A Little About Wine
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
This term is usually applied only to the fermented juice of the grape ; when other fruits, as currants, blackberries, gooseberries, elderberries, etc., are used instead of grape; in making it, the product is generally distinguished as domestic or homemade wine. Directions for making all the different kinds of homemade wines are given under the special fruit from which each is made; and information as to the choice and serving of the various wines commonly used in this country is given under the name of each. We shall confine ourselves here, therefore, to a few general observations which will apply equally to all wines.
The quantity of alcohol is the first element which determines their price. A duty is levied on all wines coming into this country, and those containing less than a certain percentage of alcohol pay less than those containing more.
Wines, however, are not consumed for then alcohol alone ; they contain other ingredient; which they derive from the grape juice, which give them taste and flavor. Thus, when fermentation of the grape juice is not complete, a certain quantity of sugar is left, and according to the quantity of sugar left wines are said tc be " sweet " or dry.' While hocks, clarets, and other light wines contain little or no sugar, port, sherry, and champagne always contain a large amount. In the case of port and sherry this sugar is added during the manufacture, in order to enable them to bear exportation.
There are three other qualities in wines which demand some consideration. The first is what is called the bouquet and the flavor. These things are sometimes confounded, but they are really different. The vinous flavor is common to all wines, but the bouquet is peculiar to certain wines. The substance which gives flavor to all wines is oenanthic ether, and it is formed during the fermentation of the grape juice. The bouquet of wines is formed in the same way by some of the acids found iii the grape juice after fermentation combining with the ethyl of the alcohol, and forming ethers. These are the things which make one wine more pleasant to drink than another, and which give their high prices to the best wines. They are not detectable by any chemical agency ; but it is the taste of these bouquets, and nothing else, which gives to one wine the value of five dollars a bottle, and to another fifty cents,when all other qualities are precisely the same. The second point in the nature of wines is their color. Some wines are what is called "red" and others are " white." Ports, clarets, burgundies, are all red; also many other wines. The red colors of these wines have been analyzed with some care, but they do not seem to exert any influence upon the system. The most important agent in them is tannic acid, or tannin, which exists in some wines to a very large extent, and which is produced by the skins of the grapes used iii making the wine. It gives an astringency to red wines which is not found in white. The other coloring matters described by chemists are blue and brown. These also come from the skins of the grapes, and the latter is found in dark white wines as well as iii red.
The other matters which give a character to wines are the saline compounds. These sub-stances, which constitute the ashes of all vegetable tissues, exist in a varying quantity in all fruits, and are found dissolved in the juices of fruit; hence we find them remaining in wine I after fermentation of the juice. The most abundant of these salts is bitartrate of potash 1 (cream of tartar). Besides this, wines contain tartrate of lime, tartrate of alumina, tartrate of iron, chloride of sodium, chloride of potassium, sulphate of potash, and phosphate of alumina. These salts occur in the proportion of from one to four parts in the one thousand of wine. They do not make much difference in the flavor or action of wines ; but their presence or absence is one of the surest indications of the genuineness of a wine. Those who manufacture wines with alcohol and water and add a certain quantity of good wine to give a flavor, do not usually add these mineral constituents, which are always the best test of a pure wine.
Champagne.— The most celebrated of the French wines, chiefly produced in the province of that name. It is generally understood in this country to be a brisk, effervescing, sparkling white wine of a peculiar flavor ; but this is only one of several varieties. There are both red and white champagnes, and both of them may be either sparkling or still; the sparkling wines are called mousseux, and the still non-mousseux. The sparkling are most highly esteemed, on account of their delicate flavor, and the agreeable pungency which is given them by the carbonic acid they contain. There is a great difference in the quality of champagne wines, according to the particular vineyards at which they have been made. The finest are produced in the sloping grounds on the north bank of the river Marne ; and they are mostly white wines. Dry champagnes (i. e., not sweet) are growing in favor, especially among those with whom sugar disagrees. There is no wine, with the possible exception of sherry, that is more extensively adulterated and imitated by artificial combinations than sparkling champagne. The sparkling of champagne is properly caused by the fermentation of rock candy introduced into still wine. Inferior wines have carbonic acid pumped in ; in either case the sparkle cannot be depended upon for more than two years. The red champagnes are not used much in this country ; they seldom equal Burgundy, which they I much resemble. That of Clos de St. Thierry is considered the best.
In selecting champagne, many consider the briskness and effervescence as a test of their excellence ; but a good judge will prefer a liquor of moderate briskness, as much of the aroma evaporates with the froth. Champagne must be kept in an equable temperature, and cooled by ice, outside of the bottle, never in the wine. It intoxicates quickly and the excitement it produces is of a more vivacious and agreeable character than that which comes from any other wine, but its duration is shorter, and the reaction less. For this reason it is an admirable tonic for invalids and for all who are suffering from a low state of the system. The best brands are : Pommery and Greno, Roederer, Mumm, Due de Montebello, Krug, Geisler, and Heidsieck. Veuve Clicquot is highly prized as one of the best of the sweet wines.
