Old Methods of Italian Wine-Making

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Wine is one of mankind's oldest inventions, possibly dating back over 8,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia, according to Artmakers.com. Perfected by the Roman Empire, wine was heavily traded throughout the Mediterranean. In modern Italy, wine-makers have drawn a great deal from the history of the craft and, according to Wine-Country-Guide.com, now produce more wine than any other country in the world. The fertile soil, grape diversity and time-tested old methods of Italian wine-making give Italy worldwide renown for setting the standards in wines.

Grapes and Soil

  • The numerous varieties of grapes available have led to the diversity of Italian wine. The Sangiovese grape is known as "the pride of Tuscany," and has been renowned for its fruity, earthy flavor possibly as far back as over 3,000 years ago. The Dolcetto, meaning "little sweet one," has been grown throughout the Italian wine regions since the 16th century. The Malvasia varieties were adopted from Greece in ancient times and are said to have a rich, round, full-bodied flavor.

    The Italian method of wine-making is heavily influenced by the traditional belief that a region's soil can affect the flavor, intensity, acidity, color and many other qualities of the wine. Indeed, many admirers claim that the earthiness of Italian wine sets it apart, often with notes of mushroom, grass and soil. The climate of a given region as well as the soil affects the final flavor of wines.

Methods and Practices

  • In traditional Italian wine-making, grapes are grown in terraced rows of vines, often separated by stone walls. Each terrace's soil is different year after year, as soil erodes from the top down to the bottom, eventually to be returned to top terrace to continue the cycle of soil change all over again. The vines are rigorously pruned and culled to weed out poor grape bunches as well as to concentrate the vines' efforts and flavors in the remaining grapes.

    In antiquity, ancient Roman wine-makers worshiped gods of wine and intoxication named Liber and Bacchus. Worship often took the form of mysterious rites and offerings in groves and wild places, with participants hoping for blessings of fertility of land and body. These gatherings, called Bacchanalia, were so scandalous that they were banned in the Roman senate. A vineyard's success or failure was often attributed to will of these gods, and such worship rituals were considered part of the wine-making process.

    While many modern wine producers prefer mechanized juicing for economical reasons, some private vintners claim that the only way to produce the best wine is with the old method of juicing the grapes by foot. The grapes would be stomped by bare feet, traditionally in a stone basin, until all the juice was released. While this method is less sanitary than mechanized juicing, many wine-makers swear that the extra effort translates to a superior product.

Wine Barrels

  • Traditional wine barrels in Italy are most often made from oak. Oak has been used since ancient times to make tight, non-leaking barrels. Oak can also impart a pleasant natural flavor, often likened to vanilla, to the wine. Barrels can also affect the wine's flavor through age and toasting. By aging and charring the inside of the barrels in certain ways, winemakers manipulate the natural oak oils to attain specific flavors.

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