Category Archives: Wine
We are delighted to welcome back Gwen McCann from The House Wine. Over the coming weeks we are going to be treated to some unique and original wine blogs focussing on different aspects of wine. Today Gwen examines the flavour and taste of wine.
Once you start to examine flavour in wine it immediately gets complicated and we don’t want to get bogged down in semantics and subtleties before we start. For the purposes of this blog I am going to take flavour to mean a combination of taste and aroma. Taste being the five sensations that are experienced in our mouths through our tastebuds (sweet, sour, bitter, salt. and umami) and aroma being what we experience through our sense of smell. The tiny molecules that hit our olfactory bulb at the front of our brain, this is all more subtle and varies with each average person being able to identify between 4,000 -10,000 different aroma molecules.
Why do we like wine? Why do we prefer one wine above another? Why are some people Sauvignon lovers and others hate the mouth-filling flavours and would much prefer an understated, some would say bland, Pinot Grigio. Of course we are all different and tastes in everything are unique and various but with wine it is often particularly hard to articulate what it is that we like or don’t like about a wine. The vocabulary for the flavours of wine just don’t exist, so wine is always described as being like something else and there are many examples of over-the-top tasting notes. Here’s one written last month in the US’s most highly respected wine journal:
“Scents of bacon; fresh cherry and red raspberry shadowed by their distilled counterparts; violet, honeysuckle, and acacia; musk; lavender and other resinous herbs; along with pungently bittersweet citrus oils, all capture one’s attention. Their counterparts on an infectiously juicy, fine-grained and strikingly buoyant palate are mingled with veal stock and mouthwateringly savory pan drippings. Cardamom and black pepper add yet greater complexity.”
To most wine drinkers that’s an awful lot of aromas many of which we would be hard pushed to recognize and although evocative, it is the kind of overblown description that get’s wine journalism a bad name. Nothing excites our senses as much as a tantalizing smell – bacon, coffee, fresh bread, jasmine etc and so it is with wine. If the wine in your glass gives off no aroma then you know you are probably in for a pretty boring glass of wine. Generally with food we see what we are eating, we see it and we smell it and we put the two together, but with wine we smell all kinds of things but we have no visual reference and that is one reason that it makes it difficult to articulate and identify what we are smelling, there are no specialist words for the aromas of wine.
Over the next few weeks and months we will look at the different flavours in wine, where they come from, how to identify them and lets have a discussion about what’s useful and what’s nonsense when it comes to describing wine. There will be some practical work required (don’t worry it will only involve tasting wine) we will taste some wines in parallel and taste some wines alongside other things to try and get a better understanding of the complicated flavours of wine and that should help to make good wine choices and get more from the wine we drink.
FEEL FREE TO ASK ME QUESTIONS, IT MAKES FOR A FAR MORE INTERESTING EXERCISE FOR ALL OF US! ( either leave a comment or email me here )
The Basics of Taste
To limber up your tastebuds for the coming weeks we will start with a simple but telling exercise. We all know a bit about our tongue and our tastebuds; that they only pick up five different sensations, although the received wisdom that different parts of your mouth are sensitive to different flavours is now discredited. What we are probably less aware of is how these building blocks for flavour interact.
Simple taste exercise:
You will need: a glass of dry white wine, lemon quarter and sugar
Pour yourself a glass of white wine – have a taste, note how sweet/acid it tastes. Suck on the quarter of lemon then re-taste the wine – it will taste very different. Take some sugar swill it around your mouth and then re-taste the wine – again the flavour will be very different.
The lemon juice makes the wine taste much sweeter and the sugar accentuates the acid in the wine. Another way to demonstrate a similar effect is to line up four glasses, put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice in each, add a little water to each and then to three of them add one, two and three teaspoonfuls of sugar. As you taste up the sweetness scale you will see how much less acidic the lemon juice tastes. These simple exercises show why winemakers add sugar and either add or take away acid in wines as they are looking for a balance and the level of each has a profound effect on the perception of the other.
