Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Sugar clarification

I had a conversation yesterday which brought a comment I made a short while ago back into focus. I had posted about the topic of adding water to wine to adjust higher sugars downward here in the US, and the person I was talking to wondered if I was taking a potshot at France’s reputation.

…Colder short harvest regions – like Long Island, or France for example – usually have the reverse problem…not enough sugar & too much acid. So they may have to add grape concentrate in the US, or ‘chaptalize’ with beet sugar in France instead.]”
(See the whole post
Water into Wine…)

I said that not to disparage France’s reputation, but rather as reality.

In California, much of the concentrate used in wine most likely comes from grapes of the
Thompson Seedless or French Colombard varieties (as well as the less expensive Chardonnay) from the Central & San Joaquin Valleys of California’s hot interior. Those are the least expensive grapes that would probably be used.
They are also the least acidic (due mostly to the heat of the region), and therefore won’t have much of an effect on the acidity of the finished wine (especially since the sugar will be fermented out in the scenario in question).

France – with it’s higher acidity from cooler growing conditions – doesn’t benefit from any further acid added, and does just fine with the increase in alcohol alone. Although it could benefit from an increase in fruit aromas & flavors (there's the potshot!), any concentrate made from the local grapes would have too high acidity (as the acid’s concentrated as well as the sugar) to make it useful to them.

Generally speaking, winemakers in California who have access to grape concentrate use it preferentially to sugar just by itself. There are two main reasons as I see it: First, a winery can state that it “never adds sugar” and this would be true as they add “concentrated must” instead (pacifying any purists out there); Second, concentrated grape must adds some flavor and aromas as well as sugar, and most winemakers would rather do that than just adding sugar to be turned into alcohol by itself.



Anonymous gerhard horstink said...

Dear Mr. Johnson,

The last part of your comment on "sugar clarification" intrigues me: "Second, concentrated grape must adds some flavor and aromas as well as sugar, and most....".
Since I am tasting wine for many years professionaly (wine buyer) I cannot escape from the impression that quite some, mostly South-American, basic red wines have an excessive flavour of black-currant and other red fruit. According to their price these wines must be produced on high-yield vineyards (15.000 - 25.000 kgs/hectare)which, by classic vinification, should not lead to such an extra aroma; if normal concentration techniques are used one can concentrate the harvest up to 20%, but, to my opinion, that doesnot explain the overwhelming (but in most cases one-dimensional) aroma. This leads to my hypothesis that in making "cheap" but intensively couloured and flavoured wine (I don't mean the use of oak chips)the winemaker uses concentrated must (not rectified!) to a larger extend than regular EC-wine rules allow. I can imagine that winemakers buy e.g. "Merlot-concentrate" or "Malbec-concentrate" to enhance significantely the flavour of the wine. To what extent this is allowed in local laws I don't know, but as far as I understand the EC-law these wines would not be called "wine" but "wine product". I realise that this is quite a complicated matter ánd delicate. But somehow it should be clear to the consumer what he gets: wine or a wine-related product. If you, or other readers of this message, would react on my suggestion, it might open an interesting discussion.


Gerhard Horstink

p.s. we have met about 10 years ago at a presentation at Schiphol Airport for Ven Versmarkt (a Dutch wholesaler on delicatessen and wines).

August 27, 2005 8:25 AM  

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