dvds on wine

burning question Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Overall, these techniques are highly manipulative (especially the first two), and are therefore criticized by a number of detractors in the industry.  But the reality is, many producers — namely those with big budgets and high price tags — manipulate their wines in a number of ways.  This is ostensibly done in an effort to amplify flavor profiles, which many will argue makes the wines more likely to garner favorable attention from certain influential critics.  That topic is, in itself, a pandora's box of increasing media attention and heated debate.{footnote}One film that provides a laudably creative and thorough documentary on wine manipulation, with interviews of both its advocates and critics, is MondoVino.{/footnote}

To be fair, though, it warrants mention that there is a number of other, far less manipulative, techniques that winemakers use in the cellar to keep levels of alcohol from climbing too high in wine (before and during fermentation).  Among these are {footnote}Joanna Simon, "Alcohol — The Burning Issue," Decanter, July 2008, 75.{/footnote}:

  • Choosing less-efficient yeasts, either wild strains or ones that are cultured to multiply less rapidly during the fermentation process
  • Encouraging more rapid fermentation, which (due to inherently higher heat) burns off some of the alcohol produced in its own process
  • Employing open-top vats that allow more of the alcohol to evaporate both during and immediately after fermentation {footnote}That open-top, warm, and rapid fermentation results in lower levels of alcohol explains why — all other things being controlled for — equal amounts of sugar in white vs. red grapes still make for higher levels of alcohol in white wine, since these are most often fermented longer, cooler, and in closed vessels.{/footnote}

Increasingly, though, more reputable and quality-conscious producers are seeking to engage in preventative practices in the vineyard. This is done in an effort to maximize the phenolic ripening of winegrapes while reigning in their sugar levels, thereby lowering the amount of alcohol potentially fermented from those grapes.  These producers tend to forego corrective techniques in the cellar, or used them only if pre-emptive measures fail to lower final alcohol to desired levels.  Among the preventative techniques used are {footnote} Joanna Simon, "Alcohol — The Burning Issue," Decanter, July 2008, 74.{/footnote}:

  • Choosing cooler sites: less heat makes for less sugar in the grapes
  • Decreasing the canopy: by pruning, by replanting with less vigorous clones, or by increasing vine density (increasing competition between the vines), fewer and smaller leaves grow on the vines, leading to less photosynthesis, which in turn accumulates less sugar
  • Changing varietals: re-planting with those that tend to have inherently higher acidity, naturally counterbalancing sugar levels
  • Increasing yields: more grapes left on the vines decreases the rate at which their sugar levels rise
  • Restricting irrigation: less water stresses the vines, leading to more phenolic- and less sugar-ripening
  • Spraying chemicals: although controversial in its own rite, there are claims that spraying affects ripening in specific ways
  • Harvesting at night: grapes tend to have high water content at night, slightly diluting their sugar content
  • Harvesting earlier in the season: allowing the grape bunches slightly shorter hang time

But while these pre-emptive measures are far less manipulative — and, therefore, arguably better — at controlling high levels of alcohol in wines, they do tend to be expensive and laborious.  That may explain, in part, why many producers continue to engage in more corrective cellar practices.  The take-away message for the consumer here is simply to stay mindful that although, at its core, wine is a natural agricultural product, there is potentially still a great deal of chemical manipulation leading to its final form.  While in and of itself this is not necessarily a bad thing, heavy handedness in that sort of practice often leads to wines that are of 'less character and more caricature,' as I like to say.  v

Comments (0)add comment

Write comment




dvds on wine