Was Michael Fridjhon on the right track when he suggested the obvious solution to over-alcoholized, over-acidic, over-concentrated SA Sauvignon Blancs was being applied last month? Perhaps he was at the London tasting of Michel Chapoutier’s 2012 Rhônes last year (he imports shed loads of French and other wines).
The Financial Times‘ first wine lady Jancis Robinson was and she reports in the Weekend FT today Michel’s view that “the southern Rhône is too warm for Syrah. Of course, we don’t want to reduce the alcohol by physical means. If you use reverse osmosis to reduce the alcohol, you sacrifice some of the aromas. When you physically concentrate the grape must, you concentrate everything – including less desirable aspects. So how about simply adding back the water lost by evaporation? If you harvest on the basis of the ripeness of tannins in Grenache, you risk having wines at 15.5 or 16 per cent alcohol at least. We experimented and found that adding water did actually result in better wines.”
Of course Michael’s intervention, Roederer wine writing gong notwithstanding (he imports them too), lacks the clarity and honesty of Michel’s comments. “If the inspectors have some time on their hands, they might ponder the latest miracle from South Africa’s winelands, or at least from some producers’ cellars. In an age when the pursuit of phenolic ripeness coupled with long-term climate change has seen alcohol levels rising inexorably, the increasing volumes of low-priced, low-alcohol Sauvignons are almost fantastical. True, technology now makes alcohol removal easy, but technology comes at a price. So when the very cheapest of South Africa’s popular brands come to market at around 12%, it occurs to me that the judicious but illicit addition of water to the wine offers the dual benefit of lowering both the alcohol and the input cost.” Maybe even a triple benefit of improving the wines?
Of course consumers having been adding Jesus units to SA whites for years in the shape of ice cubes .
Jancis continues “there was an audible gasp in the room full of wine professionals for this is, strictly, against the law. And, indeed, Chapoutier added, referring to the overarching French wine organisation in Paris, of which he is the Rhône representative, “but the INAO said ‘what will the wine writers say?’ Wines with 17 per cent alcohol just don’t make sense though. I’m the only one to actually talk about it. Lots of winemakers do it, and I think we should make it legal and bring it out in the open. It’s the future of wine. We can’t make Châteauneuf with 16 per cent alcohol. We must have the courage to defend this point of view.””
In SA, no one in authority gives a stuff what wine writers say, nor do consumers. The most pathetic example so far this year is toothy Tim James complaining on his blog about how he’s being roundly ignored by the Cape Vintners Classification. After complaining about “the substantial influence on the whole CVC business by the Rupert camp” he moans “PS: I still have received no press releases from the CVC, nor any explanation as to why not, despite having raised the matter!” Although calling Johann Rupert camp, coming from Toothy, is faintly amusing.
CVC members should hose Tim down and if a bit spills into the Sauvignon Blanc tank, so be it. With Pope Francis on the pot, the age of miracles in not over yet.