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01.31.2006

Mega Purple: What Crosses The Line?

I don't have all the answers. Far from it. Like everyone, my palate and my ideas are evolving over time. Perhaps when I'm 90, I'll have drunk enough wines that nothing will surprise me and I will have an intuitive sense for what makes for greatness in a wine.

In the meantime, I have a lot of wine to drink, a lot of vineyards to visit, and a lot of thinking to do about some pretty thorny issues when it comes to judging what I think makes for a legitimate expression of soil, fruit, climate, and human effort, and what crosses the line into technologically driven, manipulated monstrosity. Think that's a pretty easy call?

Then read this.

The link above is to a thread on Mark Squires' forums about a product called Mega Purple. The short story on this product is that it was sort of "outed" by wine journalist Dan Berger in one of his recent newsletters. This additive, which is essentially the 100% natural reduced extract of wine grape skins is apparently in wide use as a color enhancer in wines, from the under $20 stuff in supermarkets to some "to-be-unnamed high end California reds." If deeper colors were not enough, apparently this additive, which appears in quantities well below .1% also adds some attractive flavor and texture to wine, to the point that in a comparative tasting of several wines by some folks in the industry, many preferred the wines that had this additive.

On first blush, this is an easy issue to react to. If I ever learned that a wine or winemaker I liked was using this additive, I'd never buy from them again. I want my wines as natural as possible, of course. Who wouldn't?

But wait a minute. This is essentially just grape skins here. I drink, enjoy, even rate highly wines that consistently have all sort of things done to them -- whether it's California Pinot Noir picked over-ripe and then watered back to a reasonable level of alcohol; or White Burgundy that's had bags of sugar dumped in it in a process called chapatalization to add body; or less commonly, other whites that have had acid added to them in the winemaking process. Still others have actually had alcohol removed from them via centrifuge or reverse osmosis through membranes.

What is an appropriate level of intervention in the winemaking process? What goes too far? It's not really always a question of new world technology versus old-world traditions. Many of the oldest, crustiest, finest wines of France have had some of these treatments, though usually they're in the mode of bags of sugar rather than $50,000 wine centrifuges.

I pose these questions because I really don't know the answer. On the one hand, thinking of someone tipping a little bottle of mega purple into a barrel of wine makes me sick to my stomach, but on the other hand, what if I really like the way that wine tastes?

The answer cannot be that anything more complicated in the winemaking equation than one man, one vineyard, one old cellar, and fifty old barrels used the same way for decades is somehow a bastardization of wine, yet there is clearly a point at which wine ceases to be wine and becomes a wine-flavored beverage.

Would I know the difference just by taste? Would you? Should we care?

Comments (43)

jamie G wrote:
02.01.06 at 2:28 AM

Alder
You have phrased the question brilliantly. What really matters is the answer. I think this is an urgent issue for the wine industry, and that, yes, we should care. I guess the weakness of blogging is that we simply can't, with this medium of communication, answer this question thoroughly because of the lack of space. So count this as a post-it note - yes, it's an important issue - mega purple shouldn't be allowed - and it's OK to make a distinction between traditional manipulations and modern ones because wine is different - while this is a line drawing exercise, it is important that we take care to draw the line in the right place for the future of wine.

Terry Hughes wrote:
02.01.06 at 3:31 AM

Alder, as I was reading this rather depressing piece of news, I was thinking the phrase "draw the line". Fortunately, Jamie already expressed it for me. Somehow, as wine consumers and not simply as bloggers, we need to let it be known to producers what we will and will not tolerate.

Maybe a start would be to kick our habit for what we are led to believe are big, bold, blockbuster wines.

If we don't, the terrorists will have won.

Oh, wait. That's the OTHER high-octane addiction we've suddenly become aware of...

Anthony wrote:
02.01.06 at 4:59 AM

Wine is mythic and mysterious - no one wants to think about the fact that this could be done to "wine". Sadly - it probably is being done, and on a fairly large scale, for wine is also a consumer product, and all that really matters is the botton line. Eventually the cat will come out of the bag on this story and maybe it will lead to better labeling and disclosures from the wine makers. I just hope it doesn't turn into a huge scandal and hurt the industry. We need as much good wine as we can get.

TheFatMan wrote:
02.01.06 at 7:45 AM

This is another interesting question that you pose here Alder. My question in response would be, what's the difference between wine and a wine-flavored beverage.
You can go the route of trying to compare, say wine coolers to wine and I would heartily join you in denouncing those concoctions.
But if what is being created is a drink that is indistinguishable from wine and, to wine connoiseurs, even tastes better sometimes, how can it not simply be considered a new way of creating wine?
While I'm frightened to bring up Ferran Adria's cooking in comparison, his main focus is finding new ways to prepare food. This is a new way to prepare wine.
You've expressed what I think is the crux here in the past, tradition for traditions sake is just silly.
Do we have any real reasons to dislike these technological changes?