Salt and umami are not of any real importance in wine but bitter compounds are a very important element, particularly in red wine, this is harder to demonstrate with a simple taste test but we will come back to it. The flavours that make wine such an exciting and diverse drink are laid over these basic sensations of taste.
Next time we look at the origins of wines unique flavours starting with grape varieties.
If you like celebrating the last day of the year then we’ve put together the ultimate in cocktails and nibbles. Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year and is synonymous with the celebration of the New Year in the Scottish manner. The origins of the word Hogmanay remain rather hazy. There are several ideas ranging from French, Norse and old Celtic. The word hogmanay or hagmonay first appeared in 1604 with in the Elgin records. It next appeared in 1692 as an entry in within the Scottish Presbyterian records.
The roots of Hogmanay date back to the ancient rituals surrounding the winter solstice, popular among the Norse. The celebration of the winter solstice had to be celebrated incognito once the protestant reformation had taken hold but it re-emerged during the late 1600′s. One of the things I love about hogmanay are the traditions and customs. The first being the practise of first-footing. This custom begins immediately after midnight. The tradition states that the first-footer is the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and they arrive bearing symbolic gifts such as salt, or whisky, or shortbread. The custom is reputed to bring luck to the householder visited.
Now, what of the iconic song Auld Lang Syne? Everyone knows it’s reinterpreted from the Robert Burns poem and set to music and is commonplace to sing in a circle with linked arms after the clock chimes midnight. Now back to the food and drink on this night of nights …..
Which leads us on to champagne cocktails and canapes to suit….
I enjoyed my journey through the cocktail drinking world so much that I suggested to Anita-Clare that I write about some good ones to celebrate the New Year. She asked me if I might consider writing her a post on champagne cocktails to ring in 2013 in style…so here are just a few! Slightly controversially, I have not included Bucks Fizz, or Mimosa, as it is known in France. But I believe that most of us will know that it is a combo of orange juice and fizz, in proportions to suit your palate so I am assuming you can make it with your eyes shut! …. Read the recipes
It’s New Years Eve and what better way to spend the afternoon or evening than with friends and family. You may be having a party or supper? What ever you are doing these bite-sized blinis always go down a treat as an appetizer in our family. Blinis are easy to make and you can get on and do other things whilst you are waiting for the batter. If you are looking at this thinking ‘You have to be kidding’ then blinis are widely available in all the major supermarkets now, just simply add your own toppings. Salmon and sour cream are traditional but there are so many variations and some fantastically moorish vegetarian options including beetroot and Babba Ganoush…. Read more recipes
Oh and let’s be honest… and be like a Girl Guide? We’ve already go the hangover cures lined up. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? A head that feels as if thousands of meerkats are shifting from foot to foot in stilettos on your forehead. Temples that are being used as bongo drums in the percussion section of a large orchestra. A mouth that feels as if something small and hairy died in it overnight… and a thirst. A thirst so bad that it is as if you have spent the last 10 days in the desert. Well, here we go! Hangover cures for the day after! The most popular is probably a Bloody Mary, but I have given you its non-alcoholic little sister. Here are some other heavenly solutions!….. Read the HANGOVER CURES ….
Whatever you are doing tonight, we would like to wish you all an amazing News Year Night and a hangover free morning. May you all be blessed with a fabulous flavour packed new year, good health and good cheer….
UNTIL 11PM GMT FLAVOURS IS £1.99 CLICK THE COVER TO BUY YOUR COPY NOW
We are absolutely delighted to be teaming up with The House Wine for our Christmas competition this year. Between now and Dec 20th you will have the opportunity to enter to win a magnificent case of wine, especially chosen for our readers. We have tried most of them and the are absolutely exquisite. Here’s a little more about The House Wine.
