A brief overview of wine…
- Wine and Winemaking
- A Part of Europe’s Identity
- Naturality vs. Consistency
- Authentic & Natural Wines
- SO2 and Labels
Wine and Winemaking
Wine is a product of the earth and of man. It arrives at our table from the vineyard in a bottle, passing through a vat and a barrel. To really get to know it, we must first acquaint ourselves with the vineyard and the people who grow it, draw the grapes from it and turn it into wine. To make good wine, you need love for the land, because the future of those who grow it depends on it. You need passion, and you need the right knowledge as a winemaker. These are handed down from generation to generation, taught in schools or by expert oenologists, but only good grapes can give good wine.
How many of us, at home, in a restaurant or at the supermarket, can pick up a bottle and say: I know where it comes from, I know who makes it and what is behind it?
We want to give you the opportunity to get to know the real wine, from its origins to your table. On our journey we will go to discover small producers and their lands, even before their wines. This is our aspiration: to take you with us to discover “real wines made by real people”.
Wine, or rather Wines
We believe that there are two great types of the product “wine”. The vast majority are wines produced on a large scale, very widespread and well known. For a consumer, the norm is to associate a product with a label. The label signifies what kind of product is inside the package – it is somehow the guarantor. If you uncork a “Mouton Cadet”, a “Blue Nun” or open a “Tavernello” tetra pack, you do so knowing what you will find, and this regardless of the year, or even the land, in which the wine was produced. One may roughly know where Mouton Cadet comes from, but honestly, does anyone have an idea where the Tavernello grapes come from? “Consistency” is what these wines offer, whether they are big or small, does not matter. (In truth, Mouton Cadet offers far more than just consistency). With regard to “consistency”, these wines resemble industrial products, such as Coca-Cola or Carlsberg – products for which the name alone reveals the qualities. It is the strength of the brand. There are also many generic products, such as pasteurised milk, of which we know what to expect. They are safe, (arguably) healthy and have a predictable taste because they are practically the same, as once they undergo pasteurisation, all those little microorganisms that create distinctive flavours fade away.
This is nothing negative. On the contrary, brands and labels greatly simplify our choices. These are industrial products, where the hand of man weighs at least as much as that of nature. They are products, where the “miracle” of transforming grapes into wine is performed with scientific and technological knowledge and the main characteristic of these products is “consistency”, so that the consumer knows what he is buying. Consistency at this level, however, does not exist in nature and hence is the affirmation of man over nature. We prefer to leave this to the great names and large retailers. In any case, you would not need to join our journey to find such wines!
The other “product” wine is produced on a small, artisanal scale. It is a product that reflects the earth, grapes, climate and wise hand of the winemaker. These wines vary from each other, from year to year, from vineyard to vineyard, while maintaining the same label. Some are produced according to the dictates of organic farming, others follow the anthroposophical philosophy of biodynamics, and others yet are made with “conventional” interventions reduced to the bare minimum. They have one thing in common that is fundamental for us: they are produced by passionate people and from grapes grown “with love”. They are natural wine, where the additives are limited to a minimum and never used to create “consistency”. They reflect a territory, vintage, person, not a company that identifies itself with an emblem, symbol, label… in other words, wine with soul. The wines we want to present to you are “juice of the earth” and not a sophisticated industrial product.
In principle, winemaking is a spontaneous chemical process initiated and governed by human intervention. People wait until grapes are ripe, collect them, press them, wait for the juices to ferment, decide at which moment the fermentation must be interrupted, the wine must be separated from the skins, put into large or small containers and aged… until it is ready to be bottled, sold and drunk.
Each of these steps requires human intervention and each of these steps is based on human experience and knowledge. Since the last century and the progress of chemistry, human intervention is less empirical and increasingly scientific. It is so developed, that soil is analysed in labs and with the aid of drones and satellite pictures, it is established which vines to plant in exact spots. Micro sensors monitor the microclimate in the vineyards, the presence of moulds, fungi, parasites and other threats. The level of “readiness” of mature grapes is assessed with high-tech machinery. Science is widely being used to create products that meet the consumers’ palate and sell, to optimise the use of labour and machinery and allow the people who work in the vineyards and in the wine cellars, the marketing gurus, sales force and above all, the investors, to make a profitable living and a return on their investment. Wine is, after all, big business!
