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French winemakers caught adding too much sugar in the wine

January 31, 2009 Tags:
A group of 40 French winemakers were caught adding too much sugar to their wine during the fermentation. This process, called chaptalisation is not always permitted, each country has a different legislation. In Italy it is forbidden, in France it is forbidden as well however, depending on the quality of the vintage, can be authorised yearly by the Government. This process, adding sugar to the wine during the fermentation, raises the alcohol level of the wine. In this instance, the French government had authorised the chaptalisation of up to 2% and the winemakers caught, had added sugar for a 2.5% increase. The sugar does not make the wine sweeter but adding alcohol, adds body to the wine. The reason of this post is not to shame French winemakers, but it is to introduce and explain a practice that it is sometime used to make low quality grapes into better wines.

The alcohol content of the wine depends of the sugar level of the grape, the higher the more alcoholic the wine will be, and, the sugar level is determined by the level of ripeness, the riper the higher the sugar level. Now, a part from bad vintages, where grapes don't reach the full ripeness because of weather conditions, and therefore can be improved by adding sugar, in other occasions, the sugar is the solution for not very good grapes obtained from a poor work in the vineyard. A stronger wine can hide several imperfections in the eyes of the non expert drinker.

The alcohol content can also be seen as an indicator of the quality of the wine, because, whilst for the new world where there are hot summers, a big, stronger wine is the norm, in cooler climates is not. The alcohol is an important element of the wine but it is not the only one; the law high alcohol content equal to good wine is not correct. Another reason for high alcohol wines, in the case of big wine producers that don't grow their grapes, is that wine growers leave the grapes on the vine for longer because they are often paid according to the alcohol content of the grape, so they wait as long as possible thus picking the grapes when the optimal time is passed.
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