I think it was when looking at a TV programme on wine that set me off writing again on wine skulduggery.
Th presenters of this television show loved 14% alcohol in red wine because it was “warming” or suchlike.
14% alcohol I consider to be too much in a wine – the alcohol content usually overriding the natural smells and tastes that should be in the forefront of a good wine. And one can so easily drink too much and negate the pleasures of sensible consumption.
Tavel, that much renowned rosé from the south of France, was once deceptively strong (and may still be). Locals would have a glass and go on to a less alcoholic rosé. Outsiders would swill down the Tavel and suffer, much to the inhabitants’ amusement.
In the those days when 12% alcohol in wine was considered to be high, I took my containers to a wine merchant in Grasse to have them filled up with either 10%, 11% or 12% red. I chose 10% to both enjoy as wine and quench the thirst in the heat of a south of France summer.
In America, and in impecunious circumstances, I decanted and watered down cheap and strong “gallon wine”. My guests loved it, having no idea of its modest origin.
At home I offer red, white and rosé wine, and eyes pop out when I make rosé by putting a little red wine in a glass and topping it up with cold white. And those who like my rosé keep to it. After all, pink Champagne is made in this way. Others are not meant to, but it is the easy way and, well, who knows?
I like to read out loud the blurb on the back label on bottles of red wine – generally to much laughter.
A favourite is that the wine tastes of “berry fruits”. These may be elaborated to contain black currant and/or blackberry tastes. Cassis is black currant and Mure is blackberry. In the days when Burgundy was a robust wine, was it just coincidence that black currants were grown in quantity in the Burgundy region?
Our own Hammersmith wine is fermented out to become a very dry red. Being unsulphured or fine filtered, it is a completely natural wine – but a couple of glasses at one time are enough. So I sometimes, but rarely, blend it with another wine that may have a little too much sweetness to it. This is done in a two-bottle decanter. And what have I been known to add? – those “berry fruits” no less – but only in the smallest of quantities. Too much added turns the wine into a port-like drink. But when my judgement is correct, the completed wine becomes rather special.
The most common of these “doctorings” is the addition of sugar to bring up the alcohol content in years of bad weather, or perhaps commercial demand. There are rules (routinely broken) for when, or when not, winemakers may add sugar to the vinification. Many have to add it to make good wine and raise the naturally-fermented alcohol level – like I do. But I don’t add sulphur, which most commercial wine contains to ensure stability and prevent infection. Alcohol is the preservative in Hammersmith wine.
To me, all this blending and mucking about is fun. And many wines are legitimately blended wines anyhow. But as an ex-wine-writer I have seen and heard about much commercial malpractice, and am rarely surprised. After all, dealing in wine is a business, and fortunes may be at stake.