As part of our social media plan for the new year, I decided to write an A-Z of all things wine to go out each Wednesday. This was mainly because I wanted to share all the interesting things I've learned about wine over the years that may not be common knowledge.
I've found it really interesting to write about, but I found the word count restrictive so I've pulled the posts from January together on here including anything that was cut from the original posts.
A - Anthocyanins
These are the little superstar molecules that create the red/purple colours in fruits, flowers and various other wonders in the natural world. They are antioxidant and can have health giving properties, although less so if you combine with alcohol ;-).
As you can see in photo number two, they have a range of colours depending on their structure (the hexagons are joined up carbon atoms). And many of them have names similar to flowers such as petunia and delphinium as they give those flowers their colour.
Red grapes have a range of these compounds in them depending on the variety, they are synthesised during the ripening stage after 'veraison' (colour change) which happens at the end of August in the UK.
The concentration of anthocyanins is also different by variety, which is why we get paler and deeper shades. This is illustrated is our 2020 rosés in photo one, both these were made in exactly the same way, with the same amount of skin contact time, however the pinot noir on the left is far paler than the rondo on the right. This is the same with our red wines too, rondo has a far greater concentration of anthocyanins than pinot noir.
One last fact about anthocyanins, the colours can change depending on the amount of acid present in the solution, going from red at a low pH (high acid) through colourless to blue at a high pH (alkaline). This is how those amazing colour change tricks you see are performed. Wine is a relatively high acid fluid, so it stays on the red end, more on acid and pH later in the series!
*top photo taken from: Tena, N.; Martín, J.; Asuero, A.G. State of the Art of Anthocyanins: Antioxidant Activity, Sources, Bioavailability, and Therapeutic Effect in Human Health. Antioxidants 2020, 9, 451.
B - Bottles
Traditionally there were three main bottle shapes for still wines, named after the French wine regions, that originally adopted them.
First up is Bordeaux- probably the most common bottles you will come across. The body of a Bordeaux bottle has a cylindric shape, with straight sides and high shoulders. Then there is the Burgundy bottle which is most often used for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the grapes used to make white and red Burgundy wines) and quite often Sauvignon Blanc made in places other than Bordeaux. It has a longer neck than the Bordeaux bottle and distinctive sloping shoulders, resembling a cone. Finally, we have an Alsace bottle also known as a flute or Mosel (after the German wine region) bottle. This one is taller and thinner than other types with gently sloping shoulders. Bottles holding French Riesling are often brown, while the ones used for German Riesling are more often green.
Traditional method sparkling wine is mainly held in Champagne bottles which are thick enough to withstand 6 atm of pressure, these can weigh up to 1kg each! Prosecco and other more lightly sparkling wines are found in lighter Spumante bottles.
Nowadays there are many more bottles shapes to be found, you’ve probably seen the wide shouldered bottles used in South America, particularly for Argentinian Malbec – these are heavy though! Many bigger wineries and champagne houses have custom made bottles shapes to distinguish themselves from the competition.
Did you also know that the hollow indentation at the bottom of your wine bottle is known as a ‘punt’? It was once thought that the quality of a wine could be determined by weight of the bottle and the punt depth as lighter bottles with a flat base were cheaper wines that are therefore likely to be of a lower quality. Whilst this might still hold some truth, the increase in interest in more sustainable winemaking means that many winemakers choose lighter weight bottles that may have shallower punts in order to save glass and weight.
Here at Laneberg the winemaker’s choice is to use lightweight (380g) Burgundy bottles for the still wines and lightweight Spumante (550g) bottles for our fizz The colour of the bottle is also an important feature. Clear (aka flint) glass can let harmful UV rays through into the wine, creating a phenomenon called ‘lightstrike’ causing a cabbage-like taste in the wine. Green and brown bottles help protect the wine from this. But there’s a big decision when bottling rosé as all winemakers would like to show off the beautiful pink of their wines! So, next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, take time to consider the bottle you’re pouring from as well as the wine you’re tasting.
C - Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Dioxide or CO2 , a simple molecule made of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, and like oxygen it is both friend and foe to winemakers.
As you will know it is a gas at room temperature and it's what we breathe out of our lungs as a by-product of respiration.
Well that's exactly what it is for alcoholic fermentation too. It is a by-product of the process of changing sugar into alcohol. During the process of making still wines this CO2 is allowed to escape via an airlock in the top of the tank, which means workers have to be extremely careful during fermentation times in the winery as a build up in a confined space can cause asphyxiation. A CO2 monitor is kept with you all times to ensure it's not too high and the winery must have the doors opened to air out before anyone enters.
Now what if you wanted to make fizz? Well instead the CO2 could be allowed to dissolve into the wine instead and forms bubbles, this happens in the bottle for Traditional Method (Champagne) or in the tank for Charmat method (Prosecco). These bubbles are stabilised by the proteins and polysaccharides contained in the wine naturally, which is why some wines sustain their fizz more than others.
Alternatively, as in our This Mortal Angel, CO2 can be added via a carbonation machine to produce a semi-sparkling wine, this means less CO2 has been dissolved in the wine and the pressure of the liquid is around 3 atmospheres rather than the 6 atmospheres in traditional method. It also means there is no yeast (bready, biscuity) flavours in the wine as there is no time on the yeast lees.
D - Dry Wine
Here at Laneberg we mainly make dry wines, with the exception of our long sold out but much loved 2018 Solaris.
Calling a wine dry, off-dry, sweet etc is determined by the residual sugar (RS) content (in g/L) of the wine after alcoholic fermentation (remember last week sugar + yeast = alcohol + CO2) - i.e. some of the sugar isn't converted to alcohol and remains in the wine. This can happen naturally or the winemaker can choose to stop the fermentation.
Describing the dryness of a wine on a label in the UK was dictated by regulations set by the EU (and as with everything this could now be subject to change). For still wines what you can name it is also dependent on the acidity of the wine, so it can get quite complicated! However, given wines in England are generally med-high acid that means a higher sugar content can still be called a dry wine, this is 9g/l of RS. Acid balances out the sugar, this is why in my opinion the best dessert wines have a zinging acidity to complement the unctuous sweetness, they have over 120g/l of residual sugar.
You can often find the RS level of a wine in the tasting notes contained on the producer or retailer's website.
Some wines taste sweeter than the RS level states, this is because other factors such as aromatic fruits can give the impression of sweetness.
Sparkling wines are different again, and often have more sugar that you would think as the fizz can make it seem drier.
Put in context our Bacchus 2019 had a RS of 4.8g/l with a total acidity (TA) of 6.9g/L so is a dry wine. Our current This Mortal Angel has and RS of <1g/l and TA of 8.3g/l, also a dry wine. Coca Cola has about 105g/l of sugar.