- Q & A
Shortcuts On Wine: Introduction
The subject of wine, as fascinating and entertaining as it is, can, for many people, be intimidating. Having spent over half a century in this business I can confide that I am still learning every day about this vast and enthralling subject.
This book clearly addresses many of the basic, and not so basic, fundamentals of learning about and enjoying wine. I first met Ed Masciana in the late 1980s when I was a guest on his radio show and was struck by the insightful questions he asked about this wonderful, but complex business.
When his first book was published, Shortcuts on Wine, I complimented him on his understanding of the subject and the great care he took in explaining complicated scenarios on wine production and enjoyment in easily recognizable terms.
His revision further explains and demystifies most of the terminology and misconceptions that we try desperately to convey to the consumer in clear and concise terms. Ed was the first to describe in detail the incredible financial burden that underscores the wine industry in words that most people can understand. It still stands as the best explanation on the economics of the wine industry published today.
As a company, as a family and as a dedicated winemaker, myself and my family have taken it upon ourselves to stress the importance of educating and enlightening the wine enthusiast, and even more importantly, the potential wine enthusiast, about the joys, history and importance of wine in our daily lives.
I applaud Ed's book as a necessary step in accomplishing this important goal.
Since 1984, when I began teaching wine courses for the South Bay Adult School in Manhattan Beach, California, the question asked by students more than any other was, "What book can you recommend that will outline the basics like you've done in this class?"
Although I've probably read at least half of all the wine books ever written, I was stumped for an answer. As I continued to teach classes there and through the UCLA Extension program and El Camino College Adult programs, that same question kept cropping up. And, I still had the same answer.
So, in 1988, I decided to write one. That book, Shortcuts on Wine, was dedicated to the thousands of students who have taken my wine classes in the past and will take wine classes in the future. I tried to address as many topics as the beginning wine lover would be interested in and a few he or she may not. It is structured in the same manner as the four-week beginning wine class I've taught for many years.
This revised edition expands on many of the topics in my first book and adds information that wasn't included. I am most proud of the section comparing the major wine producing areas. I've always wanted a reference like that and after compiling it, I know why it was never done. It was an exhausting amount of research and it's just the beginning. It is by no means complete, but I promise to continue to refine it and make it more relevant as the years go by.
The story of wine from economic, religious, cultural and political viewpoints is quite fascinating. Wine has been an integral part of man's life for over 8,000 years. Hopefully, without interference from the neo-prohibitionists, it will survive another 8,000 years.
It's hard to imagine that the Second World War jump-started America's interest in wine. At the very least, it had an effect. Many of the baby boomers' fathers were stationed in Europe during World War II and became exposed to the European view of food and wine. The meal was a family affair. Work stopped, and friends and family gathered to enjoy the sensuous pleasures of fresh food and local wine. Once exposed to this form of dining, it's hard to go back to a bologna sandwich and a beer.
In most European homes wine is a natural and normal part of a meal. That is not yet the case in the United States, although we are slowly ridding ourselves of the social taboos of drinking wine with a meal. Most American wine drinkers are affluent. Most are college educated and active. One major appeal of wine is that, with its moderate alcohol content, it is an alternative to the cocktail. White wine seems to have replaced hard liquor as the cocktail of choice, possibly because of its flavor, chillability, lightness and, often, slight sweetness. This condition is hopefully a prelude to consuming wine with food. However, it must be pointed out that imbibing any alcohol, even wine, on an empty stomach is like playing with matches in an oil refinery.
WINE WITH FOOD
Wine tastes good, and its myriad flavors are compatible with a variety of foods. Wine enhances food, and it is also life enhancing. With regard to the latter, wine is now served in hospitals, has been proven to be highly beneficial in geriatrics, and often is prescribed by modern doctors, as was the case centuries ago, in the treatment of many diseases, especially heart disease.
Wine, unlike other beverages, actually complements food and food complements wine. Your most sensitive taste sensor is the tongue. It is made up of thousands of tiny taste buds that are shaped like a mushroom, a stem with a cap that overhangs on top. As you eat, your taste buds trap food between the stem and the cap, blotting out the bud's ability to taste. Your taste buds get overloaded and thus, the food seems to lose its flavor. Wine's naturally high acidity cleanses those taste buds better than anything else. Wines referred to as "food wines" tend to have a higher acidity, making them too tart to drink on their own. That acidity cleanses the palate and prepares it to accept the next bite of food.
Acidity curls the tongue and induces you to salivate. The saliva is a natural digestive, helping to move the food through the body. Wine is the catalyst in not just enjoying the taste of food but helping to digest it as well. Acidity can work in the opposite direction, too. If you continue to taste a high acid wine without food, your taste buds will become overloaded with acid and your tongue will feel dry and unpleasant. That's why wines with lower acids and/or a touch of sugar are sometimes referred to as "cocktail wines" as they can be consumed without food and not overload the taste buds with acid. Unfortunately, as noted above, this condition forces you to drink wine without the benefit of food, introducing alcohol into the bloodstream twice as fast as if you had had something to eat.
The use of wine is cited several times in the Bible, making it one of the most ancient of beverages. It existed in Russia and Mesopotamia at least 7,000 years ago and was probably man's first introduction to alcohol. It endured because it was high enough in alcohol to keep without refrigeration or proper enclosures. Alcohol and sugar are natural preservatives. That's why the first wines were high in alcohol and sweet. They tasted better for a longer period of time.
There are numerous references to wine in the Bible. Noah planted vineyards and "became drunken," according to Genesis IX. Even then, drunkenness was frowned upon. And, of course, there is Jesus' turning of water into wine in the New Testament.
In Western civilization, wine grapes were first cultivated in the Near East around the Mediterranean Basin. The vine and wine cultures were first spread by the Greeks into France and Italy (tough news for the French and Italians!). The Greeks called Italy Enotria, "The Land of Staked Vines." Grapes were grown wild in Italy, whereas the Greeks were more scientific. The Italian wine tasted better because the grapes were grown higher off the ground (trained around olive trees), allowing more sunlight to reach them. This ripened the grapes more than those of other countries, thus making them more flavorful. The Greeks took this idea of training the vines off the ground to garner more sunlight (referred to as trellising) along with their own practices regarding irrigation and hillside exposures and planted grapes in the farther reaches of Europe.
While it was the Greeks who really started the ball rolling, it was certainly the Romans who carried it. They planted vines in every country they conquered and probably a few they didn't. As the Roman Empire expanded, wine grapes were established in nearly every part of present-day Europe.
Vineyards in France, Italy and Germany were very extensive by the Middle Ages. The literature of the times clearly shows wine was a staple of life. Coincidentally, wine shares a few properties with two staples, cheese and bread. All are the result of fermentation of one kind or another.
The grape varieties cultivated in Europe today belong to a special species known as Vitis Vinifera, meaning wine-bearer. It numbers well over 5,000 varieties, but only about 100 to 200 are of importance to commercial wine makers. The Vinifera grape varieties have been successfully transplanted to many regions besides Europe: Australia, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Washington, Oregon, California and several other parts of the United States.