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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What is in my wine?

Viña Aquitania
SOLdeSOL Chardonnay 2008
Malleco Valley
$50 to $56

Clean clear straw yellow.
Nose: pineapple. Lemon-lime zest. Hints of coconut.
Palate: medium plus acid is well integrated. Medium body. Hints of structure from the oak but very little oak on the nose. (Appropriate use of wood for the purpose of structure.) Long finish with green apple, pear, white peach and a clear minerality. Alcohol of 13% is very well balanced.
Conclusion: A beautiful representation of a cool climate Chardonnay from Chile.  All parts of the wine join to create a mouth-watering glass that is full of flavours. Drinks like a white burgundy. I would highly recommend this wine to anyone wanting to try a Cool climate Chardonnay that lingers on the palate.

What is in your wine? Some say "ignorance is bliss!" To those I would recommend you do not read this article. To any others; I would love to share with you some of the invisible (and not so invisible) products used in making wine.
The marketing teams from most of the wineries would have you believe that it is a magical combination of grapes mixed with love and sunlight used to make your wine but there is a lot more in your glass nowadays.

It does all start with grapes. I'm not going to go into any of the fertilizers and pesticides today. Just what is added to or a part of the grapes during the conversion into wine.

So assuming we have ripe grapes ready to Harvest. Let's begin there.

1) Bugs, Birds & Rodents.
This is where the harvesting style will make a big difference. There are 2 types of harvesting available. You can have people walk through the vineyards and hand pick the grapes placing them in bins or you can use a huge tractor like machine to drive up and down the rows that pulls the grapes (and other things) off the vines. There are advantages to both styles but I'll stick to the purpose of what is in the grapes. Hand picked and sorted grapes will be free from the majority of all rodents and birds but will still contain some bugs as it is nearly impossible to remove all of the creepy crawlers.  The hand picking typically ends on what is called a sorting table where all the rotten grapes, unripe grapes, sticks, leaves, and other unwanted material is removed, Thus resulting in a cleaner and more pure product.  The offset is that this style of harvest is much more expensive. The labour required and reduced yield makes for a more expensive bottle of wine.

The other style of harvest is machine harvesting. Quicker and lower labour costs equal cheaper wine but at what cost. I have seen full birds nests end up in a wine fermentor. Often rodents are scooped up and included in the mix. The machines are not picky about what grapes (ripe or not) they include or anything attached to the grapes. They take it all. Now to be fair I have heard about fine wine producers using machine harvesters but they also add a sorting table after and they also pre-remove anything from the vines and vineyard before the machines are used. Adding labour costs just as the hand picking style.


2) Yeast

We need to recognize that with all food products safety and cleanliness is important. With that said efficiency is not the same as cleanliness. All grapes have natural yeast on the skins and not to sound like a hippy but I do still believe that some of the God given plans need to be recognized. I am not against helping things along if the natural yeast dies but some wineries inoculate natural yeast with sterilizers and then add Lab created yeast that are more predictable or have a specific flavour profile. 


3) Dyes and ‘MEGA PURPLE’

Somewhere along the way people decided that red wine needed to have deep color to be enjoyable and therefore a wine that is light in color must be light in character.  This is completely untrue but the wine buying public have believed this lie so much that wine makers have taken to adding dyes to make the wine color darker and more 'purple'.

This just screams fake wine to me. If you need to dye your wine to have people purchase it then maybe your wine needs more than just color?

One of the dyes used is called 'Mega Purple' or Deep Purple. To quote wikipedia:

            "There has been some discussion in the industry regarding the use of additives such as Mega Purple to bolster or enhance sensory attributes such as color, taste and mouth feel. It is reported that as much as 20% of the total production of such additives is related to wines. According to journal reports, Mega purple is used by almost every low to moderate value wine producer (below $20US/750-ml bottle) to help standardize the bottled product ensuring a more uniform product.[1]

WOW! I cannot even make this stuff up. Just Google it. You will be shocked to find out what additives are being used. The 'MEGA PURPLE" stuff is solvent extracted. What they are using solvent to make a wine dye?

4) Acid, Tannins & Sweeteners

Some colder areas in Europe such as Alsace are known for doing what is called Chaptalization. This is the adding of sugars to the juice before fermenting to increase the alcohol and body to the wine. It has nothing to do with the sweetness of the finished product. IT is the adding of these types of things after the wine is made that is what needs to be monitored. Adding liquid sugar to create a sweeter wine, adding tannins to balance out the acid, using reverse osmosis to pull water out and concentrate your flavours all are ways winemakers can modify the wine to create a more consumer friendly product. I don't have a problem with winemakers using these types of techniques to help with the wine but I think it should all be public and clear. The wines should be labeled with ingredients like most food products.


5) Clarifiers

Nobody wants to drink a cloudy wine. Most wines are cleared using additives to help pull suspended particles out. What you need to know is what type of clearing agent is used to make your wine clear. This is where you can ask if your wine is vegetarian or not? One product used is Bentonite. This is a volcanic clay that grabs onto the suspended particles and settles down at the bottom of the container. Another option is Chitosan. This is basically the exoskeletons of sea creatures like crabs and crustaceans. Works great in white wines but not reds. Egg whites, gelatin and Isinglass (collagen from fish bladders) are all animal based products used to clear wines. All wines will be cleared in some way (even if it is just waiting for the particulates to settle out). Just think, the cheaper the wine the less time they have to get it out the door. That typically equals more intervention to clear the wine.


There are many more additives used in making wine so don't think this list is exhaustive but it is a good point to remember. Especially when you are looking at the $6 bottle of wine. Think about the cost of the bottle, the shipping and the store mark up. How much the winery paid in labor costs. The time it took to go from grapes to bottle. This is what I typically talk about when people ask me how much I spend on my wine. Friends ask me, "what is a great value wine out there?" and there certainly are a bunch, But before you purchase just ask yourself where did the wine come from and what is in there?