Maria wrote:
02.01.06 at 9:39 AM

From my perspective, this is largely a disclosure issue and one of truth in advertising. If I willingly pay for a bottle containing Mega Purple (assuming such product does exist and is being used) in it and is fully aware that is the case, and I still like the wine enough to buy again, then I don’t think it is a problem. In this case, I am an informed consumer and a willing buyer. What really bugs me more is the lack of transparency here. E.g., it is mind boggling to me that our laws can be so tedious on one end of the spectrum in regulating things such as sulfite content, and yet leave a host of terminologies such as “unfined”, “unfiltered”, etc. undefined. We often see these terms being thrown onto labels nowadays but do consumers really know what they mean and whether they are true or not. Lets say the weather god was truly unkind to the winemakers this year and they are left with tons and tons of lousy grapes waiting to be turned into drinkable wine. If fining, filtering or any other process, additives, etc. etc. can help those grapes along to get through a tough season, then fine. Consumers should then be aware that was the case and they will decide whether to buy the wine or not. Perhaps this is overly simplistic but for me, information and truth matters and there is probably nothing worse than to pay for an ultra premium bottle only to discover afterward that Mega Purple was added to it that you were not made aware of, all the while the winemaker was attributing the intense and vibrant colors to his/her superb grapes. That smells a bit like deception.

GregP wrote:
02.01.06 at 9:48 AM

Alder et al,

Well, when you buy say, sausages, in a supermarket, how much attention do you pay to what's really in the package? Each and every package does contain all the ingredients listed and trust me, consumers do not freak out when they see all the chemicals that go in with anmes they can't even pronounce. Just one example and pretty much EVERY food item these days has some sort of chems in it. I'd rather see a natural grape extract added to whatever I consume rather than all the so called "preservatives" that go into most food, but that's me. Back in my youth I used to work in an ice cream shop and was in charge of the soft ice cream machine, that was the time I had the crap for the last time, you really can't even imagine all the chems that give "color" and "flavor" to the homogenous mass shops buy by 5 gallon bucket. And I do not recall anyone, back then nor TODAY, who wants a "disclosure", what disclosure do you want to begin with? NATURAL product added to a NATURAL product? Not that I endorse the practice, but wine business is a BUSINESS last time I checked.


Disclosure: I am in the business.

St.Vini wrote:
02.01.06 at 9:59 AM

I have written about this previously - the whole concept of natural wines is absurd. How do you decide that a trellis system, barrels, adding yeast to grape skins & juice, etc. is natural/okay but adding additional grape skins is not?

Wine is not a "natural" product like a blackberry picked from a wild vine, it is an artificial construct and has ALWAYS been made with some type of technology.

As for the use of Mega Purple et.al. I didn't think it was much of a secret, but it is one of the many reasons why the California "cult" wine producers often have cellar employees sign non-disclosure agreements!

Vini

Alder wrote:
02.01.06 at 9:59 AM

Excellent, Greg. Thanks for weighing in, as you perfectly, beautifully capture the other side of the coin, and point out that this is not some black and white issue where additives are bad and no additives are good.

It's a tricky thing, and made more complicated by the romance that some people have with wine. Nobody going into an ice cream shop, unless it's in some shed in the middle of nowhere, has the impression that they're getting an artisan, handmade, "natural" product that has years of tradition behind its creation. Yet so many people have exactly this sense about the wine they buy -- namely that it is a (more or less) artful and honest expression of any number of things (terroir being the most prominent and valued of them). If someone wants the wine they drink to be the truest expression of the place and time where it was grown, how does something like Mega Purple fit in?

On the other hand, people also want their wine to taste really good, and not everyone equates "good" with the transparent expression of terroir.

Melanie wrote:
02.01.06 at 10:12 AM

I just let my palette do the proverbial talking. If I taste it and I like it, I don't really care if they added in "extra grape skins" to make it a different color. As a whole, I generally am looking for an experience...and while I will look at the color, it's not really the deciding factor on whether I will rebuy the wine or not. I'm definitely an amateur when it comes to wine, but I'm a regular consumer, and I'm guessing that is who they could have been targeting by trying something like that.

Mariëlla wrote:
02.01.06 at 10:16 AM

Like you, Alder, I really don't know the answer. I tend to go along with Greg: anyone who thinks, in this day and age where every food- and drinkproducts have to answer to all sorts of hygiëne rules, different in every country, that wine can be a purely natural product, consumed in the Netherlands like it came fresh from the vineyard in Napa or Sonoma, is being rather naive. Although we like our wines as pure as possible, it just isn't possible, I think. I kept thinking about practices in 17th century Portugal (and probably also in other times and places) of adding elderberry juice to color the portwines of the Douro. There is really nothing new under the sun. (Pardon my halting English now and again, I hope it is clear what I want to say).

Al wrote:
02.01.06 at 10:33 AM

I think it's a wonderful conversation you've started here, but in essence I can't help but think it's really a tempest in a teacup.

Is there any harm done by adding a little Petite Verdot to your Cab to increase color? Is this not the same issue?
Granted the Mega Purple goes through a concentrating process, but one could mimic that by letting some PV get extra ripe and performing a really hot fermentation to extract as much of it's color as possible, then blend it into the Cab.

Would doing that then be a fraud?
Aren't things like this commonly done in the 'old world' to round out vintages and make it presentable to the consumer?
I personally know of several instances where blending darker wines into the mix to adjust color have been done in the old world.

