While preparing for my 4th sommelier class, I was a little overwhelmed with the subject matter. We would be learning about the grape…everything about the grape. My textbook is in Italian, so you could imagine my struggle with the scientific terminology as vocabulary for the chemical composition of the uva jumped out at me in my second language. I spent a lot of time flipping through my Italian/English glossary and then on line to try to understand what exactly was being discussed. I even emailed our instructor, Francesco Martusciello before the lesson asking him to be gentle with us.
He was…In fact, at the beginning of class, Francesco, just off the train from a day trip to Florence, said up front that the topic for the lesson would be duro, rough. It is important for a sommelier, one who would be tasting wine and describing it, to understand the principal component of wine-the grape.
The lesson was divided into three sections-colore, aromi, gusto-color, aromas, and taste.
He explained that the color of a wine depends on the pigments in the grape, the grape's maturation, the maceration, and how long it has fermented. He threw out words such as anthocyanins, a substance in red grapes that give it its bluish color. He discussed a wine's intensity and tonality.
Here he got my attention. The olfactory examination is my favorite part of a wine tasting. The primary aromas that we smell in a wine are due to what is present in the grape. Terpenes, for example give a wine the aroma of linalol and geraniol. Pyrazines-a green pepper aroma, and C-13 norisoprenoids which are responsible for the rose, apricot and raspberry fragrances. Secondary and tertiary aromas are from the fermentation process and the maturation process repectively. Francesco explained why aging in a botte, barrel gives a wine aromas such as coffee, spices, and vanillia. He showed us the Davis Wheel, which is a tool that breaks down every aroma imaginable. He concluded this section with a discussion of the causes of defects in wine. From oxidation to sulphery odors, to that corky aroma caused from a fungus...we absorbed it all.
Morbidezza, durezza, a wine's smoothness and its harshness is based, once again, on what is in the grape that produces it. On the morbidezza side, Francesco explained that the level of alcohol, sugar, and polyalcohol are the key players. A wine's durezza, however, depends on the acids, tannins, and salts. These contribute to why a wine may have a salty, bitter, or fizzy taste. More vocabulary, more technical terms....but, he hadn't lost me yet.
Francesco wrapped up his part of the lesson with discussing how a wine can 'go bad'....bad grapes, unsatisfactory sanitary conditions in the cantina, and an elevated fermentation temperature were just some of the reasons he gave. He even mentioned that one evening he went out for a pizza with friends. He ordered his Gragnano, which is a 'fizzy' red, composed of piedirosso, aglianico and sciascinoso for a minimum 60% and traditional vine varieties for the remaining 40%. This wine should be served cool, but Francesco noticed that it was not cool, not warm, but hot. He realized that the pizzeria stored the bottles on top of the pizza oven. Ooops!
Time for the wine tasting. Two; a young red and one that has been aged in legno.
Morellino di Scansano DOC, 2008 13.5%-Fattoria Le Pupille (Sangiovese, Alicante, Malvasia Nera)Visually- ruby color, limpid and quite flowing. Aromas-quite intense, quite complex, very fine, fruity, spices. Taste-dry, medium warm, smooth, quite fresh, quite tannic, quite sapid, quite balanced, quite intense. Thin bodied, ready to drink and rounded.
Olpaio Val Di Al Cornia Suvereto, DOC , 2002 14% - Fratelli Muratori (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon)
Visual examination-garnet color, of substance; quick thick. We noticed aromas which were intense, complex, fine, spices, and vanilla. Taste-It was dry, warm, quite smooth (due to a higher level of acidity), tannic, sapid, and balanced.