Well, not for everyone. For many small, or very small vintners, it is passion, it is a vision, a purpose in life to make true, authentic wines. The idea of Vinland was born when we tired of the large wine productions and decided to explore the world of small wines, made “next door” by people and nature, not by industrial processes.
When we first visited Paride Chiovini in Sizzano – and such visits can take hours of long conversations – after showing us around his vineyards, he told us how much he loved spending time there. “It makes me oblivious, because I’m so happy there”, he said. One day, while in his beloved vineyard, he received a call from a restaurant he supplies. They asked for an urgent delivery as they were out of stock and had a big party of guests coming. Paride went back to his cellar, loaded his car and drove off. On the road he realised that he was still wearing his dirty clothes and boots covered in soil and dust. Too late, he thought. A Jaguar was parked in front of the restaurant and a very elegant gentleman drove off in it. The restaurant manager asked with a wry smile “ Did you just see that Jaguar leave? That was Mr. A., a colleague of yours”. Paride knew that Mr. A. was one of the best known winemakers in Italy, whose family business exported many thousands of prestigious bottles globally. He was puzzled, felt embarrassed in his dirty working clothes and regretted not having shaken hands with the great man. Then, as he drove back, he realised that no, he did not want to be like Mr. A. He wanted to be just like he was: bound to the soil, happy in the vineyard.
At Vinland we have wines from many passionate winemakers like Paride Chiovini, and we are happy to introduce their wines to you, and tell you something about them.
A PART OF EUROPE’S IDENTITY
According to the Old Testament, after the flood, Noah planted vines. Jesus’ first miracle is to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Widely used in Pagan and Christian rituals, wine became one of those products that were shipped throughout Europe. There was a flourishing trade between the North and the South: merchants acquired salt and dried cod to allow people, who lived far from the sea, to observe the Christian obligation of not eating anything meaty on Fridays, which meant eating fish. They brought it South, where they bought wine, which was indispensable during the daily ritual of mass – but of course not only then. Wine became part of Europe’s consumer habits. When Europeans explored the world wine became widespread. Port, Madeira, Sherry, Marsala were wines with finished fermentation that could be transported without changing their essence. Wine became one of the main drivers of global commerce, not in the same same volume as coffee, spices, sugar, tea, tobacco, cotton and slaves, but never far behind.
A global product
Why is wine so well travelled? Why is it possible in today’s globalised world, as well as a hundred years ago, to purchase wine from any continent (excluding Antarctica for obvious reasons)? Religion and politics play a major role in the habit of drinking or not drinking wine. The Roman legions planted vineyards in the lands they conquered, for own consumption and to “befriend” the local populations while delivering a clear message: we are here to stay with our lifestyle! Since ancient times, wine was a trigger for joy and fun, and closely connected with religious ceremonies and festivals. When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire, the ritual use of wine became mandatory and wine was traded on a large scale also in countries, where vines did not yield enough grapes to produce acceptable wine. In the Middle Ages, when monks held knowledge and monasteries were centres for research, vines were selected, cultivated and raised to make great wines. Wine is also an important source of nutrition, supplementing poor diets with its contents of polyphenols, sugars and vitamins. In places where water was often contaminated and causing dysentery, drinking wine (or beer) was a safe option. And, of course, there is the “pleasure-factor” – the enjoyment that wine can give. This is of course highly subjective, and each person has his own taste.
Back to winemaking
“High quality” grapes do not automatically mean “good” wines. The grape varieties must be right for making wine and it needs the capable hands of winemakers to turn grapes into good wine. In our view, vineyards must be treated with respect for the good balance of the vines and by stimulating their health. Vineyards should be grown where the best conditions for quality, not quantity, are met. Sub-optimal locations should be avoided. In our days of mass-production, this is very rare. An industry has developed, and like all industries its competitive advantage derives from reducing unit cost rather than enhancing quality. Vines cover the bottom of valleys, where other crops once thrived. Monoculture, as is widely documented, is neither good for the land nor the vines, and not sustainable for the territory as a whole. Not only is the overall quality of the grapes compromised (but hey, it can be pimped with chemicals), excessive monoculture of the vine results in an increase of infestations and diseases, which in turn are fought with exaggerated use of synthetic chemicals. Does it not seem obvious that natural treatment should be given to the plants and soil, and only when necessary, not pre-emptively? If this is done correctly, rich and healthy grapes will be harvested and good wines will be made, without the need of additional chemical ingredients and manipulations. It is healthier, more sustainable, and more authentic.
