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Any Veritas In My Vino?


SWISS_CHEF
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I have been reading a lot lately about Rectified Concentrated Grape Must, Vacuum Evaporation, Reverse Osmosis and and a host of other additives and processes to improve the taste of wine, but what I can't seem to grasp is the extent these processes are being used.

I had lunch with a sales rep yesterday and he told me he visited to a major Italian wine maker and asked them directly if they used Vacuum Evaporation or Reverse Osmosis and they vehemently denied it, but later as he was looking for the toilets he stumbled across their vacuum evaporation machine in a side room.

How will we ever know the truth?

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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I have been reading a lot lately about Rectified Concentrated Grape Must, Vacuum Evaporation, Reverse Osmosis and and a host of other additives and processes to improve the taste of wine, but what I can't seem to grasp is the extent these processes are being used.

I had lunch with a sales rep yesterday and he told me he visited to a major Italian wine maker and asked them directly if they used Vacuum Evaporation or Reverse Osmosis and they vehemently denied it, but later as he was looking for the toilets he stumbled across their vacuum evaporation machine in a side room.

How will we ever know the truth?

Winemakers have been using all sorts of techniques to produce better wines.

Not just recently but probably for as long as wine has been made.

Concentration (removing volatile compounds--water) techniques have been used for a long time.

Dessication (dried grapes)--see Amarone, Freezing grapes (sauternes, eiswein etc) and saignee (bleeding off juice to increase the ratio of juice to skins).

Reverse osmosis is allowed by the EU (there are stipulations regarding that use). Same as for other techniques like chaptalization. By the way winemakers don't like to reveal most things they do to make wine--sort of like the sausage makers.

These are just techniques for improving wine they can be abused but there is nothing inherently wrong with them. In the end it is what is in the glass.

I would say that recently, there has been some hysteria over many of these techniques. Take the "micro oxygenation" snit by the Mondovino crowd. A technique to accomplish what time honored techniques like racking etc did to add tiny amounts of oxygen to wines (a good thing mostly) was excoriated as some new darth vader operation. (part of the global wine conspiracy!).

In fact micro oxygenation was invented by the French to help soften the highly tannic wines of Madiran. when the winmakers of Madiran moved from using oak barrels to steel tanks they found that the wines, without the benefit of oak became overly hard and tannic. There are a number of goals in its use.

I believe that debate over these various techniques is healthy and that dismissing them out of hand without understanding them to make some political case about wine is very wrong.

The wines press can do a much better job in educating consumers in this area.

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Hi JohnL,

By "lately" I meant that I have been reading up on it lately. I was aware these things have been practiced for a very long time and I am also aware that the processes have been in debate for a just as long. What I am trying to understand is how common is this?

I am currently importing about 600 bottles a month from Piemonte to Switzerland. I focus on tiny producers who (I think) are making their wine the old fashioned way, by hand and with love... are they enhancing too? Do I need to take off my rose-coloured glasses? They certainly don't/ won't admit to anything suspicious...I have asked. Their wines are really good and I frequently see wines at 14% and more and as black as tar. It makes me wonder, to what degree they are made in a laboratory? It isn't so much a moral issue for me, but I am selling this wine to the end-users and I just think it would be nice to know a little more about my products.

As for the wine press... I agree they could do more. I ran most of the terms I mentioned on the Wine Spectator On-Line search engine and came up blank. I think the industry as a whole would be better off just coming out of the closet on this issue.

Thanks for your input.

Ed

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Hi JohnL,

By "lately" I meant that I have been reading up on it lately. I was aware these things have been practiced for a very long time and I am also aware that the processes have been in debate for a just as long. What I am trying to understand is how common is this?

I am currently importing about 600 bottles a month from Piemonte to Switzerland. I focus on tiny producers who (I think) are making their wine the old fashioned way, by hand and with love... are they enhancing too? Do I need to take off my rose-coloured glasses? They certainly don't/ won't admit to anything suspicious...I have asked. Their wines are really good and I frequently see wines at 14% and more and as black as tar. It makes me wonder, to what degree they are made in a laboratory? It isn't so much a moral issue for me, but I am selling this wine to the end-users and I just think it would be nice to know a little more about my products.

As for the wine press... I agree they could do more. I ran most of the terms I mentioned on the Wine Spectator On-Line search engine and came up blank. I think the industry as a whole would be better off just coming out of the closet on this issue.

Thanks for your input.

Ed

Ed

Nice to see that you are concerned.

There are a few issues here.

First, a wine maker has any number of options available to him/her when making wine. many of these options are to counter the vagaries of nature--dilution due to rain, unripe grapes, too ripe grapes and on and on.

