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Chez Thierry, Nassau, Bahamas

3rd article

By Thierry Boeuf in The Tribune (January 16, 2001) 


All to often, I am often asked what wine I prefer or which kind of wine I like. When I say I like diversity I then often hear another question, which is Are you red or white?.

With this last question, which has nothing to do with my skin complexion, I still answer with the message: it depends. Yes, it depends on what I am eating, the occasion, with whom, and my particular mood of that day.

Some people drink always red whatever the accompanying food, while others stick with. However, I think that both groups miss out on something.

Before speaking about taste, I would like to give you a short overview of white and red wines. Last time this column talked about the diversity of wines that stems from the diversity of grapes, and I mentioned some red and white grapes varieties.

Red wine is, of course, always made from red grapes, and I consider it easier to produce because you do not need the same level of technology and care as the white variety to make it good. In short, to make a red wine you have to crush red grapes and leave the juice in contact with the skin for a time. In all wine regions you have plenty of yeast on grapes skin and, at the harvest time, I would imagine there is almost a yeast mist in the atmosphere.

 As soon as the must (the mix of juice and skin) is made, the fermentation is going to start, even if you do nothing else than leave it alone in a tank. Fermentation will be completed and you will have a wine made within two to three days. That will happen even without human intervention, provided problems such as temperature falling too low or a fermentation accident, possibly caused by some bacteria, do not occur.

In the past, when quality was such a major issue, many people left their wines to ferment and often did not go back into their cellars until after the end of the hunting season, which is right after the harvest time.

My grandfathers wine, made only for the family, was produced much like this and its quality was always a discovery we made when we tasted it the first time. The wine was just the result of the season climate and the luck we had in the fermentation process. When we had a sunny summer and little rain in September, the wine was good, but otherwise it was hardly drinkable.

This wine was as colored as ink, and the frequently light, fruity taste never lasted long. It was kept in the barrel all the time and, when we were close to the bottom, my grandfather was usually the only one still able to drink it because, with air going into it, the wine was oxidized and eventually attacked by acetic bacteria, which started to change it into vinegar. I am sure you will understand that I would have rather put it with my salad than into my glass!

This was how people used to produce wine for their own consumption when, invest into professional advice and technology was not such a major consideration. However, it was perhaps the years the wine was bad that partly motivated me to become an Oenologist.

Oenology is the science of wine making, which combines the chemistry for analysis, the microbiology and technology to master fermentations, and the art of wine tasting in order to detect the potential of the must, leading the process to get the best out of it. This science has now become very important, since we want to control product quality and follow the evolution of customers taste.

Going back to red wines, people are now accustomed to the red fruit flavours, which are normally characteristic of the young wines but, at the same time they also like the tannins that give body to the wines to be soft from the beginning. In the past, soft tannins were only in wines, which had aged slowly in their bottles for a number of years. However, Oenology has been able to solve this, and it is why the red wines of recent years have not much in common with those that were made only twenty years ago.

There are for various why good white wines have always been more difficult to make. Even if we sometimes use red grapes to make white wines, we never extract the tannins from the grape and the stem because they would give colour to the wines, but the tannins of the red wines are the best form of protection against oxidation and bacterial attacks.

The white must has to be treated with more care to avoid too much contact with air, which would be fatal to many delicate flavours such as the floral smells and other subtle aromas.

White wines also have to be processed with better hygiene to avoid bacterial problems -this is the reason why a number of white wines, poorly made, contained high levels of sulfite in the past. This molecule, which helped a lot to improve the quality of wines at the beginning of the 20th century, is a normal protection for all varieties but, when present in high quantities, it is responsible for causing headaches and other stomach pains in a number of people.

However, thank to the progress of Oenology, this has become rare and the white wines have experienced the same kind of evolution as their red cousins. The thin and delicate flavours of flowers and sweet fruits, distinctive of many young white wines, are now found in products with medium acidity level, which was an old wine character in the past.