We have written several times recently about some “fads” in the wine industry, as wine consumers try to consume the most natural wine possible. Some of these trends as we have said are solutions without a problem. The quest for vegan wine or dry farmed wines are simply that, a solution looking for a problem. There is much manipulation of wine though. Things done in the winemaking process that not only adulterate the wine, but also make them worse for you, especially if you have allergies to the additives or processes.
We thought it would be good to talk about some of these that really aren’t very good for you, or at a minimum, take a wine to a place it wouldn’t naturally go. At the top of my list of things that are really not good for wine or wine consumers is an additive called MegaPurple. For all practical purposes, MegaPurple adds, as one might suspect, purple color to wine and also comes with a fairly good dose of syrupy sweetness. It is pretty easy to tell a wine that has had MegaPurple added, and if you would like specific brands that are known for doctoring with this chemical-based additive just stop by the shop or drop me an email.
Wines are made in both sweet and dry styles. True sweet wines are not made sweet by adding sugar or sweetener, rather the sweetness comes from residual sugar. When a winemaker wishes to make a wine with some sweetness to it, they stop the fermentation before all of the sugar is consumed. That is where the term residual sugar comes from. Many Rieslings, Vouvray (which is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley in France), Moscato and Lambrusco, among others, are all wines made with some residual sugar left in the wine.
The trouble starts when winemakers add pure sugar to the wine. One can almost always tell the difference between a wine with residual sugar and one with added sugar. Sugar is added in many cases to round out the mid-palate of the wine and to cover flaws that the natural fruit may be showing. There are ways to do this without just dumping sugar or other sweeteners into the wine though, and they are more expensive, more natural and are better for wine consumers, so you typically see this tactic employed by lower priced and lower quality wine producers.
In order for wine to be bottled with the varietal name on the label it must contain at least 75 percent of that varietal. Regardless of whether it is Cabernet, Pinot Noir or any other grape, there must be, by law, at least 75 percent of that grape in the bottle. In Europe, the rules are typically even more strict. All winemakers, even the best of the best, will encounter vintages when the wine they make is not delivering all they want it to. The best winemakers address this through changes in their winemaking. It is never a “recipe” process. At times, they may even need to do some blending of varietals to compensate for a vintage’s shortcomings.
Now the trend is to blend Petite Sirah into lighter bodied wines like Grenache and Pinot Noir. The resulting wines are heavier, darker and not what they are meant to be. Petite Sirah is a noble grape on its own, producing wines that are dark, aromatic and sporting ample tannins. It just doesn’t belong as an additive to things like Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir (and to a lesser degree, Grenache) and some other grapes are meant to be light in body, softer and more supple. Adding Petite Sirah just to appeal to a different consumer is disingenuous.
Many winemakers that produce some lower-priced, bulk wines are now starting to use oak chips that float in a stainless-steel, wine-filled tank to provide oak notes in their wine. This trick is far less expensive than aging wine in oak barrels. The resulting wine will show oak flavors that are sharper, and with more rough edges, than those made using barrels. The wine will show more fresh-cut wood aromatics. Wine consumers and professionals alike can have their disagreements on how oaky they want a wine to taste. It seems though, that using real barrels is a more holistic way to get at it.
Whether you are seeking to manage wine allergies or just consume a more natural product these techniques and additives should be avoided. To know which wines to specifically avoid, trust your favorite wine professional or stop by the shop and we will work with you to find the best wine for you in taste, budget and with minimal manipulation.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.