Why are some wines more famous and considered better than others? In principle, it is for a simple and basic reason: wine is made from grapes, and the composition of the soil and climatic conditions determines whether in a certain area vines yield better grapes for winemaking than others. This principle applies to large regions (e.g. Piemonte or Bordeaux), smaller “territories” within these regions (appellations such as “Langhe”, “Boca” or “Crozes-Hermitage”) and even single parts of a hill or plot of land (the “cru”, e.g. “Romanée-Conti” or “Vigna Cristiana” in Boca). In general, the more precisely the origin of the grapes used for making wine can be traced, the easier it is to assess whether a wine is authentic.
Probably Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most widespread vines in the world. They are grown from France to New Zealand, from South Africa to Japan. In some areas, such as the North-East of Italy, they have replaced autochthonous grapes. This is because wine is an acquired taste, and many people associate “good wines” with the Bordeaux region (where Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot rule), and thus winemakers thought it may be a good idea to replicate these successful wines. On top of that, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are strong, easy to grow vines, with a good yield in very different conditions. An additional factor, not to be underestimated, is the know-how in making wine from grapes that has been successful in other regions of the world. Why would one need to experiment, when the recipe for success is known and can be easily replicated?
The fundamental principle is that for good wines, you need very good grapes, and for very good grapes, you need to take care of the vineyards. There are numerous ways of defining the concept of taking good care of a vineyard. First, you must establish which kind of vine grows best in the plot of land. White? Red? Both? Which families, which clones? In traditional vine growing areas, this is mainly the fruit of history and tradition. After all, winemaking began at least 6000 years ago! In a world that was not “globalised”, but where trade was regional at best, also the culture of winemaking spread rather slowly. As a result, we have local vines, traditions and winemaking techniques, and consequently local wines. Modern transport gives us access to all this wealth of flavours and traditions… and yet, there is a tendency to standardise winemaking and wines. It is part of human nature to try to simplify things: it is easier to cater for a standard taste among standard consumers and it is easier for consumers to buy standardised products, which are predictable and thus reliable.
This is at odds with what we described above. Over thousands of years, vines were raised, crossed, adapted to diverse conditions and wine was made with “techniques”, which were diverse in each single step… so what were the factors that established a need for standardisation? First, mother nature. She can determine the quality of grapes through the weather, or by sending plagues and parasites. Wines that are made from grapes alone, without the use of chemicals, are different from vintage to vintage. One year is very rainy, the next is very dry. The quantity and quality of grapes change accordingly, and so the quantity and quality of the wine. It is not easy to sell wine that does not offer a consistent standard. Consumers want a label to identify a product and a taste. They do not want a negative surprise because they bought a wine from the “wrong” vintage. This is where know-how and science help. It is possible to “influence” or even “manipulate” the natural fermentation process and offset the negative impact of weather, at least partially. It is possible to help vines be more productive, with fertilisers and by selecting the bunches of grapes one wants to ripen best by eliminating the weaker ones… Is this not what mankind has done since leaving behind its nature of hunters/gatherers following the discovery of agriculture?
Yet again, there are many different ways in which vineyards are kept. In coastal regions in Italy or at Mount Etna, vines grow like individual bushes called “alberello” – little tree. In our Colline Novaresi, local architect Antonelli developed a system called “Maggiorina”, whereby up to 14 vines are interlaced in what looks like a single tree. The ends of the vines are connected to fine strings attached to poles, which are planted in the ground. Thus the vines almost look like a curious parasol. The benefits of this system are that the leaves protect the grapes from hail, and that the mix of grape varieties ensures that there are always some grapes that manage to ripen. The most impressive decorative effect can be reached with a similar system named “Bellussina”. In the North East of Italy, the “pergola” prevails, in other regions the “cordone speronato”. Most common nowadays is the pattern known as “guyot”, which allows agricultural machines better access. A French innovation, and again a sign of standardisation!
