About Wine ...
How is wine made?
There are many variations on the basic wine making technique although essentially the production of wine can be broken down into a few main stages. (For information on how Champagne is made see other related articles).
Terroir and Harvesting
Terroir is the French word for soil, but when applied to wine it has a broader definition – it refers to the range of conditions that apply to the growth and ripening of grapes in a specific region - soil, elevation, slope, aspect, climate and seasonal weather patterns, etc. In other words…"all factors connected to the wine".
Without doubt, the potential for consistently good wines is established in the vineyard; the harder and smarter the work here, the better placed the winemaker is to optimize the potential of his or her winemaking goals.
Choosing the right time to harvest a grape is the next important decision. The vineyard and winemaking team agree on a host of factors, including the flavor profile, colour, acid and tannin levels they are aiming for in their 'end result'.
Crushing and de-stemming
Generally using machinery, grapes are removed from their stems (except in 'bunch-fermented styles), and the skins gently crushed to release grape juices (called 'must'). Pressing and fermentation of white grapes
White wine grapes are then generally pumped gently through a heat-exchanger (to around 15 degrees centigrade) before being pressed – again, mostly mechanically in an air-bag or basket press, and within 24 hours of crushing.
Fermentation (the conversion of sugar to alcohol) generally takes place in a tank (stainless steel or plastic); a natural process that is generally aided by the addition of yeasts carefully selected to suit best the required wine outcome. 'Wild yeasts' are sometimes used, these being yeasts existing in the winery atmosphere.
Fermentation and pressing of red grapes
For red grape wine making, fermentation generally precedes pressing, as the amount of contact a wine has with grape skins will affect its flavor, colour, aroma, acidity and tannin levels. In reds, this can occur in concrete, plastic or steel tanks. Maceration of red must (the process of 'soaking' to extract these desirable attributes) is generally more than ten days, sometimes much longer.
In wine-speak, "malo" is a fermentation option used almost universally in reds and sometimes in whites – generally shortly after the primary fermentation to add complexity and mouthfeel softness to a wine (by 'de-souring' or de-acidifying it)
Clarification, stabilization, maturation and fining
With fermentation complete, the yeast will die, leaving a wine still containing the yeast and other residue.
Racking is the term used where the wine is passed from one vessel to another – sometimes twice a month for many months – with the residue left at the bottom being discarded.
One of winemaking's biggest decisions concerns the selection of a maturing vessel (particularly in reds), as between oak (and what type and how old, how big etc!), stainless steel, special plastics, a combination of some or all, etc, etc
Before bottling, the wine undergoes fining- a process of removing finer particles that may interfere with the look of the final product- generally using egg white in reds and milk powder in whites filtered.
Further mechanical filtering takes place prior to final bottling.
The decision of when to bottle (which includes an assessment of whether the chosen 'end' style is more suited by maturing as described above, or in bottle), what closures to use (natural or composite cork, screw cap, glass etc, etc) and when to release the wine is the final major winemaker/owner point of discussion.
In most cases, these decisions are circumscribed by winery space and equipment availability, economics, the timing of vacations (!) and so on.
The glass of fine wine in your hand is the end result of a long process involving disciplines ranging from biology, chemistry, physics and economics to logistics. Method and discipline are essential, but then so too is a temperament of experimentation and a willingness to take calculated risks. Truly a blend of science, art and economics! | Back to top
How is Wine Judged?
Exhibits in all Australian Wine Shows are judged on a comparative basis - all the entries are judged at the same time, on a point score with a maximum of 20 points. On the judging sheet this is divided into
The 100 Point System
An alternative numerical rating system currently in use is that of American Wine Critic, Robert Parker. His "100-point" system was first devised in 1978. Wine Spectator adopted Parker's model in 1985 and other reviewers have since followed suit. These scales usually rank wines from 50 to 100 points (not 1-100), on colour and appearance, aroma and bouquet, flavour and finish, and overall quality level or potential.
In Australia, James Halliday is the leading proponent of this system, although on a 75-100 point scale.
A typical breakdown of a 100 point scale system could be as follows:
Is Wine Good for Me?
"Wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages". Louis Pasteur clearly thought so !
Since time immemorial people have been extolling the virtues of wine – in particular red wine! And since about the same time, wine has had its health critics, too! It is, in fact one of life's more hotly debated topics
Rather than re-invent knowledge on this fascinating topic (and to withdraw neatly from the argument!) we recommend that you visit the excellent Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) site, www.awri.com.au
Once there, you can browse to your heart's content amongst a rich array of highly researched articles, answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" and other material that will tell you most of what you wish to know on topics such as:
"The Australian Wine Research Institute advocates the moderate consumption of wine, but does not recommend that abstaining individuals should commence consuming wine to benefit their health. Consuming wine more than moderately increases the risk of both short- and long-term harm to health".
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Cellaring Your Wine
"How long should I cellar this wine for?" is a frequent question asked of cellar door staff.
Although most often we glibly respond to the enquiry after a discrete look at the back label or tasting notes, the answer should be prefaced with a whole range of consideration around the cellaring conditions, personal cellar management and so on.
The following is a summary of the factors worthy of consideration on this fascinating topic.
Why should I start a cellar?
By building up a stock of wines you are able to buy wine in bulk at a good price, to hold wine that will benefit from aging and to compare wines from different vintages and wineries.
Your cellar also allows you to select a wine at any time without having to visit the wine shop.
Your cellar will give you many years of enhanced wine pleasure as both your collection and knowledge of wine grows.
How do I start collecting wines to form a cellar?
Make four resolutions.
