French winemakers caught adding too much sugar in the wine
January 31, 2009
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, it 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% but the winemakers caught cheating had added sugar for a 2.5% increase. The sugar, adding during the fermentation, does not make the wine sweeter but it is transformed into alcohol. 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 "hide" low quality grapes.
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 grapes the higher the sugar level. Now, excluding bad vintages where grapes don't reach the full ripeness because of weather conditions and therefore their alcohol content can be increased by adding sugar, in all other occasions, the sugar is the solution for not very good grapes obtained from a poor work in the vineyard. A more alcoholic wine can hide several imperfections in the eyes of the non expert drinker.
The alcohol content is, often and wrongly, seen as an indicator of the quality of the wine and whilst for wines produced in hot countries we do expect high alcohol content, in cooler climates we don't.
The alcohol is also an important element of the wine but not the only one. 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, grapes that will be producing an unbalanced wine.
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