Being a wine guide too, I get asked many questions about wine making and wine in general. Here are some of the most asked questions and my answers:
1/ Wine and wine making
What is BALANCE?
A wine’s balance refers to how it handles the key components of alcohol, tannin, acidity and residual sugar. They are the sensations you have when you first taste the wine. The perfectly balanced wine is the ideal combination of all four elements. Basically, if there is too much tannin, your mouth and gums dry up, too much acidity and you get that pucker sensation, too much fruit and its like drinking juice and too much alcohol gives a burning sensation in your throat.
A perfect balance is when you get that “wow” sensation after swallowing…
What are TANNINS?
Tannins are found on grapes skins, in the seeds and from the barrel. They are technically plant-derived polyphenols. Tannins give the structure (or backbone) to red wines and are the element that “drys the mouth” when you drink the wine. Tannins look for proteins in your mouth, that is why tannins improve when you are eating certain food – meat or dairy products, for example. If you are not eating, then the tannins attack the proteins in your mouth, i.e. your gums and dry your saliva.
Tannins are found in both white and red grapes, however in white grapes they a greatly reduced. Since tannins have a bitter element, it’s good that you don’t find a lot in whites, whose ability to age comes from ACIDITY.
If you want to see what tannins are without opeing a bottle of red, then brew some tea and, without adding milk or cream, take a sip. The dry, astringent compound is a tannin.
What is ACIDITY?
Acidity is often described as the “sour” factor of wine. When you drink wine, in particular white wine, you get a tingling sensation in your cheeks and a slight mouth-watering. Acidity allows wine to maintain freshness whilst moulding its flavour components. If a wine has too much acidity it is called “tarty” and when it has too little “flat”.
The acid comes from grape skins, of which the most importnat are tartaric acid and malic acid and the acidity levels for the same grape varietal can change depending on where the grape is cultivated, for example a Californian chardonnay has higher acidity than in a Burgundy chardonnay, which has less malic acid. There is also acetic acid in wine (the vinegary taste). This should not exceed 0.6%. When it does you get that horrible “vinegar” flavour!!
Part of the success in making a perfectly balanced wine is balancing acidity and sugar levels. This is the work of the winemaker.
What is the ALCOHOL in wine?
A grape is made up of 80% water and 20% sugar. Once the sugar is fermented by yeasts during the wine making process. The result is water alcohol and flavourings.
The alcohol created by the yeasts is ETHANOL.
Wine is made up of:
Ethyl Alcohol: 25g
traces of flavor elements
What are SULPHITES?
Sulphites are compounds that contain sulphite ions. They are necessary in wine making to keep the wine from spoiling as a result of bacterial contamination.
Closely related Sulphur Dioxide is used as a finishing agent when making wine. It preserves the wine and then acts as an antioxidant, which keeps the wine from turning a brown colour.
In addition, sulphites are added to the wine when it is bottled to prevent further spoilage from bacteria that you may find in the bottle. If you don’t add sulphites, wine can easily and rapidly go off.
Certain people are allergic to sulphites and this is often why they get headaches when drinking wine (or any alcohol).
What is CHAPTALISATION?
The legal addition of (brown) sugar to fermenting must to increase the sugar levels, thus bringing up the final alcohol levels to a legal minimum (11.5%) as decreed by the INAO (Controlled Appellations Authority)
What is TERROIR?
Terroir is a combination of natural elements that make a specific grape-growing area. It includes vineyard orientation, soil make-up and micro-climatic condition.
In the Burgundy region, wine makers say that 80% of the success of the wine is due to the Terroir conditions. Most vineyards are east or south-east facing to get the most of the rising sun and its energy. The top soil is made up of clay and marlestone and the sub-soil is varying types of limestone. The micro-climatic conditions vary depending on where the vineyard is located. The falt lands have worse drainage, sun exposure and temperatures, whereas the vineyards of the slopes have better drainiage, direct sunlight and warmer temperatures. The top of the slope is not as ideal as there is more wind, its colder and the drainage is inferior.
What is a GRAPE VARIETAL?
Varietals refer to specific grape varieties used to make wine. Here are the most common:
Pinot Noir – red fruits, floral (herbaceous)
Cabernet – blackcurrant, cherry, black fuits and green spices
Merlot – plum, red and black fruits, green spices, floral
Shiraz (or Syrah) -black fruits, black spices especially black and white pepper
Zinfandel-black fruits (often jammy), black spices – often calleed “briary”
Chardonnay- cool climate: tropical fruit, citrus fruit in slightly warmer areas and melon in warm regions. With increasing proportion of malolactic fermentation, Chardonnay loses gren apple acidity and takes on more creamy notes: apple, pear, peach, apricot.
Sauvignon Blanc – Grapefuit, white gooseberry, lime, melon.
What is ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION?
Quite simply, the yeasts on the grape skins transform the sugar in the grapes into cellular energy, which produces alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide.
What is MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION?
Basically, malolactic fermentation (also called Malo), is a secondary fermentation. It turns the harsher malic acid in a wine into a softer (milkier) lactic acid. Malic acid can be found in apples while lactic acid is found in milk, butter, cheese and yogurt. The processes of converting malic acid to lactic acid means that the wine is more drinkable and less abrasive on the palate. It usually takes place during the wine maturation period in the oak barrels.
This method has also been successful in many chardonnays where the malic acid lends complexity and the non-malolactic wines contributes solid fruit.
How long does ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION take?
It depends on the winemaker, but reds can take up to 10 days or more and whites up to 14. The process needs high temperatures to that the yeasts can be effective, around 80°For 29°C.
