment. Although this, as mentioned above, is a naturally occurring process, it has over time been elevated to a fine art. Carefully cultivated yeast is introduced under controlled conditions to the must. What is extracted is a fermented but cloudy juice. To improve its consistency, the wine is put through the processes of fining or racking where unwanted sediments are forced to collect at the bottom of the vat, leaving the desired transparent juice to be filtered out. Throughout the entire process, it is crucial to remember that oxygen is the enemy of wine. If wine is exposed to oxygen at any point, it turns to bitter vinegar.
In the final step, the wine is left alone to age. This process usually occurs in large oaken casks that lend the wine a distinct musky flavor reminiscent of vanilla and tannin. Give or take a few additional processes, and the wine is ready to be consumed.
Today, the worth of wine is so tremendous that winemaking has become an extremely profitable venture. And yet, once the money is counted and the lights are put out, the real worth of wine is ascertained. Few pleasures match that of sipping on a glistening glass of wine by candlelight, surrendering to the velvety texture that gladdens the mind, body and soul.
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