Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Sean Thackrey :: Wine Maker

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wine Notes issue II

Wines that sparkled 200 years before Champagne was taught to do so.

:: Since we now think of sparkling wine nearly exclusively in terms of Champagne and its imitations, it is easy to assume that wine didn't sparkle until the Champenois taught theirs to do so, and found bottles to put it in.

:: But there is in fact a quite separate tradition, far older and more generalized, which is what this excerpt is about. Such wines were called vini raspati (vins râpés, etc.), and since they far predate the introduction of commercial bottling, were never intended to be bottled. They were household wines, intended to provide a pleasant drink for daily use, which they could still do in restaurants today, if anyone cared to go the trouble to make them. 

:: In a winegrowing district, it wouldn't even be much trouble, and depending on certain microbiological imponderables, might produce a very agreeable and lighthearted wine for many months after harvest. The idea, with innumerable variations - some of which Petronio discusses - was to take a clean barrel, remove the head, fill the barrel loosely with whole uncrushed grapes, fill the remaining space half with good older wine, half with fresh must, and close up the barrel. Once the initial fermentation was over, the barrel was kept tightly bunged, except when wine was drawn from it for use; each time that was done, the barrel was topped up with more wine (or even water) and re-bunged. So the only troubles here are that God is in the details, and that most of us haven't a clue how to remove and reset barrel heads. The second of these problems is solvable: several companies manufacture drums, and even barrels, with removable heads.

:: The excerpt itself is from Alessandro Petronio, Dell Viver delli Romani et di Conservar la Sanità, Rome, 1592, which is the Italian translation of the same author's De victu Romanorum of 1581. Petronio died in 1585, having practised medicine in Rome for more than 60 years. His translator, Basilio Paravicino, says it cost him more pain to translate the book than it would have taken to write an entire new one of his own; but this passage, at least, was worth the trouble. It is charming in itself; it tells us what a fad there was for sparkling wine in 16th-century Rome; and the author makes an earnest attempt to analyze why sparkling wine pleases us (and clearly him) quite as much as it does.

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