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Vintage wines with clarity


Cellar Master

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WHEN YOU go to a wine shop to buy wine, how much importance do you attach to the vintage? Now let us be perfectly clear as to what a vintage is. The year on the label is the year the grapes were harvested and the wine made. It is not the year when the label was printed or when the wine was bottled. So the year is the vintage.

How accurate are vintage charts? The simple answer is, not very. They are a general guide, but not much more than that. If you have a look at a chart, where 10 points is the highest you can get, it will say something like Red Bordeaux, Medoc/Graves 4-7. Pomerol/St. Emilion will be 4-8 and Burgundy, Cote D’Or Red will be 4-8.

I’ve only taken two wine regions, but I hope you will get the point. It would be impossible to give a vintage report on every vineyard in Europe, never mind including the New World. The charts can only generalise, and only the well known vineyards are reported. As an example, one chart, when you got to Italy, only gave a report on Tuscany reds. Italy has 20 wine regions, so why just report on Tuscany? For the US, the chart only reported on California Cabernet Sauvignons. Crazy!

How can any chart say a particular region was great in a certain year? There are factors that can give one vineyard a great harvest, while a neighbouring one can have a bad year. Mildew attacks some leaves but not all and can be caused by leaving dead leaves on the ground. Bad weather during flowering can result in poor pollination (coulure). And when you think a region can be 240,000 hectares (600,000 acres) in size, you will realise that charts are not even a good guide. How can they be? They can only select certain vineyards and they are not representative of the whole region.

It is obvious these charts are not for the average wine drinker. So when you go to your supermarket or wine shop for a bottle of wine to accompany your chicken piri-piri, curry, or fish and chips, don’t worry about the vintage. If you bought a 2005 vintage, could you honestly say it was better or worse than a 2004 or 2003 of the same wine?

Vintages are important if you are a broker and you invest your money for maybe 10 or 20 years or more. And if you want a good case of wine to lie down for a number of years then go to a broker and not a wine shop or supermarket. The broker has taken the gamble and, quite frankly, he’s the only one you can trust.

I look forward to Beaujolais Nouveau day every year. Not because I like the wine. I think it’s disgusting. It is an eduction though to be in a London wine bar listening to the ‘yuppies’. “I say, this is a jolly little wine this year, isn’t it?” The reply is, “Yes, a spiffing little number but not quite as good as last year”. The answer is, “Well maybe not, but it’s far superior to the previous year”.

These sad people don’t even speak softly. They want to let the world know how stupid they are. They get to taste this new wine on one day each year. Then, two years later, they maintain they can remember how good it was and that is without making notes. They never remember how bad it was.

Recently, three million vegetarians in the UK threw a tantrum because Masterfoods was including the enzyme rennet in the manufacture of Mars bars. As a result, Masterfoods did a u-turn. I wonder how many of those vegetarians drink wine. I would say about 90 per cent of adults. My job is to encourage people to drink wine not discourage them. I have to ask though, if these protesters know how the wine was clarified.

Finings are used to clarify all wines. One is Casein. This is made from milk by rennin, which is produced by the stomach. It is an active constituent of rennet (the inner lining of the fourth stomach of calves or other young mammals), which vegetarians are complaining about.

Then there’s gelatine, which is formed by boiling specially prepared skin, bones and connective tissue of animals as well as isinglass, which is almost a pure gelatine prepared from the air bladder of fish, such as sturgeon.

White of egg and Spanish clay are also very popular. Maybe ox blood was used. Oh dear. What if…? Incidently, rennin is used in cheesemaking.

There is no legal obligation for a wine producer to say what was used to clarify wine as it is not a wine ingredient but merely part of the process of making wine. So how are vegetarians to know which was used? They could, of course, phone the vineyard and ask them but they may or may not be told. Of course, they will have to accept that vineyards may not use the same finings each year.

The Vegetarian Society were pleased that Masterfoods recognises the importance of integrity. Integrity? “The strict adherence to a code of moral values, or other standards, complete sincerity and honesty”. Do wine drinking vegetarians fit the bill? I hope so, and I hope they continue to drink wine, and enjoy life to the full.

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