Chaptalization has been used in Europe (and elsewhere) when grapes do not ripen enough to produce adequate levels of alcohol. Conversely, wine has been acidified to counter grapes that are over ripe.

Oak barrels have been used not just to flavor wine but to allow for some addition of oxygen to the wine (racking helps this). Micro oxygenation can accomplish the same effect as barrels at less cost (better for smaller makers) while allowing for the benefits to many grapes held in stainless steel (vs oak).

Wines have been fined and filtered to one degree or another (or not).

So2 is added to most wines--without it there would be many problems.

My point, I think, is that the hand of man (and woman) is always present. A lot of these applications are tools--they can be misused--that can result in fine good quality wines.

You are wearing rose colored glasses. Wine is bio chemistry--a winery no matter how small or "rustic" is a laboratory. Wine makers are craftsmen. Wine making involves tools and selection and decisions. Those tiny producers may be involved a lot more than you think and "old fashioned" is not necessarily better. were it not for advances in science and wine making, a lotr of them would be out of business or making lousy wines. (no different than with large producers).

But rose colored glasses are fine (as long as you can remove them once in a while). There is a lot of romance and alchemy involved. Chemistry will never replace the magic of wine.

Would you call the great Amarones manipulated wines? They are--grapes are concentrated via a technique. They are high in alcohol. Is an Amarone any more or less worthy of our attention than a Southern Rhone wine or a Cabernet from Napa valley? All are concentrated, from ripe grapes and high in alcohol.

I believe that most wine makers like to play down their methods--not because these methods are fraudulent or illegal but because they are selling the romance of wine.

For a long long time for eg--Europeans resisted putting varietal information on labels--why?--they were selling the magic of place.

In the end what really matters is what is in the bottle/glass. How it tastes. That the wines you select "are really good" is what matters to you and ultimately to your customers. Not whether or not they were made by small producers or large or what specific techniques were utilized by the wine maker.

Wines that are over manipulated will taste so.

Wines that are well made will also provide much pleasure.

One has to admit that there are times when canned tomatoes are preferable to fresh. or perhaps the tomatoes are not as ripe as one would like so adding just the right amount of sugar... The real test is how the dish tastes!

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Hi John and thank you for your thoughtful reply.

While I certainly agree with you about the end result, I have this niggling feeling sometimes that what I am drinking isn't really wine any more.

Yesterday at the lunch with the wine rep, we drank a Bottle of Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni made from Montepulciano, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Negroamaro and Red Malvasia grapes grown in different regions of Italy. I am also told the wine under goes vacuum evaporation (and the winery is quite open about the fact and leaves the machine out in the open for all the world to see). The bottle must be called "vino da tavola rosso" and legally can not carry a date but the winery puts a fake lot number of 2004 on the back label so you will know the vintage. Additionally, (I just find this tacky) they put the wine in an extra large and heavy bottle that weighs two kilos for a 750 cl bottle. It's kind of the Humvee approach to bottling. I think it appeals to a certain "kind" of customer.

I find all of this just a little creepy and it is apparent to me that the winery is trying to bend the rules and pander to a single-minded taste, voiced by some of the more famous American wine writers. I am afraid that this path will lead to the homogenisation of wine and in the end all wine will taste exactly like Robert Parker wants them to.

Gosh we haven't even started talking about chipping yet! :wink:

Wine Greetings, Ed

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Ed

Wow!

Over here we are afraid that the EU will legislate all your great cheeses into mediocrity!!!!

To assuage your concerns about Mr Parker, I would suggest you get hold of his book

"The World's Greatest Wine Estates" it is expensive so maybe via a library of a few minutes reading in a book store. Just read the chapter on "A workable definition of greatness."

The problem is Parker is "used" to promote agenda's and theories--taken out of context if you will.

To move on, I believe that the real concern today is that science in service of globalization is somehow "ruining" the distinctive characteristics of locally produced wines.

What a lot of people fail to realize (or acknowledge) is that wine making is a business. Yes there are some who make wine out of pure love. they are called amateurs, they make the wines for their own and their family's enjoyment.

(Italy is rife with these wonderful people).

But once the wine maker offers his or her wine for sale (or trade) the game changes. Yes the love and the passion can still be there.

But wine produced as a commercial enterprise has always been reflective of the market place. Forget Parker. If one wants to talk of "influence" upon wine making let's talk Bobby Kacher and kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal and the many importers who tell wine makers what their customers want.

Let's talk about the influence over Bordeaux wine making by a handful of British merchants and critics (often one and the same). hence the saying--"The French make Bordeaux for the Brits and Burgundy for themselves."

It is naive to look at wine making as some pure and noble endeavor. There has always been fraud and manipulation. wine makers in France often "blended in" some North African wine to "enrich or flesh out" their Pommard. (just recently, a "mystery" ship loaded with industrial Italian wine was discovered docked in a French port).

