Classic Wine vs. Modern Wine

Classic and modern. Two terms used frequently to describe wine. A distinction between styles, as if it were a local derby. And you? Which category do you fall into?

Img Craig Drollett (CC By 2.0)

They became fashionable in the world of Spanish wine when various Riojan wineries, such as Remírez de Ganuza, Contino and Artadi, launched a range of wines into the market back in the 90s that had never been seen before in the area. The aromatic potential and the alcoholic level increased, and the tannins became more appetising to the palate. It was an explosion, critics couldn’t stop singing its virtues; the markets, above all in English-speaking, German and Nordic countries, were crazy about this new profile from La Rioja. They loved this new way of making wine, and many wineries started to incorporate a new range of this style called ‘autor’. It was a revolution for many wineries that were still producing what they had been since 1852, the year in which Lucian Murrieta, Marquis of Murrieta, bottled the first fine wine from La Rioja.

The dilemma between modern and classic has always existed in Europe’s ‘old world’, where there has been a very important wine-making tradition since Roman times. Piamonte and Tuscany in the 70s, Burgundy and almost all historically renowned areas have been touched by the new concerns of the wine-making and oenological industry, which are becoming deeper and deeper in theoretical aspects of wine-making, chemistry, biology and new wine-making techniques.

The classic style of production comes from tradition, where knowledge acquired in the area is combined with studies and fulfilled expeditions. The different ways to cultivate the myriad varieties of grape with their variables when the time comes to stabilise the wines and create the adequate containers for them (barrels, ‘fudres’, cement tanks, amphoras…), has propelled each region to have its own unique method and style of producing wines. For example, wineries like Viña Tondonia and Rioja Alta have stayed loyal to this production style, with wines of marked classic style like Viña Tondonia Reserva and Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva.

In general, there are various factors that homogenise a ‘modern wine’. In the vineyard, the principal characteristics have been low-yield clones and a greater leaf exposure to obtain a larger concentration of sugars and polyphenols in the grape. At the same time, this has created a problem because the wines’ acidity has reduced and its ageing ability as well. Regarding production, the main changes have been:
– Period of fermentation: Fermentation should be carried out in a clean, quick and controlled manner.
– Fermentation tanks: In order to control fermentation, stainless steel tanks have been created to control all of the variables, for fermentation purposes as well as hygienic.
– Extractions: A short maceration, but with lot of extraction for more colour and substance in the wine.
– Ageing methods: A new 225 litre oak barrel, be it French or American, is fundamental for making a wine with these characteristics. Malolactic fermentation should also be carried out in these barrels, so that the wood and the touch of lactic become more pronounced.
Remírez de Ganuza Reserva and Torre Muga are two clear examples of good quality, modern wines from La Rioja.

The conclusions are quite ambiguous, considering that each one has its own taste and preference. But it is true that we believe that the modernisation of wines has put old cultural practices in danger at the point of wine production, and has caused a certain homogenisation of the scents and tastes. We should also say that within 5 years, we will be talking about completely different modern wines, not much colour, more subtle scents/tastes and less alcoholic because the market is demanding wines that fit this profile.
In the end, these styles are in fashion. They shouldn’t be, rather we should preserve each region’s knowledge, work with the native grape varieties that exist in each one of them and maintain respect for the atmosphere and the environment.

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