Wine is promoted as a natural, healthfu beverage that accompanies active, epicurean lifestyles. Reservatol in red wine has been proven to be a heart healthy and even an anti-cancer agent. Wine can be relaxant and a sleep aid. Wine is often exalted as a concomitant to romance and as an aphrodisiac.
Working against this image is the reality that wine is also an economic commodity, and an important one at that, with worldwide sales of $500 billon. With numbers that big, there is always going to exist some bad operator working the edges trying to squeeze an extra dollar out of the consumer or sell and inherently bad product.
The French writer, humanist and oenophile Victor Hugo said, “God made only water, but man made wine.” This saying states a subtle truth: the human hand plays a large role in winemaking.
In Wine Labels: Reading Between the Lines and Robert Mondavi, From Artisan to Corporate Brand, this column examined how wine consumers can be manipulated by labels and brand names. None of that manipulation is illegal or even unethical. But there is a woeful history of wine manipulation that is both illegal and unethical.
In the early 1980s, it was found that some Italian wines were not wines at all, but concoctions of anti-freeze and bulls’ blood. At about the same time, the ancient and respected Burgundy firm of Bouchard Pere et Fils was caught selling chaptalized* and de-acidified wine at classified wine prices.
While the process of chaptalization is not available to home wine drinkers, as the wine has already been fermented and does not contain active yeast cultures, many other winemaker practices to enhance wines can be done at home.
The alcohol levels of a wine can be raised by adding pure alcohol to the wines as is done with fortified wines such as sherries and ports. Not a recommended technique at home with table wines.
Sugar can be added to wine to raise its sweetness levels. This might have applicability with late-harvest type wines that are highly acetic and require sweetness for balance. Recommended only in rare circumstances.
Acidifying wine is perhaps the most important element in the wine drinkers tool kit to rectify flabby whites or reds. Adding very small quantity of tartaric acid on the order of an eighth of a teaspoon per bottle to balance out a cheap red or white can have remarkable results, sometimes raising the rating of a wine 2-3 points, turning flabby bottom-shelf plonk into a palatable carafe quality vino.. Recommended.
Oaking otherwise unstructured and one dimensional whites or reds: Recommended.
Toasted oak chips, widely used in the wine industry and tartaric acid are not part of the usual kit of a wine drinker, but are available and moderately priced (get both for under $20 at E. C. Kraus , Home Wine and Beer Making Supplies of Independence Missouri) on line or head to a local wine supply shop, if one is nearby.
Questions or comments on doctoring wine, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Process named after French Chemist Jean-Antoine Chaptal, who in the early 1800’s advocated the process of adding sugar to wine musts to increase the alcohol level of the resulting wines. It is a legal process in part of France and Virginia and other cold climate states. It is illegal in California and Italy. See the Brix-Alcohol table to see how sugar in the must converts to alcohol.