And as Devil's advocate, let me point out that by CONCENTRATING that color, less of it needs to be added than say a straight add of PV (or other wine) to obtain the same effect...which would leave the wine LESS ADULTERATED than it would be with some larger quantity of 'regular' wine. This would leave your base wine (Cab in my example) more true to type and terroir than otherwise (though perhaps darker).

Food for thought - if your desire is for a more pure product.

Disclaimer: Also in the industry, but with nothing to hide.

Alder wrote:
02.01.06 at 10:38 AM

Ah, yes, Al. Excellent points all of them. What IS the difference between a few drops of Mega Purple and 2% Petite Sirah or Petite Verdot?

John wrote:
02.01.06 at 12:36 PM

I agree with Maria about disclosure. If someone adds 2% petit verdot, I would just like to know. But then, I read all 4 sides of cereal boxes just because I can't pass up a blurb. If Mega Purple was disclosed, I'd react depending on my mood and needs. Sometimes I'd almost certainly pass those bottles by, and other times ("which wine for poker night?") I might deliberately opt for some QPR and ignore the MP content.

I buy most of my wine at the wineries, or make it myself. I always want to know what's in it, in as much detail as I can find out. That's a hobbyist talking. Someone who doesn't care doesn't have to read the fine print.

02.01.06 at 3:40 PM

Alder, you raise some difficult questions, that many of your posters have addressed in various ways. I'll just add this to think about:

If we come to the point where any level of extract, intensity, ripeness and color can be chosen in mass production, at reasonable cost...what will distinguish "fine wine"? (or at least expensive wine)

It will have to be something not easily or cheaply duplicated. Like maybe terroir or complexity?

St.Vini wrote:
02.01.06 at 5:33 PM

Alder said "the impression that they're getting an artisan, handmade, "natural" product that has years of tradition behind its creation. Yet so many people have exactly this sense about the wine they buy -- "

I gotta disagree here. The vast majority (I'm talking 90%+) of wine consumers want good tasting juice that they can depend on to taste a certain way. If Mega Purple is in there, they don't care any more or less about it than they do about the artificial flavors in their vanilla ice cream. Its those of us who take the time to debate these nuances on the web or in print who tend to care.

I recently read that a large percentage of Yellow Tail consumers, when quizzed, didn't know YT was Australian. Sad, but let's not impose our knowledge or expectations of wine onto most people....

Vini

Alder wrote:
02.01.06 at 5:42 PM

Vini,

Yes, the "many" that I referred to are only sophisticated wine drinkers, or at least people who care enough about wine to learn more about it and do things like read this blog, NOT the masses, who, as Greg said or as Melanie indicated, just really care if the stuff tastes good.

Sergio Arango wrote:
02.01.06 at 8:09 PM

It seems these tricks are commonplace. But they are making wines from very different places look and TASTE alike. I'd prefer wines from Chile taste different from Argentina's. But nowdays it's rather difficult to be certain that this wine belongs to this or that denomination. We don't need more of the same wines, we need variety, including wines of different concentration.

Jack wrote:
02.01.06 at 11:05 PM

Not to be off-topic, but Mega Purple would make a great wine name and could take on Yellow Tail. (I think a logo of a Purple Grape Monster sitting on/scrunching a yellow(!) gnarly monster tail would be just right. Hmmm...maybe I should walk three houses over to Gina's and tell her to Get On It.)

randy wrote:
02.02.06 at 6:58 AM

Wow! Looks like you raised some feathers with this one. As for me, it brings up an issue. The unregulated wine industry. Sure, you can put sugar in your wine... in California or Germany. If you get caught doing that in Italy or France... your done! and I mean done. Controls are tight; inspections are frequent and they don't miss much. As a consumer, I get a lot of comfort in knowing there is no sugar... or other crap in my Italian wine. Now, I just know someone is going to bring up rippaso. The difference is that it is a well known process. No one is hiding anything.

randy wrote:
02.02.06 at 7:05 AM

An afterthought... the Germans not only add sugar, they add grape juice concentrate.

caveman wrote:
02.02.06 at 10:22 AM

Yes Alder the debate continues...
I want to know what's in what I digest and that goes for cereal as well as wine. As Maria so rightly commented, Just disclose and let the consumer make his or her own decision as to how to react to what's in the bottle.
And Vini, you coy stallion you. Yes, wine is a human construct. Otherwise we would just let the birds eat the grapes and then squeeze the fermenting juice out of their ass.
The choice of grapes and trellis systems are often a result of climate, soil types (I won't use the word terroir) as well as a business and commercialization decision. What we are talking about here is additives and interventions(aromatic yeasts, tartaric acid, tanin, removing alchohol, super purple, blah, blah) which for me falls into a different category of human intervention than letting PV 'over-ripen' (which is a weird statement as arguably much of Cali grapes are over-ripe anyway) or other vineyard techniques.
Let the world drink whatever they want, but give us 'few' who care about what went into making what we drink the knowledge to make our own decisions, cuz more often than not, we can taste the difference.
caveman

GregP wrote:
02.02.06 at 12:13 PM

Randy,

Adding sugar in France is PERFECTLY legal, same as adding acidity. Adding BOTH at the same time is not. Not that it is not done there every day, but that's a different issue. Look up Chaptalize (add sugar), it is of French origin to begin with.