Thus all the laws in labeling--basic consumer protection.

Now about science. Chaptalization could be viewed as "un natural" as micro oxygenation. Yet some really wonderful wine producers would not exist if they were not able to use science to counter the effects of a poor weather vintage. A wine that has been chaptalized from a poor vintage will taste no different (to most tasters) than the same wine from the same producer in a vintage that allowed for optimum ripeness. Over chaptalized wines will be noticeably bad and yes will tend to taste the same. So is chaptalization wrong?

If a particular vintage involves much rain and the must is dilute which will result in thin and insipid wines a wine maker can practice soignee to help concentrate the must --is use of a machine to accomplish the same end wrong?

The point being, science has always impacted wine making and I am sure that every "innovation" was controversial--probably the first person to put wine in an oak barrel (as opposed to an earthenware amphora) was greeted with some skepticism.

And use of that oak barrel was probably done for economic reasons!

Winestyles and wine fashion has always been a result of the tastes of the marketplace. I find an incredible amount of irony in all the anti globalization arguments (and some outright hypocrisy).

for eg

All those folks who deride oaky California Cabs don't seem to have a problem with Riojas. All those who complain about alcohol levels are ok with Amarones. "But that's how they are supposed to be." Really? Paradigms do shift!

Tastes change, markets change. Why shouldn't wine change with them --it always has. burgundies were once high in alcohol etc

I always ask when someone claims a wine doesn't taste like something else to define the paradigm they are using and where/when it comes from.

As for wines all taste the same. Yes I will grant that there are general shifts in style and taste that result is similarities. But to declare that wines from around the world at all levels of quality taste the same is far too simplistic and impossible to prove.

To say that Madame Bize Leroy is making Burgundy to taste like other Burgundies? That Grange is made to taste like other Syrah's and that Gaja is making wine that tastes like Conterno's that all California cabs taste the same makes no sense.

There are still thousands of small wine makers, lot's of medium size and larger makers sellling to hundreds of different markets --billions of different drinkers--to say they are all caught up in some sort of collusion or mass hypnosis is equally absurd.

All I can say is that there are more wines from more varietals from more different countries and wine makers available on our wine shelves today.

Fun times for drinkers.

So just as when I am dining at a restaurant I never really question the preparation methods or techniques or the provenance of the ingredients unless I taste something wrong or off putting to my palate--I never really question the wine making as long as I am enjoying the wine.

all the best

By the way --one day (with some luck) perhaps I will be near your restaurant.

It is a place where I would love to dine. I have "discovered" many wonderful wines that were offered by restaurateurs who selected wines they loved and shared with their customers.

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My Dear John,

First, let me apologize to the other readers if this string is perhaps a little too personal and should be continued as a PM, but I think that this forum is nothing if it is not honest and open.

Thank you , John for you very insightful response. It is indeed rare to find one so passionate and willing to articulate their personal opinions and knowledge so clearly and noticeably well thought out.

Your comments have opened new doors for me and I have decided to take a less skeptical approach toward these “new” methods of wine making. As a wine merchant I am torn between my (perhaps archaic) scruples and the desire to bring smiles to my customers faces. Your comments have helped me put these laboratorial tweaks into perspective and perhaps it is better if we don't live in the static past.

In the future I will endeavor to derive all the information I can from the winemakers I meet and log their procedures with the open mind of a scholar rather than a skeptic.

I would like to extend an open invitation for you to visit us in Italy and come and sit with my Italian friends as we explore and discuss wine making in the Piemonte. I think you will find we compose a passionate, energetic and probably less opinionated than you might think, forum. I can assure you your insight would be highly esteemed.

By the way my restaurant days are over. The only chance you have to eat my creations is to take me up on my offer to visit. And hopefully you will.

Kindest regards,

Ed McGaugh

Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)
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Excellent thread. This reminds me of my discussions with many Argentine winemakers, and the "taboo" issue of adding water to wines as a tool to control alcohol levels.

Visit Argentina and try wines from the RIGHT side of the Andes !!!

www.terroir.com.ar

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Excellent thread.  This reminds me of my discussions with many Argentine winemakers, and the "taboo" issue of adding water to wines as a tool to control alcohol levels.

Three of the greatest young wines I have ever experienced were single vinyard malbecs from the 2003 vintage by Acheval Ferrer--what absolutely stunning wines and wine making!!!

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John-- indeed, Achaval makes some excellent wines. You should check out other producers like Cobos, Luca, Tikal, Escorihuela Gascon, Catena Zapata, and Benegas - just to name a few.

Cheers from Buenos Aires,

Alejandro

Visit Argentina and try wines from the RIGHT side of the Andes !!!

www.terroir.com.ar

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