Does anything in our shopping basket recycle its own ordure quite as romantically as wine does? While other items find their way to the shelf via the path of purity, the wine route demands wellingtons, and its aisle presents us with a whole glossary of evocative terms which ultimately tell us that we want this stuff because it’s full of gunge. Indeed, the quantity of it we want seems to be in direct proportion to the amount of contributory gunge, delivered in such cunning guises as:
1. Maceration. This gives red wine tannin, body and colour, and entails leaving the wine on the stems, stalks and skins left over after pressing – none of which you’d otherwise have much use for. Least of all putting into your mouth. If you want a big, meaty, deep-coloured and tannic beast of a wine, then the chances are it will have sat for some time on its own detritus.
2. The Ripasso Method. This is a popular Italian way of producing often delicious wine, whereby grapes are fermented over the residuum of the production of another wine, usually Amarone. So all the stuff that was unpleasant enough to feature in point one lives to fight another day!
3. Filtration. Many wines will produce some sort of unpleasant sediment, and will need some amount of filtering before bottling. The extent of filtration will depend on the whim of the winemaker, so the consumer might get to enjoy some unpleasant sediment as well!
4. Fining. Even after filtration the wine will need to be clarified, as residual proteins can make it look unappetising. So to get your tummy rumbling it will be treated with ground fish bones, or dried egg white, or even with a clay called bentonite. Yum, perfection achieved!
5. Muscadet Sur Lie. “Sur Lie” translates as “on the lees,” the lees being a layer of gunk produced by dead yeast cells during the fermentation process. The flavours of the wine are enriched by prolonged contact with said gunk, especially if treated to battonage, which is the process of stirring up the gunk from time to time. Idiomatic French speakers might also recognise “sur lie” as a regional dialect term meaning “on gunk.”
6. Riddling. Champagne is produced by the secondary in-bottle fermentation of a still wine, and thus can’t avoid a certain amount of precipitate because the lees form in situ. Riddling is the process, manual or mechanical, whereby the bottles are gently tilted to encourage the precipitate to accumulate in the neck. Mmm, keep talking! And after that…
7. Disorgement. The goo is frozen into a pellet, the cap is removed and the pressure of the bottle ejects it. All over the place.
8. Crusted Port. Port revels in its involvement with its attendant refuse, but honorary mention can surely be made of the crusted port style. This receives additional bottle-ageing so that more crud can develop, and so that the producer can call the end product “crusted,” while meaning “crud-enriched.”
9. Decanters. Now you’ve been persuaded to pay more for a bottle of wine that’s clearly superior because it’s full of crap, you will be encouraged to buy an expensive crystal decanter to pour it into, because, hey, what’s all that crap? Who on earth would want that?
10. Flor. While ageing, a fino sherry runs the risk of oxidation. To lessen the risk, a protective layer of yeast residue called flor is encouraged to form across the surface of the wine, offering an attractive seal against the perils of the outside world. This not only adds depth and tanginess to the wine, but it also illuminates a process whereby a wine’s own cack can stop it from turning into cack; a bit like never washing your hair to preserve its nourishing oils. Except it works. But perhaps a Lifetime Achievement Award can go to…
11. Wine Writing. Like wine itself, wine writing is often enriched by a healthy dollop of sludge. It might occasionally leave an unpalatable taste, but without the odd blast of madness, delusion and controversy, wine writing would be a dull and monochromatic documentary, instead of a three-dimensional, technicolour experience that offers a rewarding plot for every different taste and which keeps the audience coming back for more. Keep the crap in there, it’d be horrible otherwise!