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The Progression of Wine Quality

By Avi Arora


Were our grandparents drinking the same quality of wine as we are? Were they drinking

the same varieties? Well... very simply, the answer is no. Wine regions, technologies, and

variations are constantly changing. We can now produce higher quantities of better wine;

wineries in different geographic regions have been created, and new types of wine have emerged.



So what did our grandparents drink at our age?

Around 1970, Chardonnay was completely unheard of and Sicily and Languedoc weren’t

known for wine. Big-name wineries didn’t produce tabletop wine, and the quality of even the

finest European wines is nowhere near the level that it’s at today. The best wineries did not have the same organic growing methods that they do today. In the past, there were very few wine options, all of which included pesticides.


The elevations in modern wine are due to viticulture (the study of vines) and winemaking

techniques. With the use of stainless steel tanks and temperature controls, even low-quality wines are better than they used to be. We can also thank warmer Autumns for extending growing seasons.


I am fairly new to wine and before a few months ago I was under the impression that all

grapes were treated equally. Let me tell you that all grapes are NOT treated equally. Even the slightest alterations to grapes such as trimming the leaves (of leafing) change how the grape will develop. The first major viticultural evolution was fruit thinning. Christian Moueix of Château Petrus had the idea to decrease cluster size so that grapes can get more sun exposure-- this technique allows grapes to ripen faster. In addition, you get nearly half a degree more alcohol content as well as more color and tannins which allow the wine to age better. Having lower grape yields allows vineyards to better monitor all aspects of the grape, ultimately creating a better final product for consumers. Twenty plus years ago, parasites were poured into the crops; now we don’t use them. Not having pesticides was unthinkable in the past, but without them, the overall wine quality is dramatically better.



Now, let’s talk briefly on the fermentation of thermodynamics. I’m sorry, fermentation of

thermodynamics? What does that even mean?! In simple words, it means how temperature

controls the yeast. While we are not going to dive very deeply into the specifics of the science, it is good to know that yeast turns the sugar from the grapes into alcohol. It has been known for many many years that different yeasts bring out different qualities in a wine, but it hasn’t been known for all that long that the temperature in which the yeast is at can also alter the wine quality. If fermentation is too hot, we lose aromas. If fermentation is too cold, we compromise the tannins and color.



So... in the most straightforward way, this is why wine today is so much better than 30

years ago:


“What did we do to change wine? We made the viticulture better. We were able to get our fruit riper, earlier—which then meant we could extend the ripeness—which meant we could get better color, better extractions. Viticulture is key. And also temperature control, nutrients, and yeast.

Keep it clean and simple. You need the end game. What sort of wine do I want to make? What is, as the French say, the typicité of that area? You need to understand that, but then replicate that in the area consistently. I mean—it’s a chess game.” -Morgan Maurèze, winemaker for Marciano Estate in Napa Valley, California


Wineries yielding fewer grapes has led to the development of more wineries in more

regions all over the world, creating unique variations that individual wineries can essentially

perfect.


The range of wine has grown exponentially and each wine tastes better. What more could

we ask for? I guess now that we have more wine and better quality, nothing. Sorry, grandparents.

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