It is ILLEGAL in California to add sugar.

Not sure how and why you got the facts mixed up, but your statements are erroneous nonetheless.

Al wrote:
02.02.06 at 2:52 PM

Caveman - I think you're referring to MY example of PV as a coloring agent - not Vinis' - and as you're well aware of the French wine scene/culture let me ask you this (sorry about the caps, I can't use an underline here for emphasis):

Have you EVER SEEN a French back label declare that the vigneron has in fact added BEET SUGAR to their poor vintage in order to MANIPULATE it for the sake of selling it to the public?
I mean it's not even from a plant in the same ORDER or FAMILY, much less even a VINE!

NO, that's not declared, and no one apparently can be bothered with that fact, so why should I then be held to declare everything? I'd be happy to declare any process which would change the overall effect of the wine, but I think most of you'd be surprised to learn that winemakers as a whole don't want to radically change their wines - they want to work subtlety, perhaps guiding the wine in a certain direction.

Now is that any different than the person who adds sugar to take his wine from a weak 9% alc to 11.5%?
Yes it is, because there's nothing subtle about that change, and any claims that the resulting wine is in any way a "natural" wine or any less fraudulent is a joke. Everyone is focusing on the nuances without really addressing the larger scale issues.

What everyone cares about is how a wine tastes. Don't believe me? Taste evrything blind from a bag. I think everyone'd be surprised at just how much their preconceived notions influence what they find acceptable.

MegaPurple is in fact the modern improvement of the old practices of 'bleeding' (saignee) juice off a tank to increase the skins to juice ratio for more extraction (now it just is performed by itself and can be added into the wine afterwards), and the practice of adding other varietals with more color (or other qualities) to a base wine in order to change it in a positive fashion (think 'Bordeaux BLEND' as in 'not purely one varietal' - and might just have some PV in it for just those same reasons, or perhaps the Viognier that's in your red Rhone - undisclosed as far as percentages are concerned, and rarely if ever on the backlabel). Do you see micro-Ox stated on those French labels?
Why not?
We need to start by applying these disclosure ideals evenly on both sides of the Atlantic, or don't bother with it at all. In fact make it the entire world. Soon people will see through the myth that Old World wines are pure too.

Sorry to rant, the latter part's not really directed at you Caveman - or any particular person - just frustration with all the armchair quarterbacks.

Not that they don't deserve to be heard as well.

St.Vini wrote:
02.02.06 at 3:06 PM

Anyone up for some fish bladder? Ox blood? Raw egg whites? Cow's hooves?etc....

"This wine was vinted in a cellar near a factory that processes nuts"

caveman wrote:
02.03.06 at 12:49 AM

Al.
This is not a new versus old argument. While New World wines are more prone to be products of the above mentioned manipulations (why is a completely other question), my desire for disclosure applies equally to European wine. And i agree that chapitalization is rampant in France, and those wines are in my definition, less 'natural.' In fact, Pinguet from Huet in Vouvray believes that the need to chapitalize is a result of either vineyard mismanagement or getting greedy by using unripe grapes.

There is however a big difference in my books between blending different varietals and manipulating the juice with all these additives, or 'subtractors.' I still don't understand this New World obstinance for single varietal wines, perhaps you can fill me in. And while I like the simplicity of just seeing Cote Rotie on a label, I would love to see the percentage of the blend of each millisème written somewhere on the back label.

My PV comment came from a discussion with a winemaker from Setti Ponte in Italy who believed that his 2003 vintage of Lupo was saved because of the extra 'natural' acidity brought by the PV, nothing to do with color or over-ripening. In Bordeaux, it is usually unusable because it is rarely ripe enough.

So not to be an armchair quarterback or take up all of Alder's comments, I will predicate the following questions by saying that I have a great respect for all of you who make the wines that I drink ...
1- do you see any merit in wines that have been made without any additives (ie. indigenous yeasts, no chap, no enzymes, etc..)
2- considering the climate of cali, is it even possible to make a wine with the above criteria (and if so, who is doing that?)

And finally, there is a difference between subtely 'tweeking' a wine and creating 14.5% Sauvignon Blancs that have the acidity of Sancerre. That I have tasted blind and I can tell you which one doesn't feel 'natural'.

Caveman

Ben wrote:
02.03.06 at 8:06 AM

"Armchair Quarterback"? Well excuse us for being interested in the stuff we're drinking. No need to get bitter about it. If you're tired of hearing things you disagree with, you can always exit your browser and sit around reading the press releases for your winery.

I apologize for being sharp, but there are many ways to form an argument, and demeaning the less-knowledgeable is not my favorite.

My two cents: I wish people would embrace "lightness" in wines. Sure, sometimes you want a deep, brooding winter warmer, but sometimes a light bodied, light colored wine is just what you need. I am not, however, advocating wines light in flavor.

Also, I hate ice cream with additives, and I can freaking tell the difference between natural and artificially flavored versions. Wine is tougher.

