So how about we depart from food and stray into one of my other favourite indulgences – wine. Now I know very little about wine but I know a lady who does – the lovely Kristina Naden who with her husband runs a successful wine importing business called La Cantina in Aukland. As successful wine importers/merchants they knows lots and lots about wine and Kristina has kindly agreed to write a guest blog for me this week.
Kristina was an old work mate with whom I spent many an evening putting the world to rights with a fine bottle of wine. I must say her tastes were always more sophisticated than mine. Whilst I would pick up whatever was on offer from Tesco, Kristina would choose a bottle from the collection sent by the wine club she was in. I am delighted that she has turned her passion into a business. A rare and wonderful thing to do. I hope you enjoy her blog and if you want to read more from Kristina then visit her blog on http://www.lacantina.co.nz/blog.cfm
OVER TO KRISTINA NADEN FROM LA CANTINA
Sugar has been getting a lot of bad PR all over the place lately – and if you look at the number of sweet fizzy drinks in shops, and check to see how much sugar is added to ‘sports drinks’, muesli bars and breakfast cereals that are all meant to be good for you, it’s not surprising processed sugar has got a bad rap. Books like “Sweet Poison” have become bestsellers and alternatives like stevia and dextrose powder have been added to a lot of shopping baskets.
So what does this have to do with wine?
Wine obviously does have a natural element of sugar – grapes contain sugars including fructose and glucose, and during fermentation these sugars are converted by yeasts added in the winemaking process to become alcohol (and a bit of CO2 pops up on the way as well).
It’s because the amount of sugar in grapes is directly related to the amount of alcohol in wine, that winemakers will sometimes use chaptalisation when making wines – this is a process of adding sugar to unfermented wine to increase the alcohol content. (Chaptalisation is different to the practice of dosage though, where some liqueur d’expédition – usually a blend of the base wine and sugar but this varies from winery to winery – is added to Champagne and sparkling wines. If any dosage is carried out, it’ll be done after fermentation as opposed to Chaptalisation which is done before fermentation. )
Chaptalisation seems a bit controversial – some countries have highly regulated it’s use. And fair enough – adding a large pile of processed sugar into a wine is not ideal, surely. Countries such as Australia and France have banned the use of straight sugar being added to wine before fermentation, and instead concentrated must is added.
Winemakers in New Zealand however are allowed to add straight sugar.
Essentially, sugar, or must, is used to give wine a full taste – it adds length, weight and volume.
Improvements in modern viticulture has meant that less sugar needs to be added these days. Higher sugar levels in fruit are being achieved in the vineyard, as opposed to being added in the winery. Higher quality wines tend to have a lighter crop, giving better flavour and aromas. It also means winemakers don’t need to add as much sugar to increase alcohol volumes and the wine has more weight and volume.
There’s still the question of residual sugar though – this is sugar left over in the wine that hasn’t been fermented. I wonder if we are all getting so used to sweetness in our food and drink that wine with a low level of residual sugar is not palatable to us?
Apart from being converted to alcohol, sugar obviously has a role to play in wine with balancing acid, but are the books right and are we turning into sugar junkies?
What do you think?