Of the numerous classifications that have been made, and that might be made, of the various and diverse wines produced in the different winegrowing regions, that is to be preferred which, up to a certain point, can be considered as the most natural, by giving an immediate idea of the principal characters presented by a certain wine or category of wines.
Carpene very justly considers the classing of wines according to different dishes or repasts as misleading and hurtful to the trade; for, as he well remarks in one of his articles, if this classification should be carried out we should have tripe wine, cheese wine, macaroni wine, etc. As every one knows, the order of wines and dishes through the repast is influenced by fashion and caprice. To-morrow, perhaps fashion will oblige us to imitate northern nations and Americans in our " cuisine," and then we will be obliged to drink champagne through the whole dinner; thus champagne must be successively known as an oyster wine, a soup wine, a roast wine, and heaven knows what else.
Not long since I was at a banquet, and by chance was placed next to a certain high functionary who was to commence the series of toasts. On the appearance of the roast our high functionary prepared himself. " But how is this," he exclaimed to a neighbor, "do they not give us champagne now?" "They serve the 'roast wine' now," replied the other. " Roast wine," cried the surprised high functionary, " but at court they serve champagne with the roast." Champagne was afterwards brought, and then the eminent personage was able to get up and make his toast, a very appropriate and happy one. I cannot say what influence the " roast wine " may have had on it.
This classifying by dishes is certainly all wrong, but if we should ask ourselves the question, as an amateur does in the wine taster's vade mecum, '' La vite ed il vino" " When should one drink wine? " the answer most certainly would be, " Whilst eating." Without a good selection of wines the most perfect bill of fare loses all its value.
High-class red wines should not be drunk before they have been eight or ten years in bottle. Before that they may be rough, and not particularly pleasant to the taste. Very fine white wines, too, should be well aged, otherwise the sugar, of which they contain a certain amount, will not have been all transformed into alcohol, and lessens their strength and bouquet.
A natural, primary, and main division of the various wines may be made with reference to their color, viz.:
WHITE AND RED WINES.
It should be stated her that this general division rests not only on the color that the wine may have, or on the presence or absence of oenocyanin in its composition, but on other characteristics in which a white wine differs greatly from a red.
This division is of no little hygienic importance, wines of different color having as distinct effects on our constitution as wines of different age, alcoholicity, or acidity.
White wines, as is well known, are obtained from white grapes, or from red grapes which, instead of being crushed and fermented in a mass, are pressed, and the must fermented separately; that is, not in contact with the pomace or solid parts of the grapes.
I call attention to the fact that white wine can be made from red grapes, because wines so made have exactly the same action on our system as have white wines made from white grapes.
Certainly the following from Guyot is very true:
Wine which has been fermented in contact with the stems, skins, and seeds of the grapes is very different from that which has been fermented separately. The latter wine is white, the other red, and the antithesis, though expressed here simply by the opposition of color, does not consist in the least in this difference of color, which is only an accident. The real difference consists in the special and often opposite hygienic qualities of these two kinds of wine. Nowadays tney make red wines which have all the hygienic properties of white wines, and it is possible to produce white wines which would have all the hygienic properties of red. All that is necessary to obtain this last result is to ferment the must of white grapes with the skins, seeds, and stems, in the same way as red wine is treated; in this way all the effects are obtained of a rapid decomposition and solution by maceration of the principles and products which are not found in the juice of the grape. * * *
I insist on the true distinction of wines obtained by the fermentation of the juice of the grape completely isolated from its accessories, and those made by fermentation of the juice, together with all, or at least part of the rest of the grape — a distinction quite independent of the color. Nothing is more alien or of less importance to the quality of a wine than its color. It may be a sign — an indication — but it is never a quality of itself. By the majority of consumers color is looked upon as a guarantee of the purity, quality, and strength of the wine. It is on account of this considering color as a sign of quality that unscrupulous dealers make use of it to commit innumerable frauds.
White wines are in general diffusible stimulants of the nervous system; if they are light they act rapidly on the physical organization, of which they intensify all the functions. It seems that they escape just as quickly through the skin and mucous membranes, and, above all, with the urine; their action, then, is of short duration.