GregP wrote:
02.03.06 at 11:08 AM

Caveman,

RE: While New World wines are more prone to be products of the above mentioned manipulations

Please tell me you were kidding. Same as the the other poster above who insisted that adding sugar in France is a no-no, you seem to be convinved by all the Old World marketing BS, IMO. MOST of the "tricks" used in New World wine production do come from Old World wineries, but it pains me to see yet another consumer insist there is some underhanded dealings in New World that supposedly do not manifest themselves in the Old. Very wrong on all counts!

BTW, PV is a a component in pretty much most of Left Bank Bords, have no idea why you insist otherwise. And since it only takes about 2-3% of PV to put its foottprint on the final blend, its the main reason there is little of it planted when compared to, say, Cab. Has nothing to do with ripeness levels, it does get pretty ripe there.

I only wish that consumers would spend a bit more time investigating what is REALLY taking place in Old World winemaking instead of blindly following and believing the French Marketing Machine. Strange that for the amount of time consumers here spend on "complaining" and wanting some sort of "disclosures" from New World wineries, they spend so little on actually learning about business practices in Old World. True, those of us ITB do know more since it is our business to know, but still, all the information discussed and posted in this thread is available to all, it only takes a little time and a will to track the info down.

And an OPEN MIND, and this is key.

Al wrote:
02.03.06 at 12:30 PM

Well said Greg.

Caveman:
1- Merit? Yes, but no more so than other wines which might be produced with pitched yeasts, or enzymes. I find the most meritorious wines are those that taste good and are affordably priced for their overall impact.
(BTW, do you have the same aversion to wines where malo-lactic bacteria have been added?)
2- The last I checked Lallemand was a French enzyme company, and regardless enzymes and wild yeast ferments are not really climate dependent, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to imply, but I don’t get the impression you know California’s climate very well. As for the rest, you'll have to do your own research, our tastes are obviously incompatible. But I will go on record as saying that the number of wineries using enzymes and concentrate are the minority.

Lallemand, though headquartered in France, is now multi-national (I await the anti-globalization tirade that’s sure to follow) and has production facilities in Montréal, Canada.
I’ll look for your one-man picket outside their gates on the 6 o’clock news.

Ben,
My comment about armchair quarterbacks stands and I defend it:
This whole thread started with just one article, and suddenly everyone knows what’s right and wrong. How many of you posting have actually researched the issue? Has anyone even bothered to google, much less ever even participated in trials of the item in question?
It seems to me that most people are being reactionary without good cause, mostly because they somehow think they should’ve known it was in there and may be embarrassed to find that they actually LIKED a wine once that had been made with it.
People are free to have their own opinions, and if after digging a little deeper everyone still feels it shouldn’t be done then express yourselves to that effect.
But this isn’t new information – Dan Berger wrote about it TWO YEARS AGO I think on the SFGate.com site, and the product has been on the market for something like the past 10 years. Why all of a sudden is everyone incensed?

It scares me that so many people suddenly KNOW what’s right and wrong, with apparently so little research into the topic.
Much like armchair quarterbacks who are happy to diagnose and analyze your plays without knowing what the game really feels like when you’re on the turf in uniform.

caveman wrote:
02.03.06 at 12:37 PM

Greg,
Take a deep breath dude. I started the whole post underlining the fact that this is not a new world versus old world question. Yes, chapitalization is as commonly used in France as perhaps tartaric acid and tanin in the New World. Both are used to compensate for under-over ripe grapes... are we in agreement?
My comments about PV came after discussions with Janoueix about his Bordeaux Sup (right bank) and he can only use it one in every two or three years... and just because they have it in the vineyard does not mean that they use it in the blend... that is a commonly used french 'get around the rules trick.' But a nummber of winemakers (including the dude from L'Aventure in paso Robles) have remarked that it maintains it's acidity even when arguably over-ripe. Is that good when one of the challenges of New world winemaking is dealing with the acidty question. You tell me.

I don't see what we disagree about here.

I simply made the point that there does exist wines that are made without ANY additions. These winemakers have a different perspective, and for me make different types of wines. I like them. I like the fact that every year's wine is different. Perhaps I am wrong in my assertion that this wine is more 'pure' and expresses the terroir in an authentic way. But who cares, I believe it and if you don't, fair enough.

I was raised on the french model and that has a profound effect on what i look for in a wine. While i try and maintain an open mind, wines like many New World Sauvignon Blancs seem out of whack, and I dislike them for that. They are obviously tweeked and I can sense that the balance is off. It is hard to correct what nature has given you.

I would still love an answer to my 2 questions about the merits of non-manipulative winemaking.

And I still want to know what went into my wine, I don't care where it is from.
Caveman

Al wrote:
02.03.06 at 12:43 PM

PS - just because Dan Berger says he THINKS it's added to "every wine under $20" "as far as [he] can tell", does nothing but demean him in my view.

It's obvious Dan could've used different phrasing to convey some uneasiness, but he just slammed MOST wineries and created a bunch of bad PR, and I fail to see anything of value in it. Without analysis of a majority of California's under $20 wines, and those same ones all showing positive results, it's just one person being an ass in his newsletter. He's welcome to his opinion, but where's his proof?

