The earliest known traces of wine are from China (c. 7000 BC). Mead, also called honey wine, is created by fermenting honey with water. The French are the biggest wine drinkers in the world. They drink 53 litres per person per year. (this fact is disputed because it is said that the Vatican drinks 73 litres per capita) People who are scared of wine have “oenophobia”.
Alcoholic beverages, including wine, are forbidden under most interpretations of Islamic law. Within ten years of the death of Mohammed in A.D. 632, wine was largely banned from muslim countries. Top sommeliers think that smell is by far the most important sense when it comes to drinking wine.
The custom of raising a glass to one another and saying “cheers” before drinking originated with the Romans and the Greeks, who used to offer wine to their gods before celebrations. The world’s oldest bottle of wine is over 1600 years old and can be found at a museum in Germany. It was buried nearby in 350 CE and was found again in 1867.
There is scientific evidence that moderate, regular wine drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and gum disease. Heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, drives an Aston Martin DB5 that’s powered almost entirely by wine derived bioethanol. It is a convertible and the wine powered car averages 300 miles per year.
It takes about 4 or 5 years for a newly planted grape vine to get to full production. A single celled organism called yeast converts the sugar in grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and also release heat in the process. 70% of the alcohol is produced in the first 7 days of fermentation. This is called primary fermentation. At the start the wine can ferment so fast that it appears to be boiling. If the yeast converts all the sugar into alcohol it is a dry wine. Wine ferments fastest at 21C. Yeast will die at 37C.
The pomace left over after pressing wine.
Pomace is the solid remains of grapes, olives, or other fruit after pressing for juice or oil. It contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit. Wine fermenting at high temperatures creates more acetaldehyde which is a chemical which can produce hangovers so it is best if the wine does not ferment too fast. The largest wine producers in the world are France, Italy, and Spain. Michael Jackson used to order his wine served in diet coke cans during flights, due to being a ‘private drinker’ and not wanting his kids to see him drinking alcohol.
In a blind tasting it is very difficult for most people to differentiate between red wine and white wine (try this at home if you don’t believe it) . The Romans added lead to wine in order to give it a sweet taste and pleasant texture. Some people believe that the decline of the Roman empire was due to lead poisoning. For purists wine glasses should always be held by the stem and not the bowl because the heat of the hand will raise the temperature of the wine.
Enologists are wine chemists who analyse samples of wine and advise winemakers. In the late 19th century most of the vineyards in Europe were destroyed by the phylloxera epidemic because some infected vine cuttings were introduced from America. Phylloxera is a type of aphid which sucks the sap of the vine. American vines have adapted a defence mechanism against phylloxera. Nowadays, most vines in Europe have American roots and the top of the vines are grafted onto the rootstock.
Vineyards buy ready grafted dormant plants and plant them in the ground in winter. It takes at least 4 years before many grapes can be picked. The colour for red wine comes from the skins. Hardly any varieties of grapes have red flesh. Grapes contain all the necessary ingredients to make wine, the yeast is found on the skin and all the sugar and nutrients are found in the grape. A high concentration of alcohol will kill the yeast so the maximum strength of normal wine is generally around 15% alcohol by volume, but the exact amount will depend on the type of yeast.
Here are 3 videos of very small scale wine production in Spain showing the process of pressing the wine.