Unlike white wines, red wines are tonic and persistent stimulants of the nerves, the muscles, and the digestive organs. Their organic action being slower is more prolonged; they do not unduly excite the perspiration nor the excretions, and their general action is astringent, persistent, and concentrated.
Moreover, the common opinion, founded on daily experience, leaves no doubt of the real difference, in their sensual and organic effects, between white wines and red.
Of equal importance are the following words of Dr. Gauber:
If one should divide the grapes gathered from a vineyard of the "Graves" of the Gironde into two parts, and of one make white wine and of the other red, and then, at the end of four years, make a careful tasting of these two wines which have been carefully treated during these four years, what will be the result? Made from a raw material apparently identical, will they be equally developed and equally mature? The white wine will have aged the most.
Will they produce the same effect, the same degree of stimulation, on our organs? Let us collect the sensations produced by one and the other in the order in which they are produced.
1. A. glass of white wine, well made and dry, the moment it enters the mouth develops a bright and penetrating aroma, and leaves, in passing, an impression, agreeable it is true, but fugitive and almost hot. Hardly has it reached the surface of the stomach when it causes a feeling of warmth which, in less than ten minutes in the case of certain healthy but impressionable constitutions, becomes very intense. Sometimes the action, by sympathetic radiation, is rellected from the stomach to the head with the promptitude of the electric Huid. Generally, after an hour or less, a sensation is felt as of a pressure either on the two temples or around the whole head; the hand is instinctively passed over the forehead as though to free it from some load. Sometimes a feeling of painful fullness of the brain accompanies these effects. The irritation is communicated from the gastric and nervous centers to the whole body. It shows itself by increased warmth, often irregularly distributed, of the body (with irritable people the palm of the hand often becomes unpleasantly hot and dry); by a need of movement, of displacement rather than of exercise (with people of the disposition mentioned above this need is shown by an internal agitation, by slight muscular tremblings accompanied by shooting pains that strike, with the rapidity of lightning, different parts of the body). -- At the end of two or three hours, more or less, according to the temperament and susceptibility of the individual, the irritation passes away and the taster finds himself in the same condition as before, with or without a certain feeling of lassitude or sadness.
2. If the white wine is replaced by a red wine of the same vintage, and taken at a proper temperature, it will leave in passing a distinct impression oil the two senses of smell and taste of a soft aroma; its fluidity in the mouth is less, and though it feels more material, so to speak, it leaves a less intense feeling of dry heat. Its contact with the stomach produces a softer and more gradual impression.
The organ is still warmed, but in a more vital manner, as it were. As to the sympathetic propagation of the stimulating action towards the headj it still takes place, but without the nervous phenomena of pressure and pain; the brain is gently excited. Its extension to the organs of the senses, if it takes place, is no longer betrayed by the need of displacement and agitation, but by a strengthened desire for exercise, which is very - different. The duration of the stimulation is more prolonged and ceases insensibly, so that the most attentive observation cannot detect the exact time at which it ends.
Here is, we believe, the sufficient explanation of the difference of effect observed between white wine and red wine — the first (white wines of Graves), produced by fermentation of the must separate from the pomace, contains about 4 to 6 per cent of extractive matter and tannin; the second, 8 to 11 and 12 per cent of the same matters.
It is to this difference in the proportions of the rough and astringent matters of the wines that we attribute their different effects.
In the red wines the pressure of the alcohol on the nervous system of the stomach is softened by the interposition of more abundant tonic and extractive matters; the effect is thus slow and successive. In white wines it is almost immediate, and therefore stronger and less lasting.
Each of these large groups into which the various wines may be divided is susceptible of three subdivisions, which are sufficiently natural, as they give immediately some idea of the quality of a wine which enters into any one of them.
These three subdivisions are the following:
1. Table Wines.
These wines may be of higher or lower quality, according to the locality in which they are produced, and to the care that is taken in their making and after-treatment; they must not be sweet nor too alcoholic; not aromatic nor possessed of too pronounced a bouquet, though those of higher quality may be slightly aromatic; they must not be too rich in color, too astringent, nor too acid; they ought not to be harsh nor of too heavy body, that is, too rich in extractive matter.(1) A wine of this group should be clean tasting, and should form an harmonious whole, agreeable to the palate and stomach, so that it can be drunk with pleasure. These wines are healthful, because they favor digestion, and a certain quantity of them can be taken without producing intoxication or other physical disturbance.