I'd love to hear Dan defend himself on that point, but "I think" and "as far as I can tell" do not an arguement make. Nothing but supposition and imagination, and to what end?
Sad, very very sad.

GregP wrote:
02.04.06 at 9:33 AM

Caveman,

RE: I simply made the point that there does exist wines that are made without ANY additions. These winemakers have a different perspective, and for me make different types of wines

Show me one and I will show you a LIAR playing up to unsuspecting and too trusting consumers to earn some extra "points". We ALL do what needs to get done and if a vintage itself decides not to cooperate, well, here comes out the "trick book". Its a BUSINESS and most everyone seems to miss this part.

Enough said. Seems Al is actually correct in his posts, many consumers seem to think they know a thing or two about wine and winemaking, and quite erroneously so. When serious wine critics post obvious and very erroneous BS when second guessing how a wine was made, just how accurate do you think guesses by consumers are? They are even wider off the mark. And I will point it out once more, they are GUESSES and nothing more, and in most cases poorly educated ones.

Sorry for being direct, seems you keep extending the argument by posting even more and more preposterous statements.

BTW, a group of winemakers, none of us making SB nor wanting to, did an interesting lineup about a year ago. In a DOUBLE BLIND lineup, ALL Old World SBs ended up on the so-so to horrendous list, while those from New World, NZ and CA, were judged stellar. With age or no age on them. If you feel like smelling and then tasting urine in your glass, just pop an older bottle of Sancerre, not a pleasant experience by any count.

So, please get off your high horse, OPEN UP YOUR MIND, and start doing some serious BLIND tastings, as most of us here are doing for the past 7-8 years now. You may learn a thing or two in the process, I know I do each and every time.

caveman wrote:
02.04.06 at 9:34 AM

Greg,
Breathe reeeeeaaaal deep now.

There are 2 issues at play here.

First, perhaps I am being overtly lied to but I doubt it. Check out bottlings from Puzelat in the Loire, Lapierre and his 'vin de nature' gang in Beaujolais, Pinguet in Vouvray. I can give you a longer list if you so desire. These wines do exist bro', and i concur that this is a business, and perhaps these guys are doing what they do simply for marketting but again i doubt it. Pinguet at Huet said he could produce more bottles if he did chapitalize, but prefers to use only the grapes that have achieved optimal ripeness, and will live with less in years that the milliseme offers less. I can only take what they say at face value, and taste their wines, and either like them or not. So go out, taste the bottles and you tell me what you think. Are they lying? Do their wines suck? Do the research before slamming those who offer up opinions which differ from your own.

I am not a winemaker, simply a buyer, sommelier and enthusiast. I am on the 'user' end of the chain.I taste alot of wine, and have an interest in knowing what i am talking about. If any of my statements are erroneous I will gladly retract them. However, after 17 years of being in the business, and as a fanatic for all things white,I know what I like. I have done blind tastings with new versus old world wines. I am very rarely surprised by what comes from where. But i am sometimes. Spotteswoodes Sauvignon for example threw me (I said Pessac). But I am usually dead on. And i will take most Sancerre's or NE Italian SB over New Worlds any day, but that is MY PREFERENCE. Jolivet's 2001 single parcel 'Les Caillottes' is incredible. If you think it smells like piss and mushrooms, then don't drink it... more for me. Just don't call me ignorant cuz I don't like the style. I guess there is no accounting for taste, eh?

You may be ITBiz. Great. But don't be holier than though dude, there are many of us non-winemakers who have important and relevant opinions to add, both in this thread and to to wine in general.
Caveman

GregP wrote:
02.05.06 at 3:43 PM

OK. Let's agree to disagree. I used to be on your side of the aisle, I am in the winery these days. Trust me, you WILL be more than surprised yourself. I have little patience lately for all the wineries who use marketing to drive their own show, they lie, pure and simple. In most years they do what they say, but it is those vintages that throw them a curve where they do what others do, yet never admit to it.

I love Loire whites as much as the next guy, BTW, and more than most others. Converted a good number of locals to them in recent years and continue to do so. But I do prefer the sweets, though.

N.R. Carlson wrote:
02.08.06 at 5:00 PM

I will keep this short; I think that those of you who are outraged are hopelessly naiive about what goes into modern winemaking. MegaPurple is just a fairly high quality, expensive grape juice concentrate; nothing more sinister than that. It does not serve the wine consumer to be so hopelessly romantic about wine; it only serves the winery who is overcharging for the privilege of purchasing their product.

On the other hand, I'd be terrified of what is going into that McDonald's cheeseburger, Doritos, and especially that 'Lean Cuisine' frozen entree.

If you want to be sure you are getting an authentic product, and being environmentally responsible, get to know the grower, farmer, craftsman. And that goes for your salad greens, eggs, furniture, and wine equally.

Remember; consumer demand has created a market in which wineries see an advantage in adding MegaPurple. If there was not a consumer demand for cheap, fruity, deeply colored wines, wineries would not be making them.

