Wine - ancient drink

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It is generally now accepted that wine was discovered by accident somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, the agriculturally generous expanse of river valleys extending from the Nile to the Persian Gulf. Despite the fact that archaeologists have traced the origins of wine grapes back tens of thousands of years, the first evidence of wine having actually been made from grapes comes from a clay pot found in ancient Persia dating from around 10,000 years BC.

The early civilisations in this region owed their existence to the rich soils, and it is here that the wine grape first thrived. Separate waves of the great, ancient, seafaring cultures of the ancient world (firstly the Phoenicians, then the Greeks, then the Romans) took the vine and the secrets of winemaking with them on their travels along the shores of the Mediterranean and Europe.

Despite popular myth, the grapevine was introduced to southern Gaul (which is now France) long before the Romans arrived. The Romans did, however, teach their sophisticated methods to the native Gauls and also introduced hardier varietals to the northern regions of France.

During the time of the Crusades, the European Christian soldiers brought back new strains of Vitis vinifera to Europe. During this period the two most important regions of France, Burgundy and Bordeaux, further developed their reputations for producing quality wines on

When Henry II of England married Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the early 12th century, part of her dowry included the vineyard areas of Bordeaux and neighbouring Gascony. The pale-red wine of these live jasmin regions gained favor in England, where it became known as Claret, and by the mid 14th century the jasminlive port of Bordeaux was shipping the equivalent of a million cases of wine per year to Britain.

By the end of the 17th century, France had become recognized as being the greatest of the wine-producing nations. The French Revolution in 1789 had a negative impact on wine production in Burgundy. The jasmin cams vineyards were seized from the Church and the noblemen, and were given instead to the people. Unfortunately few of them were given enough acreage to produce their own wine.

Thomas Jefferson wrote enthusiastically of the jasmin cam quality of French wine in correspondence to friends and encouraged the planting of European wine grapes in the New World at the end of the 18th century. These early attempts at wine cultivation in the Jasminelive colonies were largely unsuccessful, and the transplanting back and forth of European and native American vines brought a destructive vine louse to Europe. The jasmin live result of this was the famous phylloxera blight of the late 1800s, which destroyed most of the vineyards across both France and Europe as a whole.

Missionaries were responsible for the first vines planted in New Zealand, back in 1819. The Australians, however, were ahead of their neighbours (the first bunches of grapes were picked in the Governor's garden in the late 18th century, and were grown from vines transplanted from South Africa's Cape).

By this time, the South Africans had been making wine for almost 150 years. Indeed the Cape Province's first vineyard was planted in 1655 by its first governor, Jan van Riebeeck. Initially, the wines produced were of pretty low quality and were intended for domestic consumption. During the 20th century this quality increased, improvements in transport techniques resulted and a growing demand for the wines of the New World, particularly from the UK increased production futher.

In 1905 an effort was made to establish consistent standards for all of the important aspects of wine production, including grape varieties, alcohol content, region of production and vineyard yields. France passed a series of laws, collectively known as the "appellation d'origine controlee" laws, which guarded the famous place-names of France and guaranteed that wines bearing their names have, and still meet, rigorous controls. Italy followed this lead soon after with their own set of laws, the "denominazione di origine controllata" and "denominazione di origine controllata egarantita".

The New World producers took a different approach and while Old World producers made their blended wines and wines named after the areas were they were made (for instance, Chablis or Champagne), their New World counterparts were making what are known as varietal wines, where the grape variety that goes into the wine takes pride of place on the label. It became much easier for the average person to choose and buy wine, afterall all you needed to know was whether you liked the taste of a Merlot or a Pino Noir for example.

Anyone can make wine

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Making wine at home is not difficult, and it is a very rewarding hobby. In this article, we will go through the equipment needed and all the steps you take to make wine from fruit - grapes, apples, plums, pears, peaches, or whatever fruit you have.

You can also make wine at home from a kit, usually using grape concentrate, but the results are very variable, and it is much more satisfying to make wine from fresh fruit.

You probably thought of home wine making because you have your own fruit, or have been given some, or because fruit is in season in your area and you can get it very cheaply. Making wine is a great way of using fruit when you cannot possibly eat it all, or make all of it into jam, or freeze it all.

I have made wine successfully from many kinds of fruit, including grapes, apples, apricots, plums (many varieties), quinces, pears and peaches. Make sure you discard all rotten or suspect fruit right at the start.

Assuming you have your fruit ready, here are the equipment and supplies you need.

  • A large food grade plastic tub or stainless steel pot to squeeze or press juice into. Needs to have a lid.
  • An electric juicer (not essential if you can squeeze or press the fruit by hand).
  • A glass fermentation vessel like a jug, carboy or demijohn (also called a 'jimmyjohn') with an airlock. These are available at brewing shops. It is usually better to use several smaller vessels (of one gallon capacity) than one large one.
  • A plastic tube for siphoning.
  • Yeast (available in packets at brewing shops and some supermarkets).
  • Sugar.
  • Sterilizing solution or tablets. (Not essential - you can clean equipment with boiling water.)

    With this all collected, follow these steps to make your wine.

    Get your juice

    People starting out with home fruit wine making often wonder how much fruit they actually need. Here is a tip I have found works - you need enough juice to fill the glass fermentation vessel you are using - your carboy or demijohn. Some recipes advocate watering your fruit juice to make up the quantity you need, but never do this. Use pure juice and your wine will be full-flavored and satisfying to drink.

