Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sorting Through Material Other Than Grape


Winemakers take pride in removing everything but the healthiest grapes in the all-important sorting process. Prior to this step, they fuss over growing the grapes to maximize flavor and then picking at the right time. The grapes are collected in shallow trays so as not to bruise them, and are brought in quickly to the cellar.

Given the impeccable provenance, one would expect these grapes not to be sullied hereon. That the wines that they will be turned into would directly impart all their qualities intact with nothing getting in the way.

Wrong.

In fact, winemakers seem to to abandon these cuddled grapes to the wolves. All sorts of chemicals and other additives are applied during winemaking--a total of about 59 are allowed in EU countries and much more than that in the US. Some of the most common are enzymes, cultured yeasts, nutrients. oak chips, tartaric acid, tannin, potassium sorbate, alcohol, water, sucrose, and sulphites.

Why do winemakers do these to grapes they have overprotected since birth? Is it laziness? Incompetence? Greed?

I think the answer is obvious. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Drinkers don't like to taste anything they're not familiar with. The last thing drinkers need is to be immersed in a new flavor experience. No one seems to have the time or inclination to learn something they don't know in wine. Drinkers want wine to be obedient, to follow its master. Wine should not surprise or be unpredictable. No, we all have enough of that during the day with our tangles with co-workers, friends or partners. At the end of the day, when we're relaxing and having a meal, we want total control over that wine. Dammit, we don't want wine to challenge or question our expectations.

And so winemakers deliver to us wines that we want. Repeatable, with a sameness of character. Yet, they continue to also market to us the notion that wine is nothing more than grapes from these great vineyards, unsullied and expressive of their terroir. Of course, nothing can be far from reality, although that is what we want to hear, but not taste.

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