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Wine Wise - Wine Types

( Originally Published 1933 )



All wine is divided into three kinds: Dry, Sweet and Sparkling. Each has its own characteristics, the result of special methods of production. Each, moreover, has its distinct purposes. Each kind is made in both red and white varieties. Within each of the three major classifications are many distinct types, resulting from the use of a particular kind of grape, or a secret of manufacture or of blending.

Dry wine is called "natural wine" because it is the fermented juice of the grape, just as Nature finishes the job, with nothing added. Dry wines are light wines, used mainly as table wines consumed with meals. The alcoholic content ranges from nine to twelve per cent.

Sweet wine is known as "fortified wine" because its natural alcoholic content is increased by the addition of grape brandy until it ranges from twenty, to. twentytwo per cent. Fortifying the wine halts the process of fermentation before all the grape sugar is converted into alcohol. Consequently, this wine tastes sweeter. It is heavier and more syrupy in character.

Sweet wines are used as medicinal wines, after-dinner drinks and for cooking purposes.

Sparkling wines are subjected to a secondary fermentation after they have been bottled so that they develop a natural carbonic gas which causes them to bubble and sparkle for some time after they are poured into the glass. Their alcoholic content is about twelve per cent. Because of their liveliness and their ability to cause vivacity, Sparkling wines are renowned as festivity beverages. They are likewise recognized aids to digestion.

Dry, Sweet and Sparkling wines are made from both red and white varieties of grapes.

In making red wines, red or black grapes are selected and the juice is generally fermented with the skins, which furnish the color pigment and which add likewise a more pungent taste to the wine. The skins and seeds likewise contain tannic acid, which adds to the digestive qualities of the wines, particularly when they are consumed with red meats or game.

White wines are made from the juice of the fresh crushed grapes fermented with or without contact with the skins. White varieties of grapes are most commonly used, but some red grapes with light-colored flesh are used, special care being taken in pressing the grapes lightly to avoid the coloring of the juice by the skins.

Light white wines vary from the pale straw shade of light Rhine wines to the deep amber of Sauterne. In red wines the wine makers strive for deep clear ruby colors. In either red or white wine, color and clearness are important items in judging the age and quality of wine.

Great variations exist in each of the three kinds of wine. There are a dozen or more types of Dry wines and many varieties of Sweet wines. There is less variation among the Sparkling wines, except for the "dosage" which the wine makers inject into the wine to give their own individual flavor.

Frequently I am asked by a novice on wines which is the best wine to drink. It is about as difficult to answer that question as it would be to say which food it is best to eat. Preference for a wine type is largely a matter of taste. Certain lifelong authorities will swear by one type, others by another. The choice of a wine is always contingent on the purpose for which it is used and the foods with which it is to be drunk, if it is a table wine. Generally speaking, white table wines are more suitable to people of phlegmatic dispositions and red wines are preferable for people of more nervous temperaments.

The great bulk of wine made throughout the world consists of Dry types for table use with meals. Dry wines are healthful beverages of comparatively low alcoholic content. The Sweet wines are high in alcohol and they are largely used for after-dinner drinks, medicinal purposes and for cooking.

THE NAMES OF WINES

To many people the names of the wines sold on the American markets are confusing for the reason that so many of them are European geographic names.

"Why can't we give our American wines American names?" I have heard people exclaim.

American wine makers could do that, but the result would be even more confusing because wine users throughout the world are accustomed to the European names. They would have great difficulty in identifying the wine as to type. There is no more reason for renaming wines with foreign names than there would be for giving new names to foods of foreign origin, such as mayonnaise, spaghetti and sauerkraut.

Most of the established wine names had their birth in districts or provinces of France, Germany, Spain or Italy from which these types originally came. Sauterne, for example, is the name of a district in France corresponding to a county in one of our states.

Sauterne is the outstanding wine of that district, the one for which the region is renowned. Port, for another example, derived its name from Oporto in Portugal, where that type of wine was originated and from which most of it is shipped.

When vineyards were established in California, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and other parts of the world, grapevines were transplanted to these new lands from the European vineyards. The vineyardists and wine makers in the new lands made every effort to reproduce the wines of their native districts because those were the types which wine drinkers the world over knew and wanted to buy. The only means by which they could be identified were the original names of the vines and the wines.

It so happens that because of the unusual variety of climatic and soil conditions in California, grape varieties can be grown there which will reproduce most of the wine types made elsewhere in the world, with the exception of the truly "American" wines of the eastern states. These wines are the result of blends in California, but they are faithful reproductions of the foreign wine types. It is only natural that these types should continue to bear the original names et-en though the wine makers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal have objected to this practice.

However, to the wine buyer the name is not a geographic name any longer, but is the name of a particular type of wine. When the vintner sells California Burgundy or California Port there is no deception, and no purchaser is deluded into thinking he is buying a French or Portuguese wine.

The term "American wines" refers to wines made from native grapevines developed in the United States, principally in the eastern states. Except for the Champagne, these grapes do not produce wine types which correspond closely to those made in the European wine districts, although many of them are delightful wines. They are simply new types of American origin and therefore they bear often distinctly American names. However, the volume of American wines made from eastern grapes is less than one-fifth of the total produced in the United States. Four-fifths of the wine produced in this country is of the European types, fermented from grapes grown in California.

On the following pages, where the major wine types available on the American market are described, the writer tells first of the European wine which gave origin to the type, then discusses the corresponding California wine, and finally takes up the American types and how they differ. It is not his intention to suggest in any way that the foreign wines are superior or that the California types are preferable to the American. Each type has its inspired wines and its mediocre varieties, and there are enthusiasts ready to shout the glories of every type of wine. After all, wine is a matter of personal preference. The main thing is to know what to look for in a wine, and it is the writer's hope that he can help make the types distinguishable one from another.



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