    You will either press the fruit, squeeze it by hand or use an electric juicer. If squeezing by hand (soft plums for example) you will need a large stainless steel or plastic container. If you have hard fruit like apples or hard plums, and electric juicer is a good investment if you don't own one already. You can also cut up the fruit and boil it in a little water to extract the juice, but this degrades the flavor of the final wine. If you have grapes, you can try trampling them with your feet in the traditional manner. Some fruits can be cut up and left to soak for a few days in a little water to extract the flavor and color from the skin.

    Some fruit, like apples, throw a tremendous froth after juicing and you will have to siphon the juice out after the froth has risen to the top.

    Note that mixed fruit wines are very successful. If you have only a few apricots but a lot of apples, mix the juice to make up your gallon.

    Add the sugar

    Some fruit juice, like very sweet grape juice, will not need the addition of any sugar. Most other fruit wines will need sugar to be added. I normally add 2 pound of sugar to make up one gallon of fruit juice. If you prefer a drier wine, you can reduce this amount. This is the reason it is better to use several smaller glass vessels when starting with home fruit wine making - you can vary the amount of sugar in each (record this by writing on the carboy with a felt pen); when you eventually come to drink the wines, you will know which style between dry, medium and sweet that you prefer. More sugar also means more food for the yeast, and so more alcoholic wine at the end of the process.

    Add the sugar by warming the fruit juice slightly in a stainless steel pan, and stirring in the sugar to dissolve it.

    Add the yeast

    Sterilize your carboy or demijohn with sterilizing solution, or boiling water. Put the sugared fruit juice into your vessel. Dissolve the powdered yeast in a little warm water and sugar in a cup, and leave it for a few minutes to activate. Then add the yeast to the fruit juice. Put your air lock on the vessel.

    Fermentation of the fruit juice should begin soon, and you will see bubbles in the air lock. This means the yeast is converting the sugar to alcohol.

    Watch and wait

    Put your fermentation vessel in a warm place if possible. Ideally you should leave the wine fermenting for nine months to a year. If you drink it after only a month or two it will taste rough and poor; leaving it for about a year will let it mellow out - this really makes a difference. As fermentation goes on, you will notice a white layer appear at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. This is formed by dead yeast cells. You can 'rack', or siphon the wine into a new vessel, which stops the wine becoming tainted with a yeasty aftertaste. You should do this once a month.

    Bottle your wine

    If the wine has not clarified, and you want it to be fully clear before bottling, leave the vessel in a very cold place for a week or so, and the clarity should improve.

    When the fermentation has stopped (no bubbles coming through the air lock) you can bottle the wine and cork the bottle. Remember to sterilize the bottles and corks before you use them. If you will be making a lot of wine, remember to label all the bottles with details of the fruit, the yeast variety used and date of bottling. If you make a superb batch, you can then try to replicate it in following years.

    Drink up!

    Few people can resist drinking a bottle at this stage. But most fruit wines are at their best up to two years after bottling, so you can put a few bottles aside until you have some friends round, or have something to celebrate. There's nothing quite like drinking your own wine, made the way you like it!

  • The right temperature makes the difference

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    If you've ever been served a glass of wine at a friend's house that wasn't kept at the ideal temperature, you know just how important temperature is to wine. Drinking a wine at too high or low of a temperature truly has an effect on that wine's taste and aroma, and that effect is almost exclusively negative.

    That's why the following information is so crucial to every wine enthusiast. Adhering to the following guidelines will ensure that your glass of wine is never served at a non-ideal temperature.

    The first category would be your vintage ports. These are to be served at the highest temperature, which is around 66 degrees (or 19 degrees, if you're working in Celsius).

    A few degrees cooler, coming in at 64 degrees are your Bordeaux and Shiraz wines, followed closely by red burgundy and Cabernets at 63 degrees.

    Two degrees cooler than that are Pinot Noir and Rioja with Chianti and zinfandel at 59 degrees.

    Going further down the temperature scale, tawny port (or NV port) as well as Madeira are ideal at 57 degrees, and the rose wines and Beaujolais take a three-degree drop to 54 degrees.

    For your average chardonnay, take a big drop to 48 degrees followed closely by Riesling at 47 degrees.

    Champagne is best at 45 degrees, and the wine that should be served the coldest of all is the Asti Spumanti, which is darn near close to an average fridge temperature at 41 degrees.

    What this information tells us is that there is a whole lot more to the ideal wine temperature than just the adage that whites should be refrigerated and reds should be served at room temperature.

    Of course, drinking wine is about enjoying wine, and you don't want to be hovering over your glass with a thermometer shouting at your guests when it reaches the ideal temperature and snatching it away when it's a degree over ideal.

    So what's a wine enthusiast and party host to do? The best course of action is to chill your wines colder than their ideal temperature and let them warm up in a glass. Taste the wine periodically and drink when it seems the bouquet and taste are most full-bodied and pleasant.

    If you're skeptical that a few degrees can make a difference, do a bit of experimentation yourself. Take a sip when the wine comes straight from the fridge and continue to sample it every five minutes or so, warming the glass with your hands if desired. You're sure to taste the marked difference over time.