What is CARBONIC MACERATION?
It is a system of fermentation in which whole, uncrushed grapes are fermented in the absence of air. Colour is extracted without tannin, so the wine is supple and drinkable early. This is how they make Beaujolais wine.
How long does the wine stay in the OAK BARRELS?
Reds from 16 to 22 months
Whites from 8 to 12 months
How much wine is contained in A BARREL?
A Burgundy barrel is called a PIECE and contains 228 litres or 304 bottles
A Bordeaux barrel is called a BARRIQUE and contains 225 litres or 300 bottles
Beaujolais & Rhone conatins 212 litres.
How long does a BARREL last?
Normally about 5 to 6 vintages (or years)
How much wine is produced IN THE VINEYARD?
130 kilograms of grapes will produce roughly 1 hectolitre of wine.
1 hectolitre = 100 litres = 133.3 bottles = 11.1 cases.
In Burgundy if they plant about 11.000 vines per hectare (2.5 acres) and 8 bunches of grapes per vine, the yield will be approximately 55hl/ha (or 5500 litres per 2.5 acres). This amounts to some 650 grams of grapes, or half a litre of wine per vine!!!!!
What are the MEASURES OF CAPACITY for wine?
1 standard bottle = 0.75 litres
1.5 litres = 1 magnum (or 2 bottles)
3.0 litres = 1 double magnum called a Jeraboam
9 litres = 12 bottles = 1 case
What is OIDIUM?
It’s powdery mildew; a rapidly spread fungus disease of American origin which attacks new leaves and shoots, and splits and rots the grapes.
What is PHYLLOXERA?
Its an APHID, which feeds on vine roots, eventually killing the plant. It multiplies quickly and is a permanent resident is European soils. There is no cure, but American rootstock is resistant and is used widely on grafted vines.
The Phylloxera reached France in the 1860’s and struck Burgundy in 1876.
How long can VINES LIVE?
A vine is similar to a human being and can live to 100 years old and more. A vine is considered old from 55 years of age and produces higher quality grapes. However, as with older humans, it is more fragile and sensitive to disease and extreme weather conditions. If an old vine doesn’t produce the right quantity of grapes for its appellation, then it is no longer viable. Some wine is made from old vines only and that is why you see the words “Vielles Vignes” on some French wine bottles.
What is an APPELLATION?
An appellation is the legally required way of identifying the origin of the grapes used in making the wine. In Burgundy there are 4 levels of appellations for the AOC wines:
Grand Crus – There exists 33, e.g. Montrachet, Chambertin, Romanée-Conti
1er Crus -There exist 684, eg Vosne Romanée 1er Cru” les Suchots”, Nuits Saint George 1 er Cru “Les Damodes”, Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru “Les Folatières”.
Village Appellations – There are 44 AOC village appellations, eg Gevrey Chambertin, Meursault, Aloxe Corton, Santenay, Vosne Romanée, Fixin, Chassagne Montrachet
Regional Appellations – Bourgogne, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Chardonnay, Bougogne Aligoté, Bourgogne Passetoutgrain
Do they use CHEMICALS in the vineyards?
They have 3 types of cultivation in Burgundy and particularly in the Côte d’Or (Côtes de Nuits and Côtes de Beaune districts):
Lutte Raisonnée – This is the most commonly used method where the dose and timing of treatments are precisely planned and based on long-range weather forecasts in each individual village and vineyard. Pesticides and fertilizers have been reduced to a minimum, mainly thanks to grouped efforts of placing pheromone-exceting capsules throughout the vineyard causing “sexual confusion” amongst moths, thus greatly reducing the risk of grape-worm. In general this method contributes to a better balance of insect life in the vineyard.
Biodynamic Viticulture – This aim is to increase the health and resistance to disease of the vines. Apart from banning synthetic chemicals, it relies on the use of homeopathic treatments against fungal and other diseases. Preparations are made from numerous plants including horsetail, dandelion, nettles and achille/milfoil. In addition silica-based treatments are added during the year to both the vines and the soil. The 3 main biodynamic preparations are “Cow dung” applied to the vineyard every October to develop the soil’s micro-organisms, “Cow dung fermented in horns buried in the ground”, applied in the spring to “mineralize” the soil and ” ground -up quartz wixed with rain-water in horns) applied to the leaves two or three times a year to increase the efficiency of other treatments.
Organic Viticulture – This bans the use of any synthetic chemical treatments from weedkillers and fertilisers to fungicides and insecticides. Some chemicals such as Sulphur and Copper Sulphate are used as they are considered natural chemicals. When spayed during a rainy period, they wash-off into the soil and the exercise has to be repeated, thus, unfortunately, saturating the soil in sulphur – not the best of solutions. A lot of questions are being asked as of the quality of the grapes and subsequently the wine made from organic cultures…
2/ General info on the Burgundy wine region
How BIG IS THE WINE AREA In Burgundy?
Chablis has 4,500 hectares or 11,250 acres
Côtes de Nuits has 3,600 hectares or 9,000 acres
Côtes de Beaune has 5,900 hectares or 14,750 acres
Côte Chalonnaise has 4,200 hectares or 10,500 acres
Maconnais has 6,700 hectares or 16,750 acres
How much WINE IS PRODUCED in the region?
1.5 million hectolitres or 200 million bottles
120 million bottles of white and 80 million bottles of red
How many WINE ESTATES are there in Burgundy?
There are 3800 wineries, 250 wine houses and 23 Caves Cooperatives.
What is the AVERAGE SIZE of a wine estate?
The average size is about 7.8 hectares which is about 20 acres.