Why do French grapes and techniques often drive international standardisation? Not only the quality of wines, but history, of course, has an important role. Aquitaine, the region around Bordeaux, came under the control of the English Crown in 1152, for about 4 centuries. By marriage, not by war. The English Crown gave the winemakers of the region a number of trade benefits and privileges and thus they became the most referenced in Britain – a large market without local production. Bordeaux wines then were not highly considered for their quality. The flourishing wine trade towards Britain, Ireland and Holland, and from there Northern Europe, was due to geographical and political convenience. In fact, Bordeaux wines were far less valued than the wines from Burgundy and the Rhone Valley. After Aquitaine came under the French Crown and when one of the many wars between France and England broke out, the British and Dutch merchants were cut off from their main sources in Bordeaux. They travelled to Portugal and Spain instead and those rather deep red wines were well accepted on the market. The Bordeaux traders, well-established in the British capital, understood the challenge and began transforming their export from “claret”, light red, almost rosé wines, to the “vin noir”, the less refined “black wines”, which were locally enjoyed by the commoners. In addition, Dutch craftsmen were charged with draining the swampy estuary of the Garonne River, creating dry lands in the area known as Médoc, opening up new land in ideal conditions for viticulture. The use of gunpowder to seal oak barrels allowed for long term storage and transport without loss of product. Not only that, the toasted and sealed oak casks released their aromas and tannins into the wines, adding unique notes of caramel, toast, coffee and wood. When the trade embargo was lifted, Bordeaux’s merchants gained market shares with their innovative, strong wines, which has since set the bar for any ambitious winemaker in the world. It became a big business and investment opportunity. A system of “classification” of wines was established in 1855, enhancing the fame of certain wines and their producers, and with it pricing and financial benefits. In turn, this brought about clearer rules on how wine “must be”, more research and development, better marketing and sales strategies. In other words, standards for the definition of “good wines” were set.
In 1863, an insect named phylloxera was unknowingly carried across the Atlantic from North America and almost provoked the end of viticulture in Europe. It attacked the vines, their roots and leaves and they withered. North American vines were resistant to the insect’s effects, and despite trying many different methods, only by grafting native American rootstocks onto European varieties could the vineyards of the Old World be reconstituted. It took more than two decades of grafting to take root from the first experiments to widespread plantings. So, with very few exceptions, e.g. in Argentina, Chile and Southern Italy, most vines in the world are now the result of grafting from American roots. The fact that the first successfully grafted phylloxera-resistant vines were obtained in France, resulted in French vines being adopted around the world to save viticulture. Along with them came agricultural and oenological techniques. In a way, the French saved the world of winemaking and hence set the global standards, not only for “good wines”, but for “wine” in general.
From history, Bordeaux’s vintners had learnt that their product needed to remain consistent, qualitatively reliable and identifiable to yield a premium price. Science came into play to ensure CONSISTENCY.
NATURALITY vs CONSISTENCY
In the last few decades, it appears that there are two extremes in winemaking. The polarisation is between those who defend that wine must be made from grapes and grapes alone, and refuse the modern techniques and additives on the one hand, and those who believe wines must be consistent within a precise range of characteristics, and invoke the legitimate use of science to obtain the desired results, on the other. In some cases, the polarisation is extreme, between “naturalists” at war with a chemical, industrial beverage that is made from grapes and many other ingredients, and those who are adamant in ridiculing “natural” wines as a hoax, a publicity stunt, intended to attract naive consumers who want to be “green”. Our impression is that there are good wines on both sides, and some pretty bad ones, as well. Regulations, as we can see below, allow for major flexibility, which helps the large industrial interests more than the small “natural” producers. It is questionable whether the consumer’s interests and views were considered in these Regulations.
One evening we opened a bottle of Chianti and began debating just how ridiculous it was to find the definition “vegan wine” on the label. Are not all wines vegan, we wondered; after all they all come from grapes. Then of course, we remembered the old tale of how ox blood and/or egg white were put into wine barrels, to ensure that the larger particles would deposit on the bottom of the barrel. So what? If they form a deposit, they, ox blood and egg yoke will not enter the bottle, we argued. How wrong of us to think like that!
So, we started to look into winemaking processes and regulations and a new world opened up to us. First, we wondered why some wines give you a headache, acidity, or are difficult to digest. The answer we found was that often this is due to an excessive use of sulphites. Why are sulphites needed? Bisulphates (SO2), are a natural antioxidant, protect the grapes from deteriorating before the fermentation and allow controlling the natural yeasts in the grapes, which start fermentation. Again, it seems simple and makes sense. Then my uncle Max, a trained chemist, started to list all kinds of ingredients he used to sell to winemakers. He described in detail what is used where and when, which is fascinating while a bit surprising and rather disconcerting for anyone naive enough to believe that wine is made from grapes alone!