Concisely the characters of a typical table wine may be described as follows:
Light but not poor in alcohol; not the slightest tendency to sweetness; pleasing but light and delicate aroma and flavor; nothing excessive, but complete harmony of all parts. A full and generous homogeneity; limpidity; constancy of type. Though in the matter of dishes variety is both useful and pleasing, it is different with wine where constant uniformity of type is necessary.
As in this class of wines are comprehended all qualities from the finest to the most ordinary, it is easily seen that other distinctions can and must be made, in order that the wines, for example, of Barolo or Chianti, shall be distinguished from wines produced in some less favorable locality.
The various wines that enter into the category under discussion can be naturally and conveniently classified as follows:
A. — Superfine, or high-class wines; the "Grands Vins" of the French.
This classification, as Polacci would say, has nothing imaginative or strained about it, as it simply represents the wines that we really have and of which we make use in commerce.
I will now try to give, not a definition, because the name of each class is of itself a definition, and should give a fair conception of the distinction to be made between the several classes, but an idea regarding the characteristics which have served in grading the wines which we actually produce in Italy.
A. High-class Wines. — These are wines which are produced in certain spots, or rather which are obtained from certain varieties of grapes, grown in especially favorable conditions of climate, and more particularly of soil, compared with those of the circumjacent vineyards; wines which also, it may be said, are the product of an almost infinite series of careful treatments, beginning in the vineyard and continued through the vintage and during the whole time, which is certainly not brief, of their conservation; wines, in short, which unite in themselves all the characteristics and qualities which should be found in a fine wine, united with the greatest delicacy and fragrance of aroma and freshness on the palate. An Italian wine which belongs to this class is the Chianti di Brolio. Of the French wines of Bordeaux, or more precisely of the Medoc, there are Chateau-Lafite and Chateau-la- Tour, the latter of which is distinguished from the former by a slightly heavier body and a more pronounced flavor and aroma.
B. Fine Wines. — These are wines which approach very nearly to the preceding class, but are, nevertheless, somewhat inferior to them, either in delicacy of aroma or in some other quality; very often they lack or are deficient in the freshness which distinguishes the first class. These wines are very often the product of grapes grown in the neighborhood of the vineyards producing the first-class wines which have given renown to the locality, but they may be made from grapes grown in other localities. To this second class belong, for example, those wines of Chianti which resemble greatly in character the Chianti di Brolio, but do not equal it. In the same way among the French wines of the Medoc, Saint-Julien and Saint-Estephe approach but are not equal to Chateau-Lafite.
It may very possible be that some of the wines of Chainti exhibit qualities whichplace them, so to speak, in rank with the Chianti di Brolio; then from the second they must be promoted to the first class, as is the case with Chateau-la-Tour, which, thought somewhat different, is deemed worthy to stand in rank with Chateau-Lafite and the other two, Chateaux-Margaux and Chateau-Haut-Brion, which together form the four " grands vins," high-class wines of the Gironde.
C. Fine Common Wines. — In this third category are placed those wines which are intermediate between the fine wines and the common wines. This class of wines can be produced in large quantities in Italy, as there are numerous regions both in the hills and plains which present the requisite favorable conditions.
The wines in question generally lack or are deficient in delicacy; with time, and sometimes, too, with a little artificial aid, they acquire some aroma which is not, however, always very delicate. These wines form, or ought to form, the bulk of our export trade; but if we wish to do ; i steady trade we must set ourselves diligently to make and properly handle these wines. To do this the producers must abandon the idea of making high-class wines, and confine themselves to wines of this kind.
The wines of this class produced in Italy, especially by those who have recourse to artificial additions, or who do not well understand the processes of wine making, present a certain dryness to the taste which is not exactly pleasing.
The taster will pronounce them sound wines without any particular defect, but he is not quite satisfied. This may be owing to an artificial aroma, or to the addition of alcohol; it may be caused by heating, or by a too violent fermentation, to the grapes having been picked at the wrong time, or to an injudicious correction of the must, or — but as this is not the place to try to account for it it will suffice to state the fact.