Alder wrote:
02.08.06 at 5:15 PM

N.R.,

Thanks for the comments. You frame that side of the debate well, and very logically. I wish everyone had the luxury of getting to know the producer of their products, but we all know that isn't a reality for most people. What then, is the moderately conscientious and knowledgeable wine drinker in Ohio supposed to do if he or she wants an authentic product?

It may not serve the wine consumer to be romantic about the product from the standpoint of it blinding people to the realities of what is out there in the marketplace, but that romance, just like the romance for chocolate has a basis in some reality. There IS a real romance to a wine (or a chocolate bar) that expresses something real of the place and time it came from, and while not every experience with every bottle can achieve that, it’s the search for this that keeps many people drinking.

In that context, I can understand that people are upset at things like Mega Purple.

P.S.
The same sort of market demand that opens up winemakers for the use of mega purple is what put that cornstarch into your mozzarella! (http://tilth.blogspot.com/2006/01/low-fat-mozzarella-sucks.html)

I'd argue that rather than a market demand for fruity tasting wines, it's actually a set of economic realities of the marketplace which make deeply and perhaps more consistently colored wines easier to sell than those which have a natural lightness. Just like the economic realities that made cheaper, firmer, low fat mozzarella easier to sell than the wet, easily spoiling 100% milk, high fat mozzarella.

I guess what I'm saying is that demand is only part of it, and economics also plays a part, and I don't think mega purple affects the flavor in such a profound way that people want its taste, but I do think it's hard to sell lightly colored red wines.

Glug wrote:
02.09.06 at 7:19 PM

I am guilty of being a wee-bit romanced.
The use of these additives is news to me. While I realise that they are natural,I know that listing them in the fine print of the back label would
be the honest thing to do.

Artwork is very similar. The artist uses a variety of contrivances and gimmicks to produce mounds of artwork.
The buyer often believes the work was produced in a profound,inspired moment,
by a talented and especially-pure person. Much of the "collectors" art today is merely reproduction,yet the marketing has influenced buyers to believe it is otherwise.

I want the wine marketing to reflect honestly what the process was. That way I can decide if I want that wine, and I will know what my hard-earned cash is buying.

The website for Karly Wines mentions one of their "less than stellar" wines. They sold it under a different label, and they were honest about it. They tell you up front the name of the inferior-label, and they are humorous about it too! I like that approach.
They sort of took the romance away and said, hey we're not perfect,some of our wines just don't quite cut it.

Gerard Bentryn wrote:
07.08.06 at 9:25 PM

I realize I am a bit late in joining this thread. I have been growing grapes and making wine for about 45 years. I have worked in vineyards all over the world. I have known about Mega Purple for a while and even experimented with it but I have not used in the wines I sell. What I am troubled by is not MP alone but the summation of all the things that are done to change the nature of wine. I did get into wine because of the sense of place that wine had. But now hardly a week goes by that I am not offered bulk wine. Latest offer was for 75,000 gallons of varietal wines.

To digress for a moment, California does not allow the addition of sugar but it does allow the addition of grape concentrate. France does allow the addition of sugar in some regions but strictly regulates the amount a wine can be changed in alcohol.
America does allow both acid and sugar to be added but not both at the same time.

After a lot of time trying find terroir I have come to the personal conclusion that most of the time buying the cheapest wine that I like to drink makes sense. But, when I visit a region I only will spend my precious time visiting wineries that grow grapes. Manipulation has made wine an industrial beverage. But there is still magic in the vineyards. Separating wine from its inherent sense of place is the first and the irrevocable step of industrialization. Industrial wines can taste great but at 66 I want some magic in my life. What I don't understand is paying more than ten dollars a bottle for wine that may or may not have manipulated. I personally know of wines in the 75 dollar and plus range that have been bought in bulk for prices between 10 and 20 dollars a gallon.

If you just want wine as a beverage more power to you. But I am in love with grape growing and wine that is a time and a place in a bottle. If no one cares about that so be it, but wine from nowhere is a part of an industrializing, globalizing world that seems a much less interesting place to me. If you want magic in your wine you will not find in garage wineries that wouldn't know a grape vine if it sprung up between their toes. You will never know if a wine you are buying was bought in bulk, transformed with enological tannins, mega purple, reverse osmosis or various extracts. It is all legal.

If you consider that what makes wine wine is mostly water and alcohol, with according to Peynoud a very tiny amount of the extract that is naturally in that wine. When you add even tiny amounts of additive you are overwhelming the flavors that nature put there.

I for one see a big difference between growing a tinterature vine and using it to give color and buying color extract from a factory.

I hope I have not offended anyone. Drink what you like and don't let anyone including me, tell you what to like. But if authenticity in life is what you seek, in wine, my belief is it can only come from experiencing a wine in the vineyard that it is grown in.
Gerard

daniel wrote:
01.02.07 at 11:13 AM

OK, This is what mega purple is made of:

Rubired

[ROO-bee-red] Introduced in 1958, this hybrid was developed by the university of california, davis by crossing Alicante Ganzin and Tinta Cão. Alicante Ganzin is also a hybrid, whose parentage is traceable to alicante boushchet tinto cãois a good-quality port variety. Rubired is an easy-to-grow, prolific red grape that produces red juice instead of white. Grown primarily in California's central valley it's used to add color to port-style and jug wines.