The House Wine was born because we know what a confusing, and often disappointing, world wine can be. There are tens of thousands of wines to choose from so where do you start? That is why so many of us resort to special offers and medals to guide our selection and still that disappoints. We knew there were great wines out there so we set about finding them – not wines to put in your cellar for 10 years but wines that would be perfect for a Friday night supper with friends. Our aim is to recreate the hot sun of the Mediterranean with a bottle of vibrant Spanish red during the depth of the English winter or to capture the perfect summer picnic in a bottle of rosé. Our mission is to expand your wine horizons by carefully sourcing a changing selection of interesting wines for your enjoyment.
What’s in the box
A selection of reds, whites and a bottle of fizz worth nearly £75.00, We’ve listed the wines and included a link so you can find out more about their pedigrees, We guarantee you will not be disappointed. Each box will be supplied with tasting notes and a guide to food and wine pairings.
- Secateurs Red Blend, AA Badenhorst
- Le Pluriel, Clos des Boutes, Costieres des Nimes, 2012
- Malbec Classico, Altos Las Hormigas, Mendoza, Argentina, 2012
- Macon Villages, Domaine Perraud, Burgundy, France 2010
- Prosecco Spumante Brut, La Jara Organic, Veneto, Italy NV
- Shiraz, ‘Lionheart of the Barossa’, Dandelion Vineyards, Australia,
How do I enter ?
We are delighted to have our friend and Oneologist Gwen McCann as resident Wine Editor here at Lover of Creating Flavours and each month Gwen writes the most fantastically well received features on different aspects of wine and the wine industry – they can be found here at THE HOUSE WINE
To enter the competition you will have to supply six correct answers to the questions set around the last 6 wine blogs. Here are the questions:
- Prosecco is labelled according to its level of fizz, the two most common categories are, Spumante and Frizzante, which will have more fizz?
- What is the grape used to make Prosecco?
- Who set the founding principles of Biodynamic agriculture?
- There are four types of day in a Biodynamic calendar, all named after parts of plants, what are they?
- Which is the most important organic certifying body in the UK?
- This substance is added to almost every wine produced and it is the only additive (out of a potential 50) that has to be listed on a wine label because it is a known allergen, what is it?
Send your answers HERE to enter. It’s very important to read the small print else your entry might not be valid. There will only be one winner, however, The House Wine is generously offering £10.00 off any wine purchases over £50.00 to everyone who enters the competition starting from the time you enter – You must quote the code LOCF1 when ordering.
The Small Print
- The deadline for entries is midnight GMT December 20th 2013.
- You must be over 18 ( we will need proof before confirming your prize)
- The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
- This prize is only open to readers in the United Kingdom
- The prize is a selection of wine worth approximately £75.00 Wines are chosen by experts at The House Wine.
- The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
- The prize is offered by The House Wine and Lover of Creating Flavours Ltd
- You must email your answers to email@example.com no later than midnight on December 20th 2013 with the correct answers, together with your legal name, to be entered into the prize draw
- You can only enter once, multiple entries will not count and we will only take your first answer.
- The winners will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received within 5 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
Welcome to our bi-monthly visit to The House Wine and Gwen McCann, Oenologogist and owner of ‘The House Wine’ takes us on a journey to Italy and gives us an insight into everything prosecco. We’ve even got a special offer on this iconic Italian fizz for our readers at the end of the blog..
Times have been hard in the wine trade over recent years and many categories of wine have struggled, but two big success stories have been rose wines and sparkling wines, particularly Prosecco. These haven’t been Champagne times but we have still wanted some fizz in our lives and we have turned to Italy’s light, easy, appealing, everyday sparkler. Prosecco is affordable and does not come couched in the mystique and snobbery of Champagne but it is definitely a wine worth knowing a bit more about.