We consulted the best possible sources – in particular the French national institute for vines and wine (vignevin.com) and realised that there is a wealth of 81 items, with plenty of “sub-items” that can be legally used in winemaking. This excludes any process in agriculture for growing grapes – it concerns only the processes that are used AFTER harvesting grapes! “Items” in this case stand for synthetically obtained chemical products, which often are derived from animals. So much for the naturally “vegan” character of wine!
After further investigation, it is safe to say that chemicals are used in winemaking at different stages: to prepare fermentation (e.g. to avoid oxidation of the grapes, so that they maintain their aromas); during fermentation (e.g. to extract polyphenols, to correct alcoholic fermentation); to correct the crop (e.g. to enrich the grapes, add or reduce acidity); to stabilise wine (to prevent it from changing in an undesired fashion); for specifically targeted purposes (e.g. to eliminate undesired molecules or to enhance weak flavours). It is possible to use “concentrated wine must” (and very often it is not even necessary to trace its origin). In addition, it is allowed to use wood chips and wood barrels (but those are relatively natural…).
We started wondering why all these additions of ingredients and manipulations of the different stages and processes were needed, and came to the conclusion that in some (rare) cases it is done to reach perfection, but in most cases it is done to ensure “consistency”, to please and reassure consumers, upon dictation from the large, organised retail chains. Above all, it is done out of one of the major drivers of human action: greed!
A simple explanation for this is: natural fermentation processes take time and effort – sometimes months – and when there are hundreds of tons of ripe grapes that need to be pressed and fermented within a short time, because many more tons of grapes are waiting, the aid of science and technology is very much needed and welcome. On top of that, if they are to be controlled manually, fermentation processes must be done in relatively small vats, by hand. At an additional cost! So yes, industrial winemaking is only possible by using chemical and mechanical aid extensively!
Is it still wine? When insecticides and pesticides are sprayed by helicopter over huge vineyards, the grapes harvested mechanically, chemistry is used to make wine… is there still a difference between these wines and other industrial beverages, we wondered.
We started looking at “other”, less conventional wines. The ones that are still “artisanal”, the ones that call themselves “organic”, “biodynamic”, or simply “natural”.
There is a world apart from the grand chateaux, the ones everyone has heard of and few can afford, or the main stream names… the ones we can find in the shelves of supermarkets and in bars and restaurants… in tetra packs, or even cans, the ones that claim they are “made in the vineyard”, but are created in labs and tested on sample groups for their consumer appeal.
These smaller or very small vintners do not have the scale to compete with the large companies. They also do not want to reach that scale. Some inherited a family tradition, and some want to continue a flourishing business with a well-known name and limited production. There is also a growing number of winemakers who “want to change their life”, move away from the city and its stress. There are “professionals” – architects, managers, lawyers, and teachers – who bought a house with some land and discovered a vineyard. We heard the most interesting stories. There is the doctor, who found old vines in his newly acquired estate and decided to revive them. The real estate developer, who bought an entire hill covered by woods with the aim of building grand homes for wealthy customers and then discovered a clearing with a vineyard in it, where an old man taught her how to grow grapes and make wine. She fell in love with it, dropped the project and became a winemaker. There are the Northern Europeans, who fulfilled their dream of owning a wine farm south of the Alps…
What most of these farmers share, is a great passion for vineyards and wines and pride in their work and the fruit it bears. They spend most of their time in the vineyards, taking care of each individual row, checking that their plants are thriving. The majority of them avoid using pesticides, weed killers, and insecticides. They use traditional chemistry (sulphur, which fights off the dreaded phylloxera; copper, to contain fungi like Peronosporales; insects to fight off insects; “sexual confusion” to prevent insects from multiplying, etc.).
Until recent years, it was generally assumed that good wines were the result of good work in the wine cellar. Oenologists became stars, similar to today’s TV chefs, as it seemed that some had the King Midas touch and could turn any grape, as mediocre as could be, into good, if not great wine. Artisanal winemakers have a different mindset: they believe that good wine comes only from good grapes. Viticulture is fundamental to them. They are conscious that the characteristics of wine are established mainly by the grapes that are used and the geological, physical and climatic characteristics of the area, in which vines are grown – along with winemaker’s know-how.
