Wandering and Wondering

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wines of Tuscany Workshop

Red wine tongue

The weekend before last I attended a “Wines of Tuscany” workshop that was run by the Apicius cooking school (a sister school of Florence University of the Arts). Representatives from a number of different wineries around Tuscany along with various other food and wine experts gave a series of talks on subjects ranging from marketing strategies and production techniques to the nutritional benefits of wine. The talks were very informal in nature, with lots of discussion between the presenters and the workshop participants. We also had the opportunity to taste a range of different wines and learn about how various factors such as the production techniques, climate and geography all contribute to their taste. To be honest, my palette hasn’t yet reached the level where I could detect all that much difference between the wines, but it was still an interesting workshop. Some tidbits of information that I learned throughout the day are summarized under the headings below.

Question time

The changing drinking habits of Italians:

  • Wine was traditionally stored in large vats and served in carafes. These days, however, wine is stored and served by the bottle and the preference is for quality rather than quantity.
  • Italians traditionally drank their wine together with food, and the wine was produced with this is mind. Chianti wines, for instance, are generally a little sour in taste, but this is the perfect match for a sweet red meat. More recently, wine is quite often drunk on its own (you can see the evidence of this in the large number of wine bars that have opened up around Italy), and this requires the production of different styles of wine.
  • One of the reasons for the changing drinking habits is the changing lifestyles of Italians. Wine was often served together with the traditional midday meal, but these days the main meal is more often than not in the evening.

Victoria prepares the mini panini

Wine production:

  • There are no set rules for how to make a good wine. Instead, it is very experimental in nature and requires lots of measurements and adjustments throughout the entire production process. This is where the small wine producers have the advantage over the large producers (where much of the process is automated and less capable of tuning).
  • There are many different variables that determine how a wine will turn out. When growing the grapes you need to consider the climate, altitude, soil type, moisture level, etc. When fermenting the wine an important factor to consider is the amount of skin from the grapes that is present, since this will determine how strong tasting the wine is (the more skin, the stronger the taste). Finally, during the aging process when the wine is stored in barrels, you need to consider the ambient temperature at which the barrels are stored and the thickness of the barrels (which determines the amount of oxygen which reaches the wine).

Comparing wines

Nutritional benefits of red wine:

  • As well as lowering the risk of heart disease, studies have shown that drinking moderate amounts of red wine can reduce the risk of lung cancer and diabetes and improve your eyesight and cognitive abilities.
  • The “French Paradox”, which refers to the low incidence of heart disease in France despite their high level of fat consumption, has been attributed to their high level of red wine consumption: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_paradox
  • Apparently, a Danish study has found that wine drinkers are smarter, richer and healthier than non-drinkers and beer drinkers: http://www.c2ckru.com/html/drink_smart.html

Getting comfortable

The full set of photos from the day can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/global-wandering/tags/winesoftuscanyworkshop/

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