Prosecco comes from the Vento in Northern Italy, and quality Prosecco comes from the hills above Venice and Treviso, in fact the foothills of the Alps, so quite far north and quite cool.The two main centres of the area are the towns of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano and most of the best Prosecco comes from here and will be labelled ‘Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdabiodene DOCG’, not exactly a name that trips off the tongue. Wines labelled Prosecco DOC come from the flatter, less highly valued vineyards surrounding the DOCG. We all know that Champagne has been very clever in preserving the cachet of its name and only wines made in Champagne using a certain method can be called Champagne, well the
Prosecco region has taken a leaf out of their book and done a similar thing. In 2009 Prosecco re-defined it’s boundaries, expanding the area where producers could label their wines ‘Prosecco’ but crucially changing the name of the main grape used to make the wine from Prosecco to Glera. This means that no one outside of the prescribed area can now label their wine ‘Prosecco’.
Prosecco is not made in the same way as Champagne and a lot of other sparkling wine including English Sparkling wine and Cava, often referred to as the ‘traditional method’ this is where the second fermentation (the one that gives the wine its bubbles) takes place in the bottle. With Champagne the wine is aged for a period of time and producers are looking to develop secondary flavour characteristics, those toasty, buttery flavours we associate with Champagne. With Prosecco the aim is to deliver a fresh wine with gentle fruit flavours and soft bubbles and the technique used is something called the Charmat method, here the secondary fermentation takes place in large pressurized tanks and the wine is bottled under pressure. Most Prosecco is designed to be drunk young and will fade away in the bottle after few years.
The main grape is Glera but small amounts of other grapes such as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio can be used but Prosecco will always be white, if it’s pink it can no longer be called Prosecco as it will be made from different grapes. Prosecco is produced at two levels of sparkle – Frizzante and Spumante. Frizzante is the lightly sparkling version and is often bottled with a string and cork. A lot of the wine drunk in the local area will be Frizzante. These wines should be cheaper, not least because they attract a lower form of tax in the UK as they are not classified as sparkling wines. Spumante is the fully sparkling version and is the most commonly seen Prosecco on our shelves in the UK and US.
The other indicators of what is in the bottle are the labels ‘Brut’ ‘Extra Dry’ and ‘Dry’. Brut has the least sugar with wines labelled ‘Dry’ actually containing quite a lot of sugar. One of the great things about Prosecco is it is relatively low in alcohol, between 11-12% making it a perfect party wine. We drink most of our Prosecco as an aperitif and just enjoy it’s light appley, stone- fruit flavours but it is also the basis for a great cocktail, the Bellini, invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice, a mixture of fresh peaches and Prosecco it is a great summertime drink. For a winter twist Nigel Slater recommends swapping the peaches for tangerines. Here’s a wonderful Bellini recipe from the man himself
Portrait of a Producer
Sorelle Bronca are one of the best regarded Prosecco producers and the owners of some fabulous vineyards in the heart of the DOCG area. This is a wine estate run by two sisters. Antonella and Ersiliana Bronca along with one of their daughters, who has completed a wine-making degree and is now taking on a lot of wine-making responsibility. The vineyards are farmed organically and grapes are hand-harvested, since many of the vineyards are incredibly steep and mechanization is just not possible. There is grass and other companion plants growing everywhere in their vinyards and they are passionate advocates of biodiversity and are constantly experimenting with modern techniques and traditional methods to produce distinctive quality Prosecco.
Prosecco offer from Sorelle Bronca:
A fabulous wine for the party season – gorgeous, elegant Prosecco of the highest quality
6 bottles of Prosecco Brut for £80 (normally £14.50 a bottle)
Last time we looked at organics, this time it’s biodynamics, which could be described as organic-plus or super-charged organics. Organic goods are now commonplace but you won’t often find produce labelled as ‘biodynamic’ on a supermarket shelf in the UK. Biodynamics is an intriguing blend of mysticisim, reliance on a celestial calendar, strange preparations and traditional farming methods and wine seems to be the one area of agriculture where it is finding an important niche with an ever increasing number of serious winemakers adopting its methods and philosophy.
