Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sugar, sugar...

Gerhard H. from the Nederlands writes:

The last part of your comment on "sugar clarification" [link back /huge] 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 H.

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).


First, I should point out that I am not the person – Hugh Johnson, the world famous wine writer – but I thank you for the compliment. I don't think we've ever met, but you're not the only one to ever make that mistake.

Second, labor and land costs are much lower in South America, which is part of the reason you see them at such a low price. It probably IS NOT a case of over-cropping (excessively high yields) to drive down the price per ton. That they are also somewhat “one-dimensional” is yet another reason that they didn’t garner a higher price.
[for those challenged by the metric system, (15.000 - 25.000 kgs/hectare) = 6.68 ~11.13 tons/acre...the lower end of this scale doesn’t really phase me too much…but the scale’s higher end is certain to be excessive for wine production. Incidentally, grapes from over-cropped vines generally don’t ripen all that well, and would have less fully developed flavors, and therefore less cassis - which is the topic that underlies your question. So that's not likely to be the problem.]

Thirdly, grape concentrates are not all that cheap, and would add to the cost of the final wine produced, as well as add alcohol content in a finished "dry" wine.

Fourth, and most importantly, these wines are being grown in a very different climate than the “Old World”, and "classic vinification" - as practiced in France - will have to take a holiday.

But just like in the "Old World" additions of concentrate are used in years when sugar levels in the fruit don’t reach minimum levels, which is not very often at all in the New World – and certainly are not used on a broad scale or as casually as your question might suggest. Those cassis and ‘other red fruit’ aromas are the result of wines produced from riper grapes than those generally possible in France (or the EU in general). In fact when wines like that ARE produced in the EU, they tend to be very polarizing and controversial in nature.

In support of my last remark, I’d ask you to recall the recent fracas between Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker concerning the 2003 Chateau Pavie. This
link to an article on SF Gate (San Francisco, California) has their respective tasting notes along with it…

Gerhard, I hope that helps bring it into focus for you.


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