AUTHENTIC & NATURAL WINES
Authentic, Natural, Organic and Biodynamic
All the wines we select are authentic. For us, this means that they are made locally, reflecting the specificities of the territory, with pride, care and love. They are artisanal, not industrial, and made on a small scale. Typically, our winemakers have an overall production of around 8000 bottles or less per year.
Authentic wines are made locally, from local grapes, and according to artisanal processes. Vinland checks this for you personally, by visiting the vineyards and cellars!
In conventional winemaking, many “additions”, which do not derive from the vine can be made, to “pimp” the flavour, bouquet and colour of wines, or simply to speed up the winemaking process by lending Mother Nature a helping hand. Using selected yeasts is a most common practice, and many argue that it does not have any side effects on consumer health, but allows for making better tasting wines. In simplistic terms, if you want a wine to taste more like red berries, some specific yeast can be added, which during fermentation brings out the desired aromas. Sugars can be added, to boost fermentation. Concentrated must can be added, to obtain more product, higher or lower alcohol content, not to mention correctors for acidity, etc., etc. All this is legally sound. The question is: if a consumer wants to buy wine, which is the reflection of a “terroir” – of soil, climate and tradition of a certain area – is it really what he gets? How much wine from a certain area is obtained only from grapes grown in that particular area? How much rectified must from other parts of the world does it contain? Is this still an “authentic” product?
According to EU Regulation 606/2009, the maximum amount of sulphites allowed in red and rosé wines is 150 mg per litre, for white wines 200 mg per litre, for sweet wines 200 mg/l and 250 mg/l respectively. Then there are exceptions, which can be made in difficult climatic circumstances, and by specific types of wine. Worldwide renowned Sauternes may contain up to 400 mg of sulphites per litre.
Some wines we propose are organic, made from certified organically grown grapes, without any addition of synthetic chemicals and genetically manipulated organisms. Organic winemaking allows for chemical intervention, but limits it clearly. EU Regulation 203/2012 allows for about 30 “ingredients” to be added to the pressed grapes to make wine. Certainly fewer than conventional agriculture, but still far from “natural”. However, we have looked at the processes, spoken to the winemakers, walked in the vineyard and tested the wines, and we are convinced that it is not only a “publicity stunt”. These vintners firmly believe that organic is important for future sustainability and that their wines are better then “conventional” wines. According to the above regulation, organic red and rosé wines can contain up 100 mg of sulphites per litre, and whites up to 150 mg/l.
Biodynamic agriculture is based on Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, a vision according to which not only scientific, but also spiritual aspects are needed to understand the world and find “truth”. Biodynamic agriculture is based on the balance of elements to create harmony. In winemaking, it is much more restrictive than any other regulations and allows for three “chemicals” to be added during the winemaking process (SO2, bentonite and tartaric acid), as well as a very limited use of machinery. Winemaking is based on the quest for harmony, follows the natural phases of the moon, and the few allowed chemicals are obtained from biodynamically grown plants. Biodynamic agriculture is a free choice made by farmers, who voluntarily adhere to a code of conduct and allow the association Demeter International to verify compliance with this code. Only Demeter-certified wine can be considered biodynamic. Sulphites are allowed to a maximum of 70 mg per litre for red and rosé wines, and 90 mg per litre for whites.
There is no rule, no regulation and no standard practice to define “natural” winemaking. Natural wines are obtained by keeping the vineyards “as natural as possible” and ensuring that only the best bunches are kept on the vines for superior quality. In this context, “natural” stands for minimising human intervention to the strictly necessary. It is a free choice, but natural winemakers are normally quite happy to have their wines certified by the VinNatur Association, which will take samples and have them randomly analysed. If wines contain traces of “unnatural” ingredients, with the exception of sulphites (SO2) – the only ones permitted – or find an excess of SO2, VinNatur will not recognise these wines as “natural”. Normally there are no added sulphites, but a maximum of 30 mg per litre for reds and 50 mg per litre in whites is allowed.
