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Wine scaremongering

by MAURICE LEE [email protected]

Maurice Lee has lived in the Algarve for five years but has been visiting for 20 years. He is a retired Cellar Master and is part of a local wine society. He is often invited to be a guest speaker to discuss wines and regularly holds tastings.

Perhaps you  read the article in an English ‘tabloid’ on September 15 this year entitled: ‘Why many top-selling wines don’t deserve any bouquets’.

Written by Sean Poulter, with quotes from Malcolm Gluck and surprisingly Jancis Robinson MW, it has all been said before.

They mention ‘bargains’, ‘additives’ and ‘champagne’. I’ve written on these ‘so called’ bargains before, and that’s all they are, ‘so called’. However, I disagree with Malcolm Gluck’s comments about supermarkets and producers. I worked with the French Wine Farmers in London and I never ever heard a conversation carried on between Supermarket and Wine Producer like the one he says.

Why are these writers so stingy with the truth? Under ‘additives’ the reader is led to believe that Poulter, Gluck and Robinson have discovered something remarkable. For example the article says that sugar is added. Adding sugar to wines is not new, nor is it a secret. It has been part of wine making for many years. Sometimes it’s added before fermentation to increase potential alcohol (chaptalisation), and sometimes after fermentation, as a sweetener. Either way, sugar is a legal additive.

Like Europe, Australia uses eggs, milk and gelatine as finings. So what? Again I ask, why so stingy with the truth? Tell your readers what else is used. Spanish Clay, boiled bones, and ox blood, are three more that spring to mind.

Fining is removing sediment from the wine. Wild yeasts and acetobacter (bacteria) are ‘aerobic’ and need oxygen to survive. They die quickly when sulphur dioxide is added to the must. Called sulphuring, the sulphur dioxide forms a blanket over the top, stopping air from getting in. Wine yeasts are anerobic and don’t need oxygen. They die when all the sugar has been converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and they have nothing to feed on, or they’ll die when the alcohol content reaches 16-18 per cent. These dead yeasts have to be removed. First they get them to the bottom of the cask. This is done by adding one or two of the above fining agencies which are sticky substances and drag the yeasts to the bottom. After three months the wine is transferred into a clean cask leaving the ‘lees’ (sediment) behind. This is called ‘racking’. The wine may be racked again and again until the Cellar Master is happy that it has ‘fallen bright’ (clear).

They say that after wine is fined, it is less cloudy. After fining, the wine should be ‘crystal bright’, not ‘less cloudy’. Again they imply that tannins are added to generate flavour.  It is true that tannins are sometimes added to finings, particularly to white of egg, as you get extra ‘stickiness’. To generate flavour?  I don’t think so.

Jancis. Wood chippings were first added to Australian wines back in the 1950s. Wines produced in the USA are allowed up to 51 additives including water, colouring and flavourings.  

Blind tastings are just fun things, like drinking Beaujolais Nouveau. At your blind tasting there were 80 Champagnes tasted. Was that in one day or one week?  You said which champagne got the second lowest marks, and named two other champagnes that came in the bottom 30. You never said which champagne came top.


In all my years as a Cellar Master I had to buy thousands of bottles of wine and champagne for Corporate Events, and I can honestly say that I never bought one bottle unless I knew its pedigree, and tasted it. Nobody buys a pig in a poke.

Malcolm.  Malolactic Bacteria? There is a process called malolactic fermentation which turns malic acid into lactic acid. But why add bacteria? Bacteria are the last thing we want, which is why we kill it during fermentation by adding sulphur.

I read ‘Wine Scandal’ by Fritz Hallgarten, published in 1986. In 1660 falsified wine was produced. They added water, mixed good growths with bad ones, added fragrant herbs, sugar, sultanas or syrup. In 1812 artificial claret was made. The only thing used from Bordeaux was the vine leaf. Italian wines were so bad during the seventeenth century that they were banned from England.

Rogue producers are in trouble every year in some wine region, somewhere in the world.

Séan. The AOC system in France has been called into question quite a few times since the 1930s. It is still the best way to control production of quality French wines. And why point out the pitfalls in Western European wine controls and ignore the fact that Australia has no controls, not even bad ones? New Zealand is no better as they blend wines from the north island with wines from the south island.

Why were food scraps from Paris (90k further south) thrown on champagne vineyards? Were the scraps from Reims and Épernay not good enough?

‘Alcopops’, ‘Frankenstein Wines’, ‘Alcoholic Cola’. That sort of writing is for children.

None of you have written anything new, you’re just scaremongering. Wine lovers will continue to drink wine irrespective of what scandals are reported or what you write. Jancis I’m really surprised at you.

Can any one of you, with hand on heart, name one profession that has not been tarnished by a scandal of some sort or other? The wine business is no different to any other profession. It never has been and never will be.  

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