Biodynamics is a whole world view, it has its origins in a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher and social reformer (he had theories about very many things, including education, and schools following his methods still flourish read more). The theme of these lectures, delivered in 1924, was sustainable agriculture and central to Steiner’s theory was that the farm is a single entity, a living organism in which soil fertility, plant growth and the care of livestock are all related tasks. A farm should be a self-sustaining, closed system so everything that is needed for the health of the farm comes from the farm with no outside fertilizers or other kinds of input introduced into the system.
One of the points of real difference between organics and biodynamics is a series of preparations, nine in total, these formed part of Steiner’s original lectures and he urged his audience to test their effectiveness as he had not had the opportunity to do so (the lectures were delivered a year before he died). The biodynamic preparations use plants often found in traditional medicine such as yarrow, chamomile and valerian but they are prepared in semi-mystical ways the purpose of which is to capture cosmic forces and seems to be more like sympathetic magic than any kind of science. If we look at one typical preparation:
Once retrieved the preparation is then added to a compost heap and then after time it is added to the soil as fertilizer, in many ways it is similar to homeopathy as the actual quantities that find their way into the soil are tiny (a full list of preparations can be found here). The mysticism doesn’t stop once the preparation is dug up it then has to be activated in a particular way called ‘dynamization’, which involves complicated ways of combining and stirring the preparation in water.
Continuing the mystical nature of things the timing of a biodynamic practioner’s activities is governed by a sowing and planting calendar that was developed by a German gardener called Maria Thun. Her first calendar was produced in 1952 and it was based upon close observations of different growth characteristics of plants sown on different days. The calendar combines astrological elements with lunar activity and is broken down into four different kinds of days, each linked to a particular part of a plant (root, leaf, flower and fruit) and each propitious for certain types of activity.
It is not very surprising that biodynamics has lots of detractors and is discounted by many as mystical mumbo jumbo, however in the wine world it continues to make inroads and has been credited with dramatic improvements in wine quality by vineyards that have converted to this method. Biodynamics seems to be doing particularly well in high-quality areas of wine production such as Burgundy and Alsace, it is not a cheap way of farming as it is very labour intensive and so the resulting wine also tends to be expensive. A sense of place, often referred to as ‘terroir’ is important in wine, and biodynamic’s emphasis on a closed system and the importance of everything being local turbo-charges this idea.
Various kinds of trials have been undertaken with no really conclusive results, there doesn’t seem much discernable difference between organic and biodynamic wine producers in terms of quantity or quality of grapes or wine but one area where they both out perform conventional agriculture is soil health and this has a beneficial effect on the quality of grapes produced.
There are lots of biodynamic winemakers out there making interesting, tasty wines, they are not all mystical mad-men but rather people focused on producing the best wine possible so, as with many things, the proof is in the pudding – try their wines and see what you think. A list of biodynamic vineyards can be found here and many of their wines are quite widely available. Demeter is the certificating organization for biodynamics and their website has lots of further information.
Gwen McCann from The House Wine is our wine writer. Gwen began her love affair with wine by editing many of the world’s best-known wine writers. She has gone on to study wine through WSET qualifications and a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College, there she learnt to do everything from driving a tractor to wine microbiology. She now runs ‘The House Wine’ a company that is dedicated to discovering wines made with love and passion. You can follow The House Wine on Twitter or like their page on Facebook
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We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Gwen McCann from The House Wine Gwen began her love affair with wine by editing many of the world’s best-known wine writers. She has gone on to study wine through WSET qualifications and a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College, there she learnt to do everything from driving a tractor to wine microbiology. She now runs ‘The House Wine’ a company that is dedicated to discovering wines made with love and passion. Continuing our journey today we are looking at organic wine.
Most of us have a good understanding of what ‘organic’ means, and an ‘organic’ wine will be one that is made from grapes grown following an organic regime. In 2012 the EU formalised the regulations relating to the processing of organic grapes into organic wine, setting minimum standards.
