RICHARD ESLING: A look at the changing world of wine

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One of the great things about wines and the wine industry is that there are constant changes and innovations which means there are always new things to discover.

While wine-makers have always experimented with new techniques either in the vineyard or the winery, the technological advances in the last 50 years have created the opportunity for much greater and more rapid changes. Stainless steel tanks, temperature controlled fermentation, yeast cultures, bag-in-box, screw caps, have all played significant roles in changing wines and improving overall quality and accessibility to them.

There is, of course, often a trade-off between tradition and innovation, all in the interests of the quality of the final product. For example, for many years wines were fermented in wood vats and then concrete tanks. Along came stainless steel tanks and with all the advantages these conferred, many wineries adopted them wholeheartedly, to great effect. Now, however, certain winemakers are going back to some of the old ways, and re-introducing both wooden and concrete vats, since they have different effects on the character of the wine produced. At Chateau Pape Clement, one of the top wines from the Bordeaux region, the winemakers use a combination of wood, concrete and stainless steel tanks to introduce greater character into the red wines.

Screw caps are another relatively recent introduction for wines, although they have been around since the 1960s. Although there is still some reticence in their introduction by some wine producers, particularly in France, they are becoming more and more widespread, with seemingly no adverse effects on quality. The technology behind the screw cap itself has advanced in recent years and different types may be specified according to the desired amount of air allowed through the cap into the wine. Wines being stored long term age better with a small amount of oxidation. Natural corks are ideal for this and have been used for centuries. But now specially designed screw caps may be just as good and dispense with the need for a corkscrew - handy if you are shipwrecked with a case of Laffite without one.

But wines themselves also can change, often in relation to fashion or current drinking trends. Many of the top wines of the world have changed in the last 30 or so years, becoming less tannic and with a more fruit forward character in direct relation with consumer demands, for softer, more approachable wines which do not have to be matured for so long. Consumers are becoming more demanding also in terms of quality, with people drinking less quantity but much better wines. The European wine lake has long since dried up, with the quantity producing vineyards being grubbed up and replanted with quality vine varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah and Viognier.

New styles of wine have also been introduced over the years, often pandering to either a real or a perceived demand from consumers. Many of us can still remember wines such as Liebfraumilch, Spanish Corrida, Mateus Rose and Austrian Schluck. Some of these still exist, although sales are greatly reduced and the style and presentation has changed. More recently, wines with mass appeal have been introduced onto the market, backed by intense marketing campaigns, such as generic Pinot Grigio and keenly priced sparkling Prosecco. These wines have, of course, been produced for a long time, but only recently have enjoyed such popularity.

Building on this success, what is described on the label as ‘Italy’s new sparkling wine’ has been introduced this month by Asda. It goes under the name of Progrigio. It is made in pressurised tanks in the same way as Prosecco, but uses Pinot Grigio grapes in the blend - hence the name. Not a very serious wine, it will surely carve-out a niche for itself as a refreshing, easy-drinking patio wine. Off-dry, it has a perry like character.

At around a Fiver a bottle it will find a place in the market. The neck label states “If you like Prosecco, you’ll love Progrigio”.

On the other hand...

Richard Esling BSc DipWSET is an experienced wine consultant, agent, writer and educator. An erstwhile wine importer, he runs a wine agency and consultancy company called WineWyse, is founder and principal of the Sussex Wine Academy, chairman of Arundel Wine Society and is an International Wine Judge. Twitter @richardwje. Visit www.winewyse.com.

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