Such artificial aids, then, as the addition of drugs, the drying of the grapes, heating, etc., should be abandoned, and instead a judicious choice of vines, or a blending of grapes or wines substituted; in this way it will be possible to deliver to the trade wines which have a sufficient freshness of taste and frankness of flavor; they will be to a certain extent smooth and delicate, and will possess more or less of that fruity taste so much liked by consumers.
D. Common Wines, or Wines of the Plains. — This is a class of wines of which it is not very easy to give a definition or to point out its exact limits in order that it may not be confused with the preceding or comprehended in the following class. To prove that this is a real difficulty it will suffice to quote the eminent agriculturist, F. Re: "I have sometimes drunk wines made from grapes grown in a naturally clayey soil, subjected to irrigation, which were very good, and some even which seemed to be of superior excellence."
I should therefore state that all wines grown on level ground cannot be classed as common wines; even on the plains, when the climate and especially when the soil and the variety of grapes are particularly favorable, choice wines may be produced which are worthy to figure in the preceding class.
The division or class of common wines comprises all those wines consumed in the largest quantities, and which, because of the ease and economy with which they are produced, can be sold at a low price, so that they find steady consumers among the working classes, who consume, after all, the greater part of the product of the vineyards.
These wines are most commonly the product of grapes grown on the plain, either in vineyards or associated with other crops; this does not exclude the possibility of producing such wines from grapes grown on hills, and especially when the exposure is unfavorable, or when the nature of the soil is unsuitable, or when, on account of the ignorance of the grape grower, who prefers quantity to quality, he plants by preference those varieties which give an abundant crop of very inferior grapes. Wines of this class have very poor keeping qualities, lasting two years at the most, and in general in aging, with the exception of those which are very rough and astringent, deteriorate instead of improving.
These wines are sufficiently alcoholic, but owe their conservation less to their alcohol than to their acids, among which, with many of them, must be included carbonic acid. To their acids, also, they owe most of their hygienic value, which is to aid in the digestion of the food consumed by the laborers who drink them — food which is naturally dim- cult of digestion, and rendered more so by its ill preparation.
These wines are more nutritious than are those of the preceding class, containing, as they do, larger quantities of albuminoids, in which grapes from the plains usually abound. The reason of the greater abundance of nitrogenous matters in inferior grapes is the natural fertility of the soil on which they have been grown, or the fact that this ground has been manured with nitrogenous fertilizers, with the idea of increasing the bearing of grapes or the production of wood and foliage.
These wines are naturally very variable, differing greatly according to the conditions of soil, climate, and aspect under which they have been produced. To further increase this variability man does his best, seeming to take a delight in practicing methods- of wine making that are apparently ingeniously calculated to spoil the wine.
A wine of this class should be of easy digestion, and easily consumed in moderate quantities, without affecting the head or the stomach. It should be smooth, clean tasting, well fermented, with a certain amount of flavor and acid, and should show none of the effects of secondary fermentations to which these wines are so subject; finally, it should possess a good, bright, but not deep, color.
I have said a wine of this class "should be" all this, because only too often, on account of careless making or improper handling, they are anything but healthful; they are, on the contrary, heavy and indigestible, causing, even when used sparingly, disturbances of the head and stomach; they are heavy-bodied wines, and so thick as to be appropriately called by some people, "vini carnosi;" their defects are usually due to the vessels in which they have been made and kept, to bad fermentation, or to the addition of substances which have been put in with the intention of preserving the wine, or of masking its defects. They are often costive and overcharged with tannin and coloring matter, recalling, the moment they touch the palate, the flavor of ink. Their color is generally unstable and dull.
E. Low-grade Wines. — These wines occupy the lowest grade on the cenological scale, that is to say, among natural wines. In drinking one of these wines one asks himself if it is really a wine or not rather a piquette or mixture of water and wine, with superabundance of the former. Except color, these wines are deficient in all the elements proper to wine. They must be consumed promptly during the winter, or they cease to be wine. Generally, to render them drinkable at all, they must be left for some time on their pomace, or on that of better wines; or else they can be cut with other wines, or be given the treatment usual in Tuscany, known as the "governo."
