Wine Talk

Snooth User: Chris Carpita

Wine Chemistry and You!

Posted by Chris Carpita, Mar 11, 2008.

This is a really great primer on winegeeks for those interested in why your wine tastes the way it does:

The motivation for the post was due to something I wrote on another post, "Hot Wines"

The question is whether reverse-osmosis, used to remove alcohol from the Big Cali Cabs, could have an affect on other compounds. Of course, alcohol is a pretty small molecule, so with a tiny pore size, you wouldn't lose any of the big aromatic stuff.

One example of something that could be lost is diacetyl, produced during malo-lactic fermentation, which often gives wine its butteriness. Of course, it's a little bigger than the ethanol molecule, so if the membrane is of good quality, then this is not an issue.

However, it is certain that you would lose soluble minerals in the process, unless the other side of the barrier had the same concentrations of minerals. This may dictate a significant part of a wine's character, since the mineral composition is determined by the soil and growing conditions, and of course, genetics. This attribute of the wine is effectively obliterated by the reverse osmosis process.

In my opinion, this is one small step in the process of Disneyfication

God Bless America


Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Mar 12, 2008.

Reverse osmosis does more to wine than just remove the alcohol. It often entails transporting the wine to a facility and pumping it through the osmosis machinery. Since many winemakers are sensitive to minimize moving wine around inside their own winery, imagine the shock of reverse osmosis (loading the wine on to a truck, driving, unloading and then pumping! The machines that remove the alcohol also remove aromatic compounds. I've heard complaints about dealcoholised wines having "dumbed down fruit" or "having their terroir removed."

The trend towards reverse osmosis (and other processes) has moved quickly and quietly. Many of the top Chateaux in Bordeaux make use of it and it is estimated that 20% of wine produced in California now undergoes some form of alcohol reduction (I assume they aren't counting the old garden hose in the fermentation vat trick).

Disneyfication - a good term for this. I always called it Coca-Colafication: the process of turning wine into a uniform, industrial beverage. However, no one is forcing wineries to use this process, the argument goes. These techniques, when used properly, make wines that are commercial successes with high marks from the Spectator, Parker, etc.

Or are they? After all, wine over 14% alcohol is taxed at a higher rate ($1.57 a gallon vs $1.07 a gallon). If I make a million bottles a year, doesn't the prospect of saving save 10 cents per bottle (a wine bottle contains .198 gallons) or $100,000 in taxes sounds appealing?

However, this is just another in in a long line of technical improvements in winemaking. This article about the 1947 vintage illustrates how far we've come already:

Reply by Philip James, Mar 12, 2008.

Reverse osmosis, along with other techniques such as drip irrigation, can certainly lead to a more universally appealing rpoduct, but, as you say 'disneyfication' will ensue. Its terroir versus taste, maybe

Reply by Chris Carpita, Mar 12, 2008.

@RB: Those tax savings do, in fact, sound appealing, thanks for the finance lesson! A lot of wine enthusiasts are heavily influenced by the Spectator, so it's natural that winemakers will want to do whatever they can to appeal to those critics 'buds.

I am equally concerned with genetic diversity with U.S. growers. American consumers don't seem to appreciate too many choices when it comes to varietals. This has environmental consequences, in addition to dumbing down the product spectrum.

Reply by Mark Angelillo, Mar 12, 2008.

I don't think it's out of the question that people become interested in the variation in wine. I feel like many US consumers spend a lot of time shopping around, and more and more this is being done on the internet in a bathrobe. (No, I don't have a source on this.)

I'll keep a little bit of faith in consumers on this one. They might not know it yet but I don't think the average person would want to see wine stripped of its terroir. We can all try to help spread information which will encourage new wine drinkers to crave the diversity.

I see more of a trend towards people (mostly younger folks) trying to assert themselves as individuals as larger corporations continue to attempt this Disneyification.

Reply by Chris Carpita, Mar 12, 2008.

@mark: how could we keep these kinds of metrics (i.e. The People vs. Disney)? We also live in NYC, where people really assert their individuality, young and old, so that may tint your peepers a bit.

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