Thursday, October 9, 2014

Books I'm Reading: Inventing Wine

Two developments in the history of wine and winemaking are largely responsible the quality of the wine we drink today and for the range of choices we have: the development of sturdy glass bottles with reliable cork seals (a combination that banishes oxygen); and temperature-controlled vats for fermentation and storage. These two innovations set the stage for what Inventing Wine author Paul Lukacs rightly refers to as wine's "second golden Age."

Inventing Wine (Norton, 2012) is a history of winemaking from ancient times to the present with an emphasis on how wine was transformed from a highly perishable, short-lived, near accident to a highly sophisticated creation of the human imagination, benefiting from the choices winemakers are afforded today by innovations like temperature-controlled fermentation. Lukacs makes it clear that the global selection of high-quality wines we take for granted today is a very recent development.

Winemaking is believed to have begun as long as 8,000 years ago, but wine is highly susceptible to the effects of oxygen and spoilage caused mainly by the strains of bacteria that convert wine into vinegar. Most wine through history has been short-lived. While amphorae allowed quantities of wine to be sealed against oxygen and stored for long periods if unopened, most wine was stored in casks that, once breached, allow the contents to quickly turn sour if not topped up. Wine was often transported in animal skins (which imparted scents and flavors few would tolerate in wine today). It was typical to add spices, herbs, and resins to wine to mask off flavors and spoilage. Wine has not always been the sophisticated, natural drink it has become. What we think of as wine is comparatively new. Inventing Wine takes the reader on a journey through the history of winemaking with an emphasis on how we got from sour, adulterated wines of little distinction to the highly particular, carefully handled fresh-grape creations we enjoy today.

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