Monday, September 6, 2010

Good Grapes & Bad Grapes

Here is what a bunch of grapes (Sangiovese) look like long after the powdery mildew has attacked. Cracked, runted, rotten ... you can barely tell they are purple. If I tried to make wine with these it would have aromas and tastes of wet fur and sweat in the mix. No kidding!

Here are the grapes I did harvest (Malvasia).

The trick I mentioned is two-fold. The first part is called appassimento. This is letting the grapes "raisin" a little before making the wine to concentrate the essences and sugar. This is done by laying them on straw or wire racks for good air circulation in other parts of Italy, or, around here, by hanging on wire hooks in long chain. If you've ever had an old style Amarone, you know the the taste of wine made by passato grapes. It is also how, using Malvasia and Trebbiano, Tuscans make the famous local desert wine known as Vin Santo (The good stuff you want to sip like port and NOT dunk biscotti in). Here's what I ended up with in my underground garage cantina.

Makes a pretty wall paper pattern, doesn't it?

OK, this buys me some time before I have to do anything with these grapes. And since I don't plan on making vin santo (takes at least 7 years and many barrels), and I do like the Malvasia grape, I will use these passato grapes in the second technique which was invented right here in Tuscany. It's called governo and it involves the addition of the pressed juice of passato grapes to the the red wine to give it a boost when the primary fermentation is almost done. This not only kicks the fermentation up to another level of alcohol and complexity, but helps initiate acid-softening secondary malolactic fermentation. I've only heard of one winery that does governo anymore. That's because it's easier to make mondo vino wines like everyone else. So, with crows and oidio forcing my hand, if I want to use these grapes, I have to bring back the governo technique and make a traditional wine nobody here is making anymore.

What about mixing white and red grapes, you ask? Won't that dilute the wine? Is it even kosher? The answers are, no, no, and yes. In fact the famous Chateauneuf du Pape of the Rhone, including one of my all-time favorites Chateau Beaucastel, rely on the inclussion of white grapes in their blend for their delicious taste, bouquet and mouth feel. And then there's Chianti. Not the stuff now being made (which according to recent Mondo-vinization of the law, includes French grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), but the original recipe by the guy who invented Chianti, Baron Ricasoli. The formula he codified in 1872 included 15% Malvasia along with Sangiovese, Canaiolo, and others, and was only in the 19th century bastardized to include up to 30% insipid Trebbiano to make the watered down stuff in the cute straw covered fiascos that gave Chianti a bad name and, as of 2006, is illegal to make. In fact, white grapes are no longer allowed. Good-bye Baron Ricasoli.

So here I am, forced by factors beyond my control to make a traditional Tuscan wine that according to law and global marketing nobody is making anymore. How about that!