It is very easy to get bogged down in all the dos and don’ts, the allowed and disallowed around organic certification. Individual countries have their own certifying bodies so there is no universal standard and some wine makers who follow organic principles in producing their wine don’t bother with certification as the bureaucracy surrounding it is just too daunting. It will normally take three years for a vineyard to convert from conventional cultivation to organic.
In the UK the most important organic certifying body is the Soil Association and it is worth just looking at their guiding principles, they state that:
Organic wine is as natural as possible, made using organically grown grapes or other fruit from a vineyard or farm that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health.
Organic wine makers use the minimum amount of additives and processing aids required to produce an optimum quality wine.
There is no great premium for organic wine and by following an organic regime you are likely to have a reduced crop size, so wine makers who bother with organics do it because they believe that it is the best route to producing healthy grapes in a healthy, sustainable environment. The label organic doesn’t mean that no additions are made to the wine, in fact the list of permitted additions is quite long and there is a big crossover with conventionally made wine. So, yeasts and yeast nutrients such as Thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1) and Diammonium phosphate, are allowed along with all kinds of substances that fine (clear) and stabilize wine. But as the Soil Association states the aim of organic producers is to use the ‘minimum amount of additives’, this is particularly true of sulphur, the only additive that needs to be mentioned on a wine label. The Soil Association sets significantly lower limit for sulphur than standard legal limits.
That’s the dry bit, and it certainly doesn’t follow that organic wine will taste better than other wine but what committed organic producers are trying to achieve is a high-quality product produced in a way that maintains or even improves the local environment. Organic viticulture is harder work than conventional methods that rely heavily on spraying. One of our organic winemakers put it like this:
“In essence, this means that what happens out in the vineyard is controlled and monitored – no synthetic chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides are allowed, and weed killers are replaced by old-fashioned mechanical (or human) means of weeding. This is obviously more labour intensive than conventional farming methods but the rewards are clear for all to see, in the shape of healthier vines, soils teeming with insects and other living organisms, and a decreasing need for any spraying treatments at all as the vines’ natural defenses take over from mankind’s.” Rupert Birch
This is Champagne, an area that is pretty much a monoculture, and although the neat rows of vines are rather appealing the intensive nature of the farming here means that soils are degraded and polluted, with a detrimental effect on the vines health. What is quite striking when walking around parts of Champagne is how little there is in the way of wildlife, you don’t see birds and there is not much insect life. Champagne is taking steps to improve the health of the environment and there are moves away from intensive spraying of herbicides and pesticides and positive steps to improve biodiversity.
This is the organic vineyard of our favourite Prosecco producer, La Jara from a beautiful part of the Veneto. With organic vineyards you are much more likely to see grass or other plants between the rows of vines, although immediately under the vines grass and weeds will be cleared by mechanical means rather than pesticides. La Jara, like lots of organic producers, see the farm as a living thing, with all elements of the farm enhancing its overall health – this is carried to the next level in the philosophy behind Biodynamics, which we will look at
We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Gwen McCann from The House Wine Gwen began her love affair with wine by editing many of the world’s best-known wine writers. She has gone on to study wine through WSET qualifications and a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College, there she learnt to do everything from driving a tractor to wine microbiology. She now runs ‘The House Wine’ a company that is dedicated to discovering wines made with love and passion. Today we start our journey with Gwen learning about the different methods of wine production.
Over the next few weeks on Lover of Creating Flavours we will try and unpick some of the words used to describe different methods of wine production – what is the difference between wines labelled ‘organic’ ‘biodynamic’ ‘natural’ ‘sustainable’? The definition of these terms is vague but we will look at what us, as wine drinkers, should expect from these different categories of wine production but for today I will just give an overview of current winemaking.
Wine is thought of as a natural product – it is made from grapes, pure and simple. Wine producers are also in the fortunate position of not having to list ingredients or additives and aside from sulphur, which has to be listed as it is an allergen, there is usually no indication on the label that anything else goes into, or is found in wine.
