Wonderful Accidents That Lead To Wines

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - May 19, 2010
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So many things that happen by accident can lead to something great. Even the wine world is littered with serendipitous occasions that gave rise to whole categories of wine and become inseparable with wine culture.

Imagine the wines came to rise from a succession of unforeseen eventualities in days before current technology. A farmer is in his cellar just ending his fortnight diet of little sleep and strong coffee. He has just finished harvest and the initial fermentation in his cellar. He breaches his cellar steps with hopes of a hot meal and a well-deserved and necessary long, deep sleep. He crosses his property from his cellar to his home and takes a peek around the shed just to make sure everything is still in its place for next year’s harvest. As he tidies up and puts away harvest baskets, he is greeted with a horrific sight of a handful of baskets with grapes that were accidentally missed in the hustle and commotion that is harvest time. They are dried and are beginning to look like raisins. He enters his home down-trodden and angry. His wife, with hot food waiting at the table, welcomes him with a smile. He tells her of his terrible discovery and being the patient kind, his wife tells him to just try to use them for making wine. Being tired and worn, he agrees.


The next morning, he gathers the grapes/raisins and presses them with great force and sweat in a small press and puts what little juice he has in a small barrel and puts it in the corner of his cellar, not expecting much to come of it. Sometime later, he tastes the wine and is completely confounded. The wine is richer, darker, sweeter and slight more bitter than his regular vats. He is amazed at the quality and shares his little “secret” with his wife. For the next harvest, he reserves a portion of the harvested grapes to be dried on straw mats to make a similar wine. Thus, Amarone.

In this next story, the weather outside is frightful. Grandpapa predicted that it would snow and frost overnight. The family is not only concerned about their livestock, but there are still grapes to be harvested in the vineyard. They rest uneasy in their beds under as many blankets as they can find. The hearth is stoked before the candles are blown out. Sleep falls over them as the sound of wind and snow rap the windows. As the sun rises, Dad is the first to open the door to the winter wonderland as frost blankets the farm. He hurries the helpers to the vineyard to see what they can save. As they begin harvesting they realize the grapes are frozen like marbles. “They will thaw,” they think. They bring the grapes to press and it is still so cold that the press barely squeezes any juice out of the grapes. Dad has to use an especially small container for the must. He leaves it in the barn to run its course. Over the following weeks, the barrel slowly bubbles. Dad and Uncle go down to the cellar to taste the “forgotten” wine. Wow! How sweet, unctuous! This could be the first eiswein/ice wine.

A man clad in holy robes fumbles through the cellar finally extracting some bottles from a nook that has not yet been overtaken with mold. He remembers they had been blessed with a copious harvest that year with the grapes having the sweetest flavor anyone could remember. The wines were put into bottle early to make more room in the cellars. It had also been a very cold winter, and the vines are now deeply sleeping, dormant through the season. The friar ferries the bottles to the table to share with several of his brothers. He pierces the cork of one bottle and is surprised that the cork comes out nearly of its own volition with a distinct “POP!” A quizzical expression falls over each of those seated. The wine is poured, and there are bubbles! What manner of trickery or otherworldly being has toyed with the product of human hands?

The first Champagne? No one will know exactly how these wines were first discovered. That will remain mystery. I am just glad that those who made them first realized that their discovery was important enough to share and not hide only in their cellars.

Recommendations: 2008 Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay ($18) This un-oaked wonder has a boisterous aroma of tropical fruit and sweet citrus. It is zesty and vibrant on the palate and has a clean and lingering finish. 2007 Il Ghizzano ($16) This Sangiovese and Merlot blend comes from organically grown grapes and is a terrific value. Sweet cherry notes mingle with tea accents and herbal spices.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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