Wines benefit from "cellaring" – many for a few days or weeks only before drinking, others for many months or years. Your cellar becomes a store from which you can draw a wine to suit most occasions. Start by cellaring the wines you are currently enjoying and extend to wines that will expand your range of vintages and varieties; you should avoid carrying too many of one variety or vintage. Be guided by others tasting notes and choose wines you are confident you will enjoy in the future. Use a system – either computerized or mechanical - to record your tasting notes and reorder your favourites.
How long do I keep wines for?
Ask the sales person when you buy the wine or contact the winery for good advice; many wineries now publish cellaring information on their websites.
Any information given will assume that your cellar maintains optimum conditions. If this is not the case, you will need to adjust the storage time - remember that it is always better to open a bottle too soon than too late. By using your chosen cellar door system diligently you will ensure your wines are opened at their optimum.
What are the optimum storage conditions for wine?
Wine should lie undisturbed in a quiet, dark and slightly humid place, within a temperature range of around 15 degrees. Wine stored in temperatures above the optimum will age faster. A light and dry atmosphere does not suit good wine storage. Choose a space that will remain constantly cool and dark.
What do I put my bottles in?
There are many alternatives on the market, or you can create your own racks or bins. Bins can be created from wooden boxes set in a diamond profile and racks can be built up using timber planks resting on bricks.
Using some proprietary systems, bottles do not need to be held in individual cells. Each bottle can have a numbered neck tag placed on it and your choice, selected from a cellar list, is located by finding the numbers.
How many bottles should I store?
Store as many bottles as space and funds will allow, but be aware of the drink-by dates. If you find yourself holding wines for too long, it may be that you are cellaring too many bottles, or not sharing enough with your friends! On the other hand, you should store at least enough bottles to allow the selection of a wine to suit most occasions. Your wine appreciation will grow with cellaring, so your original goal may change with your growing enthusiasm.
What is the cost of cellaring wine?
Cellaring wine will lead to greater wine appreciation and this can lead to more expensive wines being purchased. However many people find that the satisfaction gained from drinking higher quality wines actually reduces the quantity consumed. In addition the ability to buy wine when a good deal is found can result in major savings, while having the correct wine on hand for any occasion will give you greater value for money. Cellaring with Vinoté can save you money.
How do I manage my cellar?
Each case or bottle can have a numbered neck tag placed on it, before being put to rest in the cellar. Data on that wine, including any tasting notes of yours or others, is recorded in your Cellar Book (manual or electronic). Your selection is made from the cellar list, and you locate your choice by finding the numbered neck tag. Your tasting notes and the removal of the wine can be recorded after the event.
How do I get the most from my cellared wines?
Store them correctly.
Know when to open them, using a good wine cellar program.
Know which wines have been opened, using individual bottle tags.
[Post Script. A south Gippsland winery, Gurdies, has written a terrific electronic booklet on cellaring wines. It's available on their website www.thegurdieswinery.com.au It's well worth a look!]
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What are 'Organic' or 'Bio-dynamic' Wines?
These two topics – different but not mutually exclusive – are growing in profile in the world of wine (as they are in agriculture generally).
Vast amounts of information is available: in this section we shall just work at an introductory, summary level (and not dip too deeply into the very significant claims made by practitioners, nor the regulatory classification framework of this important and fascinating topic).
As well as distinguishing between organic and bio-dynamic viticultural practices, we shall also distinguish between their vineyard and winery aspects.
Organic viticulture is a form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.
Herbicides, insecticides, and most fungicides are prohibited. Chemicals used must be naturally occurring and not poisonous. This allows some sprays to be used that are not harmful, and not taken up by plant tissue (such as copper and sulphate).
Anything you add to the land must also be organic, particularly fertilizer.
It is possible to convert a vineyard to become certified organic. The process takes a minimum of three years, under the inspection of an independent inspector contracted to Australian Certified Organic.
Biodynamic viticulture stems from the ideas and suggestions of Rudolf Steiner some 80 years ago. Its principles and practices are based on his spiritual/practical philosophy, called anthroposophy, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature.
Biodynamic agriculture conceives of the farm as an organism, a self-contained entity with its own individuality, and as such has much in common with organics. Methods that are unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.
Organic winemaking principles are based on the absence of non-organic chemicals in any part of the wine production process.
Certified organic wine can only be made from organic grapes. When a label says "organic", in Australia it means the wine has met certain standards that are set by Australian Certified Organic (a government agency), and inspected/audited by an independent inspector contracted to that agency. (Different nations have their own certification criteria, so what's organic in one country may not be so in another).
Cleaning agents like chlorinated compounds are not permitted, and organic wine can be mixed with non organic wine.
In Australia, the debate over organic winemaking principles revolves largely around the use of sulphites in the winery, and its 'natural' presence via the fermentation process.
Organic doesn't mean preservative-free. The common preservative –220- is allowed in organic wines to be at the level of 125 parts per million. (Most modern wineries, whether organic or not, operate below or around these levels)
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Getting the most out of my Cellar Door visit
As you enter the tasting room head for the tasting bar, a host will greet you and get you started with wine tasting glasses and explain what wines are available for tasting and if there are any tasting fees.
Tasting rooms vary from the very elaborate to a simple table set up in the winemaking area. It usually pays to look around at the cellar door signage: special tastings or offerings, a list of awards and other publicity, descriptions of the wines, what else is available to tasters.
Some tasting rooms will require that you pay a fee to taste the wine. Some wineries apply this fee to a purchase. Others might include a souvenir glass with the fee. Some tasting rooms have a two tier fee, one for the main line of wines and one for reserve wines.
Having consulted the tasting list – and talked it over with the cellar door staff, make your purchases, cellar accordingly & enjoy ! | Back to top