What’s in your bot­tle?

Mak­ers have avoided telling us what is within. Should we be wor­ried?

The Irish Times Magazine - - DRINK - JOHN WIL­SON

It seems strange that a bot­tle of Coca- Cola must print the ingredients used to make it, whereas a bot­tle of wine does not. Some­how the wine busi­ness, along with beer and spir­its, has largely man­aged to avoid telling us what is con­tained within. Back la­bels tend to have flowery de­scrip­tions, food rec­om­men­da­tions and maybe a lit­tle mar­ket­ing blurb, but very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion on how the wine was ac­tu­ally made. As well as adding the health warn­ings, maybe the Gov­ern­ment might like to in­sist that a few key ingredients are in­cluded. Ad­di­tives and treat­ments are not al­ways a bad thing; most of us do not want to drink faulty wine, and mass- pro­duced wines re­quire greater in­ter­ven­tion. Even at the high­est level, pro­duc­ers of lux­ury wines are not above us­ing treat­ments that im­prove the fin­ished prod­uct. Ad­di­tives of some sort go back more than 5,000 years, to the very start of wine­mak­ing.

The most com­mon is sul­phur diox­ide, the one in­gre­di­ent that is listed on a wine la­bel. It was first in­tro­duced by the Ro­mans, and most wine­mak­ers con­sider it an es­sen­tial anti- ox­i­dant and anti- bac­te­rial agent. Lev­els used are fairly low, and have dropped hugely over the last few decades, rang­ing from a min­i­mum of 10 parts per mil­lion/ ppm ( sul­phur be­ing a by prod­uct of fer­men­ta­tion) to the EU le­gal max­i­mum of 150ppm for red wine, 210ppm for white, and 400ppm for dessert wine. By com­par­i­son, raisins and other dried fruits can con­tain any­thing from 500ppm to 2,000ppm.

Other ad­di­tives and pro­cess­ing aids in­clude sugar ( to add fizz to sparkling wine or in­crease al­co­hol); con­cen­trated grape juice to sweeten; tar­taric or ascor­bic acid to add acid­ity; yeasts to get the fer­men­ta­tion go­ing; nu­tri­ents such as di­ammo­nium phos­phate to keep them work­ing away; wood chips, en­zymes and mal­o­lac­tic cul­tures.

Add in fin­ing and fil­ter­ing agents such as egg whites, isin­glass, polyvinylpyrrolo­dine ( PVPP), ben­tonite, ge­latin and ca­sein and lastly wa­ter – per­mit­ted in some coun­tries to lower al­co­hol – and wine be­gins to look slightly less nat­u­ral. There are also pro­ce­dures such as re­verse os­mo­sis, mi­cro- oxy­gena­tion and spin­ning cones.

Jamie Goode and Sam Har­rop, in their book Au­then­tic Wine, give the ex­am­ple of the Co- op su­per­mar­ket chain in the UK, which lists all ingredients on the back la­bel.

A Sau­vi­gnon Blanc has the fol­low­ing ingredients listed: Grapes, acid­ity reg­u­la­tor ( potas­sium bi­car­bon­ate), preser­va­tive ( potas­sium meta bisul­phate), cop­per sul­phate. Made us­ing an­tiox­i­dants ( car­bon diox­ide, ni­tro­gen) yeast, yeast nu­tri­ent ( di­ammo­nium phos­phate). Cleared us­ing ben­tonite, fil­tra­tion pecti­nolytic en­zymes.

Should we be wor­ried about all of these ad­di­tions? Pos­si­bly not; the over­all stan­dard of wine­mak­ing is higher than ever, and the use of sul­phur lower. But although it might re­move some of the ro­mance of wine, I think we have a right to know how our wine is made, how­ever un­palat­able that might be.

Bel­low’s Rock Shi­raz 2016, Western Cape, South Africa, 14%, ¤ 9.95

Rich pow­er­ful spicy dark fruits, with a nice seam of acid­ity run­ning through. Great value at ¤ 9.95. With grilled or bar­be­cued red meats.

O’Briens, obrienswine. ie

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