In a broader sense, the concept of signature wines indicates the symbolic value of a very broad connection between wine and territory. When you hear “Riesling”, you probably associate it with the Rhine and Moselle rivers and vineyards in Germany. When you hear “Medoc”, you think of Bordeaux and so on. We learnt that there are expert winemakers, who have the skill to bring out the most remarkable character traits of the grapes os that they reflect the “territory” and what it stands for. They leave their “signature” on the wines. These master winemakers mostly work as consultants and help vinters bring out the best in their produce. They master winemaking techniques, have a strong scientific background, and must have great sensitivity to understand the land that they are called to capture in a few drops. Above all, they have a vision on what a wine should stand for, what it should express, what stories it shall tell and emotions it shall generate, like an artist composes his work. Some of these Masters believe in the use of science to reach their aim, others tend more to towards the “naturalist” interpretation of winemaking. In any case, their wines are wonderful pieces of craftsmanship which we believe you will want to know. So we will point them out to you!
SO2 & LABELS
SO2 – Sulphites
It may appear that sulphites are the measure of all “chemical abuse” of wines. Far from it! Sulphites form spontaneously during the fermentation process and even before grapes are picked. Sulphites are an anti-oxidant and used in many other applications, for instance in dried fruits. It ensures that bacteria do not form, the food does not oxidise and look brown, etc. Just to give an idea, dried apricots may be treated with added sulphites up to 400 mg per kilo.
In wines, the use of sulphites is aimed at inhibiting certain microorganisms, which form on the fructose contained in grapes (in particular, lactic and vinegar bacteria), and foster anaerobic yeasts (mainly of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae group), which provoke fermentation to produce ethyl alcohol. The contamination by undesired bacteria may occur at different stages, not only during fermentation. Thus, the wine industry relies heavily on SO2 to deactivate such microorganisms.
So what is the issue? Many people are allergic to sulphites. Some could even die! And sulphites are a proven cause of asthma. Thus, every product, which has been treated with more than 10 mg of sulphites, must be labelled as “contains sulphites”. According to studies, an excess of sulphites brings about stomach ache, retching and diarrhoea, and in some cases an irritation of the mucosae, which in allergic subjects may cause asthma, cough and difficulties breathing. However, normally the effects of sulphites only manifest themselves with an intake of at least 1500 mg per kg of body weight… so drinking wine may not in itself trigger negative effects!
Labels – what they do not tell you
Wine is the only food product, where listing all ingredients on labels is NOT mandatory – in fact, nobody does! This allows producers to “fix” wine or “dress it up”, without being obliged to tell the consumer, as long as the legal requirements are met. Most wines for sale, especially the ones in large stores and retail chains, are “adjusted” so as to taste better than they would naturally, were they made of grapes alone.
Fortunately, there are farmers and oenologists who avoid these methods and rely on hard, selective work in the vineyards to obtain healthy and rich grapes that yield good wines.
At Vinland, we look first and foremost for these winemakers with the aim of introducing them and their wines to you!
The four official tiers of Italian wine classification:
DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) is the highest classification for Italian wines. It denotes controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality. There are strict rules governing the production of DOCG wines, most obviously the permitted grape varieties, yield limits, grape ripeness, winemaking procedures and barrel/bottle maturation. Every DOCG wine is subject to official tasting procedures. To prevent counterfeiting, the bottles have a numbered government seal across the neck.
DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) is the main tier of Italian wine classification, and covers almost every traditional Italian wine style. There are around 330 individual DOC titles, each with a set of laws governing its viticultural zone, permitted grape varieties and wine style. Those which show consistently high quality earn promotion to DOCG status.
IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) was introduced in 1992, to allow a certain level of freedom to Italy’s winemakers. Prior to 1992, many wines failed to qualify for DOC or DOCG status – not because they were of low quality, but because they were made from grape varieties (or blends) not sanctioned under DOC/G laws. The IGT classification focuses on the region of origin, rather than grape varieties or wine styles.
Vino da tavola means ‘table wine’ in Italian, and represents the most basic level of Italian wine. The Vino da Tavola category held a certain prestige in the 1970s and 1980s, thanks to experimental winemakers who produced top-quality (but unorthodox) wines under the title. This situation has gradually diminished, however, since the introduction of the IGT category with its more flexible production conditions, and Vino da Tavola has steadily returned to its original status as the lowest rung on Italy’s wine quality ladder.