When these wines are sound they do very well for cutting with other wines, thus making a blend which can be classed with the common wines, or even sometimes with the third class, or fine common wines.
2. Dessert or Alcoholic Wines.
This class includes all those wines which the French call "vine de luxe," and therefore champagnes and other sparkling wines, which, however, are, unlike most of this class, of relatively low alcoholic strength. Sparkling wines are placed here because, as a rule, they are of high cost, and therefore "vins de luxe." However, we are now producing natural wines which are afterwards artificially made sparkling, at a much less cost; and this industry is assuming such proportions that it cannot well be overlooked.
Apparatus of different kinds for the production of sparkling wines have been known and used for a long time in France, Germany, and Austria.
Latterly the practice of artificially making champagne from natural dry wines has been extensively followed in Italy; this is due to the invention of the apparatus of Carpene, which possesses above all previous systems the advantages of simplicity and cheapness. This system has rendered possible the production of good sparkling wines at a moderate cost.
With this explanation regarding champagne, and the reason for placing it in this class, I pass to those wines more properly belonging to it, and here give Polacci's definition of " vini di lusso."
These wines are nearly always alcoholic, more or less aromatic, and are drunk, as a rule, after dinner, on which account they are called by foreigners dessert or after-dinner wines. They are, so to speak, concentrated, and are sipped from small glasses like cordials, for which reason the French know them as "vins de liqueurs." We know them as "vini di lusso," because they are certainly not necessary beverages, and from their high cost are usually reserved for the tables of the rich.
The many and diverse wines of this class can be divided, or rather united, under the folio wing heads: Sweet Wines; Alcoholic Wines; Sparkling Wines.
In this class are wines so well known, and of such special character, that it is difficult to class them together, and each is usually spoken of by itself as almost forming a class apart; as with the wines in the first class, the "grand vins," their qualities and peculiarities are so well known that their names alone is a sufficient description; such wines are Marsala, Lacrima Christi, Vernaccia di Sardegna, Malvasia di Lipari, etc.
3. Cutting Wines.
These wines are rich in alcohol, coloring matter, and body, but often deficient in acid; they cannot be drunk alone, and the only reason for producing them is that there are localities which produce wines which are thin, poor in color, weak in alcohol, and generally lacking in those qualities which wines of this class have in excess. A mixture of these two kinds of wine, each of which alone is of little value, produce a wine which is sustaining and nutritious, and especially suited to the needs and means of the laboring classes. The better kinds of these wines may even be blended to form a wine which might be placed among the fine common wines, or third class, and not unworthy of the honor of bottling.
At the present day the French wine merchants use large quantities of cutting wines imported from Italy, Spain, and Dalmatia. Before the invasion of the phylloxera, their blends were made with the wines of Roussillon, Languedoc, Pyrenees-orientales, Aude, Gard, Tarn, etc., all wines rich in coloring matter and alcohol, solid and heavy-bodied, and at the same time smooth, delicate, and with a characteristic and persistent aroma which is very pleasing.
Here is, for example, a blend or mixture of different wines formerly much in vogue in France:
A French writer thus justly expresses himself:
"After the invasion of France by the phylloxera, commerce drew contributions from all wine- producing regions; science was also brought to its aid; an immense productive movement commenced, not only in France, but in foreign countries, and now wines flow in from all parts, from Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, the Crimea, and even from Australia; wines of all kinds, which, passing through the skillful hands of our merchants, there receive the official seal, the inimitable touch, which serves them for passport to the wine connoisseurs of the entire world." Further on we read: " In this combination each region plays its role, and helps towards the final result that we desire to obtain; from Italy the blend obtains strength, extract, body; Spain supplies softness and fruitiness; our own wines add piquancy, and economize on the price of production."
In whatever way the cutting is done, and whatever the combination adopted, the following may be taken in general as the composition of most blends:
One third wine of Italy;
Cutting wines are then of no little importance to wine growing in France, or rather to the French wine trade; why then, should they not be as important to ours, especially now that the two are in competition? Let us then produce cutting wines, but let them be well made and sound. By such wines the Italian wine trade will be benefited as much as is the French now.