Sweet Talk

Over-ma­nip­u­la­tion of napa Val­ley reds leads to un­wanted resid­ual sug­ars in many wines—but it’s be­com­ing a thing of the past, ex­plains James Suck­ling

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life | Wine -

es­id­ual sugar in Napa Val­ley caber­net sauvi­gnons? It seems like a strange topic for a con­ver­sa­tion, but it came up a num­ber of times dur­ing three trips to Napa ear­lier this year, when I tasted the amaz­ing 2012 and 2013 vin­tages.

One of the most mem­o­rable con­ver­sa­tions was with the wine­maker of In­glenook Vine­yard, the Napa Val­ley win­ery of film­maker Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola. His wine­maker, Philippe Bas­caules, who worked at Château Mar­gaux in Bordeaux be­fore com­ing to In­gel­nook a few years ago, lamented that some of the top-rated Napa reds were so high in resid­ual sugar that it masked their true char­ac­ter and qual­ity.

“Wine­mak­ers need to be more con­fi­dent in their ter­roirs and make drier wines that re­flect the fan­tas­tic qual­ity of the re­gion,” he said dur­ing a tast­ing of his out­stand­ing 2011, 2012 and 2013 caber­net sauvi­gnons. His reds were dry and struc­tured, with the tex­ture and mouth­feel of a top Bordeaux, yet with the pu­rity of fruit you ex­pect from a Napa red.

In­deed, se­ri­ous wine­mak­ers, no mat­ter where they are, need to re­spect them­selves and their ter­roirs—and make wines that un­der­line where they came from, in­stead of the hand that made them or some pre­con­ceived no­tion of what the mar­ket wants. Granted, this doesn’t have to be the case for in­ex­pen­sive bev­er­age wines that are akin to fast food. But bot­tles that are sup­posed to be spe­cial, and are of­ten ex­pen­sive, should be made in a rel­a­tively non-ma­nip­u­la­tive way. Resid­ual sugar in what is sup­posed to be a dry red in­di­cates other­wise.

The ma­nip­u­la­tion of such reds be­gins in the vine­yards. Growers pick the grapes as late as pos­si­ble to as­sure ex­treme ripeness, with high sugar con­tent and ripe tan­nins. The grapes can be like raisins, which pro­duce wines that are very high in al­co­hol, al­though wine­mak­ers may wa­ter down the musts in fer­men­ta­tion or de-al­co­holise fresh wines. The fer­men­ta­tions stop, as the sugar is too high for the yeasts to con­vert every­thing into al­co­hol—so what’s left? Resid­ual sugar. Wines are less sta­ble with this resid­ual sugar, so they need to be treated with prod­ucts or fil­ters.

Of course, the sugar is barely dis­cern­able for most palates. Some say the thresh­old is about three grams of sugar per litre (or just 3 per cent by vol­ume) for a drinker to dis­cover some­thing slightly sweet. But it’s there, giv­ing the wines body and a soft tex­ture—or, as one Hol­ly­wood din­ner part­ner called it, “those candy-styled sort of wines.”

Many of these sugar-coated reds have re­ceived high scores, mostly in Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tions. The sugar and al­co­hol give the wines im­pact in tast­ings, and at­tract tasters with a sweet tooth. This style of red was pop­u­lar in Cal­i­for­nia from about 1994 to 2009, and in Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina and Spain in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But times have changed. For ex­am­ple, I have tasted at var­i­ous wine shows in Aus­tralia over the past five years. Aussie wine­mak­ers on the tast­ing pan­els seem to de­spise “jammy wines” made from “dead fruit.” To­day in Napa, the young wine­mak­ers shun those sweet reds of the past, too, mak­ing dry wines that re­flect their unique soils and cli­mates.

I’m happy the sugar-coated reds of the world are be­com­ing a thing of the past, even though some old-school wine­mak­ers are still push­ing the sweet­ness en­ve­lope. In the end, out­stand­ing wine is about two things: drink­a­bil­ity and prove­nance.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.