The truth is somewhat different – there are very, very few wines that are made with grapes and absolutely no additives and they wouldn’t necessarily be wines that most drinkers would find the most palatable or be wines that are very stable. There is a fashion at the moment for these ‘natural’ wines, partly in reaction to the characterless mass-market wines that fill our supermarket shelves. Winemakers who champion the ‘natural’ approach are looking to make a product that reflects the uniqueness of a wine made in a particular place, from grapes grown in a particular year, so every wine they make will be different whereas the big brand wines are looking to produce a product that tastes the same year in year out.
There are two stages in the production of wine – the growing of the grapes and the processing of them into wine. The grape growing stage is easy to understand and is largely like any other crop, and individual vignerons will cultivate their wines according to the system they choose – organic, biodynamic, sustainable or not. Most wine that is labelled as organic, just means that the wine is made with organically grown grapes. The wine making process is not one that lends that itself to being described as ‘organic’ or ‘non’organic’ but it may be described as ‘natural’ if there is a low amount of intervention or ‘sustainable’ if certain practices are in place. The definitions of these words is notoriously vague but we will come back to them over the next few weeks.
What gets added to wine?
Things get added during the winemaking process for all kinds of reasons and most wineries will have a cupboard full of chemicals and additives, many with weird and wonderful names. At present there are over 50 different, preservatives, additions, flavourings and agents permitted by the EU in the winemaking process. It is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of additions but most of what gets added to wine is pretty harmless, the most common things being sugar, yeast, acid, clay and chalk. The evangelists for ‘natural’ wine will argue that every addition takes the finished wine further away from being an authentic product because each addition is modifying the flavour of the finished wine. That is true, of course, but it is not necessarily always a bad thing and it allows wine producers to still have wine to sell when the weather and growing conditions are against them.
If you visited a cellar in Champagne, the UK or any other cool climate wine-making region you would probably be shocked to see the huge bags of sugar sitting ready to be added to grape must made from grapes that aren’t as ripe as they need to be to make a satisfactory wine. Of course, most of the sugar is transformed into alcohol and so no-one is any the wiser (although wine-makers do need to declare to the authorities how much sugar is added and there are limits). Acid gets added to wines that lack natural acidity and again there are limits, chalk gets added to reduce acidity and then there are lots of things used to stabilize wine from fish bladders and milk protein to various types of clay.
The production of more complex additives for wine is now big business and the science surrounding it is very sophisticated – take yeast for example, yeast gets added to nearly all wines produced on a large commercial scale, a commercial yeast will be designed to enhance certain flavours and aromas in a wine and there are yeasts for all styles of wine, so if for instance, you want a fruity, grassy Sauvignon Blanc, there will be a yeast for you. In a traditional wine-making environment carried out in cellars with long histories of wine making, there is usually a flourishing, well-adapted, indigenous yeast population and yeast isn’t added.
So, much of what is added is benign and there is barely a trace of it in the finished wine and it is the advances made in many of the additives that have made for much better quality, more stable wine. However the over reliance on adjustments and additions have made for a much more homogenous, bland wine scene with branded wines being made in very similar styles and with endless adjustments to make sure that the wine is always the same.
Wine-makers are very cagey about what they might add to their wines and some of the additions used in pursuit of uniformity are not very appealing. One addition, Mega-Purple, made by a company owned by the huge wine conglomerate Constellation, is an additive made from very concentrated grape juice, it seems that most wineries deny all knowledge of if but it is thought to be used in most bulk red wines, particularly in California, it gives colour and some sweetness, masks some defects in a wine and enables winemakers to produce a bigger, riper tasting product from low quality grapes. These kind of additions are not bad per-se but they do mean that the wine you are drinking is quite far removed from a natural product and although grape juice is the base ingredient the final product is highly manipulated and does not retain any of the character of its original ingredient.
Many wineries are very against full labeling of additions as they feel they would be misunderstood by the consumer, there may be some truth in this but as consumers I am sure that most of us would like to know a little bit more about what is in the wine we are drinking.