I frequently ponder, and then expound upon in this column, the wonders of winemaking. Elemental, and always vitally essential, to the success of winemakers worldwide is the essence of the power and influence of Mother Nature.
This week, my mental wanderings brought me to the subject matter of an earlier column, which is partially reprised herein: that most fragile of earthly elements – water.
It is the essence of life, yet it is in increasingly short supply as human population explodes and agricultural production accelerates to meet its needs. As I jumped from the macro and micro aspects of water’s dominance in our lives, my mind naturally (for me) came full circle to the glass of wine in my hand.
In the oceans, on land, in soil, in plants and in our bodies, water is at the very core of existence. We are taught that 71 percent of the earth’s surface is water. But do you remember that 96.5 percent of the earth’s total volume of water is undrinkable? Only 3.5 percent is fresh water, which must sustain the millions of fresh water-dependent species that inhabit our planet, including its 7.3 billion humans.
How is it possible that humans can sustain themselves on such a seemingly meager proportion of fresh water? This fresh water is not readily available to us. Nearly 70 percent is in the form of polar ice caps and glaciers. The remainder, sourced primarily from rivers, lakes, aquifers and runoff, represents less than 1 percent of all the water on earth.
Let’s move from the global view to the perspective of the human body, of which 60 percent is composed of water. To sustain this level of water, and optimal health, we rely on several sources. Certainly, the 1 percent of earth’s fresh water readily available to us is the major source.
Most plants and vegetables are composed of significant levels of water. And then there are water-based beverages that provide the water needed to sustain our bodies and our lives: coffee, tea, juices and wine.
There it is: the wine connection. It is critical to sustaining the health of our bodies. Over 85 percent of a glass of wine is water.
If wine is predominantly water, what makes so many wines distinctive from each other? Why is one wine appealing to us while another is off-putting? What influences the taste and aroma in each bottle of wine?
It is the other 15 percent of a glass of wine that entices and sustains us. These components are influenced by many factors, from a) the composition of vineyard soil, carried by the water absorbed by plants, to b) the characteristics embedded in evolving grapes. Each element influences the harvested grape juice and ultimately the end product.
Let’s look into each major element.
The 85 percent of water in a bottle of wine has a significant influence on its taste and aroma. As a grapevine matures and subsists over a growing season, it absorbs the minerals and nutrients in soil as its roots penetrate the strata and substrata of soil created over millennia of earth’s heaving and seismic activity. One example: in parts of France, especially the Chablis region, the wines have the distinct taste of the minerality of seashells, yet the vineyards are landlocked. In prehistoric times, the Chablis area was a seabed; today seashells and marine skeletons abound in the soil. The essence of this detritus, absorbed by developing grapes, is evident in each glass of the wine.
The 15 percent of matter in a bottle of wine influences the personality of a particular wine in a manner similar to human physiology. It just takes a few strands of DNA to make each wine distinct and unique. Each strand of DNA determines the essence of a wine. The chemical composition includes differing levels of tannins, acid and flavor.
There is much to appreciate and be in awe of in Mother Nature and, tangentially, modern wines. They provide for the continuing health of our water-based physiology and enhance our ethereal appreciation of the finer qualities embedded in their essential juice.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.