Claret.— Those wines which are known to us as claret are the product of the country around Bordeaux ; but in France there is no wine known as claret, which is simply a corruption of clariet, a term applied there to any red or rose-colored wine. The genuine wines of Bordeaux are of great variety, that being one of the most famous wine districts of France, and a number of them are of the first quality. The principal vineyards are those of Medoc, Palus, Graves, and Blanche, the produce of each being different in character. The red Medoc wines are the best, and are known as Latour, Lafitte, Chateau Margaux, etc. When in perfection, they are of a rich red color, have a most agreeable bouquet, and are strong without being intoxicating. The Lafitte is considered to have the finest flavor ; the Chateau Margaux is next in rank ; the Latour is the strongest, and has the fullest body, but lacks the softness of the others. Besides these there are vast quantities of second and third rate Medoc wines, which seldom find their way out of France in a pure state. All the Medoc wines are improved by a sea voyage.
The wines of Graves are so called from the gravelly soil on which they are produced ; they are both red and white, but the latter is most celebrated. Some of the red resemble Burgundy in flavor, but are inferior to good Medoc wines.
Another class of white Bordeaux wines well known iii this country are Barsac, Sauterne, and Beaume, which have the advantage of keeping long and having considerable dryness.
The Palus wines are inferior to the Medoc and Graves. They are strong and rough when new, and are often used to mix with Medoc wines to give them additional strength and body; when old, some of them have a fine bouquet. The Bordeaux wines, when genuine, are among the best that France produces; but they seldom reach us in a pure state. The inferior are mixed with the better kind for exportation ; and very often they are adulterated with the cheap Spanish wines of Alicant, or with brandy.
Claret should usually be drunk a little warmer than the temperature of the room, but in warm weather it is good iced. The highest grades of claret will keep for from fifteen to eighteen years, constantly improving in delicacy. After that time they rapidly deteriorate.
Madeira.— A white wine made in the island of Madeira, which, when genuine, is one of the richest wines in the world, having great strength, dryness, and delicacy of flavor. It is extremely durable in all climates, and improves with age. Madeira, being a strong wine naturally, has, least of all, occasion for the addition of brandy ; yet it is the constant practice to add some of this spirit previous to exportation, which is incorporated in time. The inferior kinds are made up with almonds and various additions ; and, in fact, the adulterations are so numerous that the wine has lately fallen into comparative disrepute. The prejudice against Madeira has been considerably in-creased by the supposed discovery that it contains a little more acid than sherry, but this opinion has been disputed, and seems to have been derived from the inferior Madeiras.
Several years ago, the vines failed in the island of Madeira, and the best Madeira is now very old. The new wine made from vines planted in the island within a few years is excellent for its age, and is of great promise. Madeira keeps best in demijohns in a moderately warm place, though it keeps quite well in bottles. Warmth seems to ripen it and bring out its best qualities. It should be drunk about the temperature of the room.
Burgundy.- The choicest wines of the ancient province of Burgundy in France are among the richest, most aromatic, and delicately flavored in the world. They are imperfectly known in this country, but if properly bottled they can be brought over in good condition, and it is to be hoped they will become better known, especially in our sick rooms. The Burgundy wines are of two kinds, white and red. The red is much the finer of the two, but the best of these rarely leave France. The first in quality of the red wines is the Romanee Conti, but this is not easy to get even in France ; the next in order of excellence are Clos Vougeot, Chambertin, Pommard, Nuits, Volnag, and Beaune. The Macon wines are lighter and of a lower grade. The higher grades of Burgundy should be drunk at the temperature of the room, never iced. High grade Burgundies will keep for from twenty to thirty years, or even longer, while the lower grades are best at the age of from five to ten years. Burgundies are often served in a cradle.
The white Burgundies are smaller in number and inferior in quality to the red; but some of them rank very high for their fine flavor, as the Chablis, Mont Rachet, La Goutte d' Or, and Les Charmes.
Burgundy is recommended to invalids as a light, mildly stimulating, but highly tonic drink. It should always be drunk a trifle warmer than the temperature of the room ; and should be served in a cradle.
Catawba Wine.- One of the best and most popular of the native American wines, considered by many to be superior to most of the French and German wines, at least such of them as are to be had in our markets. It is made from the Catawba grapes, which grow abundantly in the valley of the Ohio and in other parts of the country. It is a sweet wine, containing in its pure state from ten to twelve per cent. of alcohol, and is made either into still or sparkling wine ; the latter, which is most in demand, contains an addition of alcohol and consequently is stronger. Catawba wine is mostly white, though some red wine is made. It is fit for use two years from the time the grapes are pressed, but reaches perfection, according to Mr. Longworth, when about seven years old.