Over the centuries, wine has been praised by poets, historians and artists. According to ancient Greek historian Thucydides, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine”.
Historically, wine has been regarded as food and has been an integral part of the healthful Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. Wine also has important religious connections, being used to represent the blood of Christ in Holy Communion. Wine is man’s oldest medicine, having been used in several countries as the preferred alternative to accompany meals, partly because drinking water was unreliable. As Louis Pasteur stated, wine is also “the most healthful and hygienic of all beverages”. Over time, wine has evolved as part of life and local culture, changing from an important source of nutrition to a cultural complement to food and a welcome ingredient of a healthy lifestyle.
Nonetheless, the question is often raised as to how does wine differ from any other kind of alcohol? Perhaps the simplest answer is the fact that wine is always considered an alcoholic beverage, but an alcoholic beverage is not always considered as wine. An alcoholic beverage is a general name for any drink containing alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are classified into three kinds namely beers, spirits, and lastly, wine.
To begin with, let’s take beer as an example. Whilst beer is a fine drink, it does take quite a lot of it to give you a relaxing effect. Being carbonated it does give the “blow up” sensation fairly fast, making it difficult to eat as much as you wish. Wine has the best mode of consumption because it is usually sipped slowly over a long period of time accompanying a meal. Furthermore, wine stimulates all senses and particularly the sense of smell, providing unique experiences based on the grape variety, local “terroir” and vinification process. Wine entails a longer fermentation and aging process as compared to other types of alcohol. Wine should also be regarded as separate from other alcohol containing beverages, because wine is unique in that it is the only alcoholic beverage not to only contain alcohol but also nature's most potent antioxidants. Wine is often chosen over other beverages because of health claims of protection against some sicknesses, for instance heart disease.
Enjoying wine responsibly and in moderation is consistent with a healthy lifestyle for most adult people. In fact, harmful drinking patterns are considerably less common in predominantly wine producing Mediterranean countries. Here, wine is consumed more regularly, almost exclusively with meals, and the volume of alcohol consumed at each drinking session tends to be much lower than in the North European countries, which have the highest levels of excessive drinking. To rephrase Abraham Lincoln, “The problem of alcoholism is not the use of a bad thing, but the abuse of a very good one”. Wine, when used as a nutritional supplement, should be sipped with dinner and enjoyed slowly. Studies have shown that wine can be beneficial to health, but is unhealthy when consumed quickly and in large amounts.
Throughout its history, wine gained a lot of cultural importance. The lifestyle revolution during the last century of eating out, entertaining informally and drinking wine has rendered wine into an integrated part of western culture. It is a social activity that is linked to an image of a sophisticated person making a choice to associate with a drink that looks right. Wine is no longer just a glass of “house wine” white or red, typically served in traditional taverns. The popularity of wine consumption in restaurants is reflected in the extensive choice offered on wine lists. Today there are hundreds of thousands of wines, millions of food combinations and billions of palates on this planet.
Is there another drink worth dedicating weeks and months and years to learn about? Is there another drink worth travelling for? Is there another drink that is created with such passion in so many beautiful places? A wine experience can be as simple as a sommelier recommending a good match to go with a meal, or you can spend a week driving around wineries in different parts of the world, treating your palette to the magical product of grapes. The tasting could be wonderful. The diverse landscape and scenery could be stunning. You can end up at a laid-back farmhouse, elegant château or in a remote village, all in the name of a glass of white, red, pink or even sparkle. There you can witness the wine-making process first-hand and get authentic experiences. But above all, I think the most attractive element of visiting the wine growing regions is that you get to meet interesting people and make new friends from all over the world. Wine connects people, and I think that should be the goal of any good wine tour. Wine has been one of the main characteristics bringing Mediterranean people together in their free time, meeting up for a drink or two. In many countries, it is customary for people to have one or two glasses of wine in the evening, wisely accompanied by a bite to eat. If weather affects vines, it certainly affects people’s characters too, and the Mediterranean lifestyle is in the open, living alongside neighbours and family, sharing life.
Wine rituals serve to remind us that this drink is more than just something to accompany food; it’s a celebration of life, a metaphor for good living. Wine is more than simply a drink. It is not an industrial or a chemical product. It is a lifestyle and has created the perfect ambiance of everyday life. In every bottle you open you will discover a story, a tradition, a culture and a perception. Like most rituals, wine procedures have their roots in pragmatic things. But perhaps most importantly, there’s a lot of wine that needs to be shared among friends – a lot of wine that needs to be enjoyed without the symbols of ceremony or status, but instead with the simple appreciation of the fact that we are all so very lucky for what we have.
Modern winemaking has been classified both as an art and a science. It is a form of art in that a vintner must create something truly special and unique, a wine that when tasted excites our senses and passion and adds enjoyment to our experiences. Today new technologies have been developed to enhance and control all stages of winemaking from start to finish. It is important to realize that natural processes are completely responsible for winemaking. These natural processes start with the growth of the grape and continue until the resulting wine is consumed. However with modern winemaking techniques, many of the natural processes can be controlled at multiple points throughout the winemaking process. By understanding the sciences concerning winemaking, vintners are producing better and higher quality wines. With the use of refrigeration, it has become easy for wineries to control the temperature of the fermentation process and produce quality wines in most climates. Wine has become a universal commodity.
Although wine is cultivated around the world, certain places are favoured for wine production due to optimal climates and suitable land for the establishment of vineyards. Wine grapes often need access to full sunlight and nutrient-poor soil, warm days and cool nights, with minimal temperature extremes seasonally and sufficient water but good soil drainage. Due to variation in seasonal climates, growing and harvest conditions, and seasonal timing of production events, significant changes occur from year to year that make wines produced in certain years of higher or lower quality. Thus, the practice of labelling vintages of wine and the grape variety from which they were made has been established so that oenologists can evaluate differences from year to year, as well as to ensure that oenophiles can purchase wines of known quality. Since many of the variables that go into wine production are not controllable by the wine producers, differences are bound to occur in each production cycle. The variation in wine flavours is therefore unending and this constitutes a source of fascination for many who appreciate wine.
Finally, wine is an accompaniment to life experiences – where you are and who you’re with. Whether you want to relax, celebrate or treat someone, a wine tasting experience is the perfect way to educate yourself whilst having fun and enjoying a glass or two at the same time. Expand your understanding by being experimental and trying new things. If you ask a wine expert what their favourite wine is, they’ll never give you a straight answer because the truth is, they love it all.