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Science and technology of wine

The science and technology of wine making

Summary in Italian

Nel Mondo vi è un elevato numero di bevande ottenute dalla fermentazione alcolica di liquidi zuccherini quali succhi vegetali, miele, latte ecc., ma le più importanti per diffusione e quantità prodotte sono senza dubbio il vino, la birra ed il sidro. Lo scopo di questo breve articolo è quello di riassumere la storia e la tecnologia produttiva di una di queste bevande, ottenuta dalla fermentazione dell'uva, il vino. Conosciuto già dagli Egizi, il vino ha accompagnato con alterne vicende l'uomo in tutta la sua storia, divenendo nella cultura cristiana simbolo, con il pane, dell'unione stessa con Dio. Prodotto in quasi tutto il modo anche in virtù dell'ampio areale di coltivazione dell'uva, il vino si presenta al consumatore in varie tipologie (rosso, bianco, rosato, dolce, secco, spumante ecc.) volte ad interpretare al meglio le caratteristiche della materia prima ed a soddisfare le esigenze del consumatore stesso. Alla base di queste diverse tipologie di prodotti vi sono altrettante tecnologie venutesi a definire nei secoli ed i cui aspetti fondamentali vengono descritti in queste pagine con la speranza di stimolare il lettore ad approfondirne lo studio sui numerosi testi specialistici attualmente disponibili.

Introduction

There is a wide range of alcoholic beverages obtained by the fermentation of sweet liquids (vegetable juices, honey, milk) but the most important are wine, beer and cider. Wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by the fermentation of the juice of fruits, usually grapes, although other fruits such as plum, banana, elderberry or blackcurrant may also be fermented and used to obtain products named "wine". In this short article the word "wine" refers to the product obtained from grapes. This product is probably the most ancient fermented beverage and was mentioned in the Bible and in other documents from Asiatic peoples. Exactly where wine was first made is still unclear. It could have been anywhere in the vast region, stretching from Portugal to Central Asia, where wild grapes grow. However, the first large-scale production of Commercial grape production
wine must have been where grapes were first domesticated, Southern Caucasus and the Near East. In Egypt, wine played an important role in ancient ceremonies and winemaking scenes are represented on tomb walls. Outside Egypt much of the ancient Middle Eastern peoples preferred beer as a daily drink rather than wine. However, wine was well-know especially near the Mediterranean coast and was used in the rituals of the Jewish people. The Greeks introduced wine to Europe and spread the art of grape-growing and winemaking across the Mediterranean hence modern wine culture probably  derives from the ancient Greeks. Wine

was known to both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures and referred to as "Juice of the Gods". Dionysus was the Greek god of wine and wine was frequently mentioned in Homer's and Aesop's operas. Many of the grapes grown in Greece are grown nowhere else and are similar or identical to varieties grown in ancient times. Greek wine was widely known and exported throughout the Mediterranean basin, and amphorae for Greek wines have been found extensively in this area.

 

The Roman Empire was very important in the development of viticulture and oenology. Wine was widely drunk by the Romans and its commerce was a very important business. Many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known and then exported throughout the Roman Empire. Wine making technology improved considerably during this period and wines were stored in barrels or bottles for shipping in Rome. With the fall of Roman Empire due to the barbaric invasions all the economic activities collapsed. The only stable structure was the Catholic Church. The church preserved viticulture and wine making during this period. In medieval Europe wine was consumed only by the church and the noble classes but since it was necessary for the celebration of the Catholic Mass its production was essential. The Benedictine monks were the largest producer of wine and owned vineyards in Champagne (Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk), Burgundy and Bordeaux in France and in the Rheingau and Franconia regions of Germany.

Grape vines were transported to Latin America by the first Spanish conquistadores to provide the wine required for the celebration of the mass in the Catholic Church. They were initially planted in the Spanish missions. Later immigrants imported French, Italian and German grapes as replacements for the native grapes that produced a wine with a foxy aroma. In the Americas wine is closely associated with the United States (California), Argentina and Chile where a wide range of varieties of wines are produced.

Grapes are largely cultivated between Sweden to New Zealand and about 250 million hectolitres of wine are produced. The largest producers of wine are France and Italy (see table 1).

Table 1 - Wine production (million of hectoliters; 2005) 

France

5,329,449

Italy

5,056,648

Spain

3,934,140

United States of America

2,232,000

Argentina

1,564,000

China

1,300,000

Australia

1,274,000

South Africa

1,157,895

Germany

1,014,700

Chile

788,551

Portugal

576,500

                                                            Source FAO

There are several species of European grape. Varieties of Vitis vinifera such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Nebbiolo are usually used for wine production. The other species (Vitis labrusca, Vitis aestivalis, Vitis muscadinia, Vitis rupestris, Vitis rotundifolia and Vitis riparia) are generally used only for eating in fruit form since their use for winemaking is usually prohibited by law. The North American species are used as rootstocks for the European vinifera grafting since they are resistant to phylloxera, an insect that attack the roots of grape vines. 

Wine can be defined as "varietal" when produced with only one grape variety (minimum 75-85% w/w defined generally by law) as Barolo, Barbaresco or Asti for Italy and "blended" when produced with a mix of grape varieties of the same vintage such as Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino for Italy or Bordeaux wines for France. The quality of blended wines is not inferior to that of varietal wines. On the contrary, winemaking using blended wines is easier as grape characteristics can be complementary.

The concept of "terroir" is very important for wine. This refers to the variety or varieties of grape(s) used the vineyard characteristics (slope, elevation, type and chemistry of soil), the climate and seasonal conditions under which grapes are grown and the activities of the producer during the cultivation of the vine and the winemaking. The wine characteristics are due to the interaction of these factors and this explains the chemical and sensory differences among wines of different vintages.

A lot of texts and articles have been written about the grape, wine and their production. The aim of this short article is to examine only the principles involved in the production of wine and above all to examine the principles of winemaking. The reader is referred to specialized texts for further study of this matter.

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