I called the distributer for canandiagua (the company that makes mega purple... owned by constellation)and thewy told me it was made of California Rubired grape.

maybe i'm too late

Larry wrote:
02.03.07 at 6:00 AM

Does grape juice have to be absorbed and excreted by yeast in order to qualify as wine? Are you sure?

Could not wine be created by extracting whole grapes with alcohol, ensuring that the final ethanol concentration is below 15%? No fermentation needed, plus all the flavor of the fresh fruit!

Yes, I would consider that wine, and very fresh. Could be consumed immediately after manufacter as well!

John wrote:
10.15.09 at 4:47 PM

In reality, ALL commercial wine makers "manipulate" their juice and wine. Everyone uses large doses of Potassium Metabisulphate all thru the wine making process, starting with the crush addition.

Liquid grape sugar is often used, and is legal in USA and many other regions. Acid (Tartaric, etc..) is added more often than not to get the pH / TA in proper balance, and is perfectly legal. Oak chips and oak powders are added when older barrels cannot throw enough tannins - all legal, and exactly the same oak from the barrel.

Primary fermentation uses commercial yeast. But until recently (last 200 years or so), yeast was not added to the crushed grapes. Vineyards develop naturally occurring yeast. Historically this natural vineyard-borne yeast was used for primary fermentation. But laboratory yeast (used by >99% of all commercial wine makers) is more consistent and reliable. When properly matched with the varietal (e.g., Syrah with D254 or D21), commercial/lab yeast can make far better wine than natural/native/wild yeasts.

Fermentation additives are common - myriad enzymes and nutrients are legal and commonly used. Helps color, taste, body, and minimizes bacterial issues. Yeast and grape by-products (Mega Purple, etc.) are also used for these reasons.

Secondary fermentation? It will occur naturally in most wines, but only a very small number of wine makers allow this to happen. Virtually all wine makers add BACTERIA to the wine to promote the transformation of malic acid into lactic acid. Horrors!

Egg whites and other foreign organic and inorganic materials are commonly used to "fine" and finish wines. Copper sulfite and other harsh chemicals are used to "rescue" wines when they develop problems. All legal, and commonly used when needed.

If you want a "pure" wine, try making it yourself w/o any of these additives or lab helps. If somehow you end up with unspoiled juice (and that would be a miracle), the wine you make will at best be flat, lifeless, and boring - with poor bouquet, weak mid-palate, and flat tannic structure.

I make wine, and drink wine. Over time, you get to know the telltale signs of overly processed wine. The best way to make great wine without overt chemistry is to start with exceptional grapes. When the grapes are right, you really don't need a lot of extra process help. A good example of this is great-year, old-world Barolo. Minimal processing, spent Slovenian oak casks, 4-5 years of rest = heavenly. New-world Barolo is a different story :-(

Hope this helps :-)

Alder wrote:
10.15.09 at 8:47 PM

John,

In reality, I know a lot of winemakers that just get by with sulfur dioxide and nothing else, so your assertions that virtually all winemakers innoculate for malolactic fermentation and that liquid grape sugar is "often" used and acidulation happens "more often than not" seem a bit exaggerated to me. I don't doubt that there are plenty of people that use those tools when they have to, and maybe some people do all the time, but you're characterizing them as in use by the vast majority of winemakers is hard to stomach.

Indeed your final paragraph characterizes a lot of fine wines made in the New World and in the Old.

John wrote:
10.16.09 at 7:20 AM

Alder, of course you are correct. I was making a number of generalizations to stress the point that wine additives play a common role in global wine making at all levels.

I've been around commercial wine making for decades (both Sonoma County and Sierra Foothills). Commercial wine makers are not anxious to talk about their additives regimen. In the master classes I've attended at U.C. Davis, where 100+ local commercial wine makers gather, it's discussed, but quietly.

I'll give my best estimate at objective numbers. These would be the % of commercial wine makers who employ a process at least occasionally - maybe once every few years at minimum.

SO2 / K2S2O5 (Sulfur): 99% of non-organic, unknown organic but i'm betting that a number of them do it. Sulfur is also used on grapes to inhibit mildew. It is used legally in both organic and non-organic vineyards.

Liquid Grape Sugar: 20-30% (low brix harvest)

Acid Adjustments (Tartaric, etc.): >90%

Oak derivatives (chips, powders, tannics, etc.): >50%

Commercial Yeasts: >95%

Malolactic Bacteriae: >90%

Enzymes, Nutrients, Derivatives: >50%

Fining Materials: >50%

Rescue Chemicals (stuck ferment, etc.): >90%

I could be wrong, but I think my numbers are reasonably close to reality.


Gregoire wrote:
05.01.13 at 6:59 PM

Still an interesting topic and I feel that a fast growing consumer segment wants to know and make a personal choices accordingly. While for some they may prefer corn fed beef, others are paying a premium for grass fed beef. It matters what we may think, and whether or not things like the use of Mega Purple should be transparent. If it doesn't matter, than why not promote its use as a reason to pay more? (thinking OxiClean...)

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