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Fooling Your Wine Palate

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By Dean Tudor

Ernest Hemingway once wrote "It is a wine. A good wine, not a great one. It is red. Wet. Its power is obvious, obvious and powerful the way men are, men who hunt and get into bar fights. Real men. Except for the smell. The wine smells better than the men." Actually, he didn’t write it – someone else did. Writer Tim Fish created several spoofs of writing styles in describing wine. There’s a Woody Allen approach, a Ray Chandler, a Bill Faulkner: notice how familiar I am with these writers’ names…

There are also ways to spoof your wines and fool people.

If you drill through Larry Patterson’s web site www.littlefatwino.com you will come across scattered references to commercially available wine enhancer products, albeit in too large commercial quantities for consumer purchases. These are used by many wineries around the world to goose up the “flavour” of wines. They are all non-vinous in origin. These items go by such names as BioLees, Tanin Plus, AR 2000, Optiwhite and Optired. They reduce tannins, they add tannins, they add acid, they reduce acid, they increase fruit flavours, and they add chocolate and mocha tones. Many are not allowed under the certification rules of VQA, AOC, DOCG, DO, and the like; most are used with modestly priced wines, to increase the enjoyment factor for a small price. Certainly, they are not harmful.

Some wineries will use oak chips instead of barrels (the way to tell: chips will impart a slight bitterness to the finish) because chips are cheaper. But they don’t say this on the label or back label. Would you buy a wine with the words “in oak chips for 6 months” on the label? No, of course not. But some labels do say “oak” without mentioning the word “barrel”. This could be a tip off. Other wineries will use fruit extract, oak extract, vanilla, spices, pepper extract, in order to fool your palate into believing that you are consuming a great Shiraz or Bordeaux or Sauvignon Blanc. As I said before, none of this is deleterious to your health, just misleading and... making a fool out of you.

There is no way to know any of this without doing chemical analysis. But if the LCBO has enough sophisticated equipment to detect phony ice wine from real ice wine (it can and it does), then surely it can run an analysis on some of the more inexpensive wines in the Ontario marketplace.

My point in all this is to produce for you a consumer guide to fooling your palate. Please do not try to fool your friends without telling them at some point: it is unethical. I am reminded of that scumbag Nixon, a Resident of the US White House, who always offered his guests his favourite wine, Ch?teau Margaux, at dinners. Except he was the only one with the real Chateaux Margaux. Everybody else had a lesser Bordeaux poured into bottles previously-consumed (by Nixon). I’ve done this sort of thing in the interest of experimenting and with good natured wine tastings. But I’ve always told my clients or friends afterwards. And I have never served these to people with dinner or food.

First up is the tannin reducer: you’ll only need this for the more expensive wines, since the cheap stuff doesn’t even know what tannin is. This is a safe electromagnetic field unless you are allergic to ELF electricity, which apparently some people are. There’s something called the BevWizard Wine Enhancer from Dr. Patrick Farrell, a Master of Wine and inventor who lives in California (wouldn’t you just know it). Tony Aspler reports “It looks like a pouring dome that you slip on top of a bottle. Inside is a powerful magnet whose high-intensity field apparently changes the molecular structure of the tannins and makes them softer.” A glass poured without the magnet was tasted against one that was poured through the device. The unanimous decision from the experimenters was that the magnet made the wine smoother and softer. The neodymium magnets work on the wine, along with oxygenation. It sells for $30 US plus shipping. This device may be an improvement over something that has been around for awhile: the Wine Cellar Express. The WCE is a round magnet platform, a coaster with some depth. Place a bottle on top of it, and within 30 minutes, most of the tannins have dropped out and a young wine is approachable. It doesn’t seem to work on older wines, nor on all young wines. And it only affects tannins. It is about $50, depending on where you purchase it. The BevWizard works as the wine is being poured out, so there is no waiting. But beware: both magnets will affect any hard drives you have, as well as interfere with pacemakers, credit cards, cell phones, and probably even lovemaking (you’ll drink too much).

OK class: listen up. Get an inexpensive red and white wine and we’ll begin to modify it. What follows only works with cheap wines. Well, actually, it might work with pricy wines, but then why bother? The results will be the same and you’ll just be out extra dollars.

One modifying agent is the tannin adder: you can always buy tannin for a few dollars at a U-Vint or home winemaker store, enough for 100 bottles or more. Tannins will increase your perception of mouthfeel and body, and it will create some interesting length to go with the food. It will also reduce sweetness. Follow the instructions, but be prepared to wait at least a week for the tannins to kick in and work. Not very convenient.

Then there is the addition of oak: at the home winemaking store you should be able to buy Sinatin 17 from Spain. This is oak extract, and a bottle (again, good for over 10 cases of wine) will run you about $13 for a 250 ml bottle. Follow the instructions, but be prepared to wait at least two days for the oak to kick in and work. Not very convenient. It works better with white wine. In the meantime, you could play around with vanilla and/or coconut flavouring.

There is also the removal of oak: this is actually pretty hard to do, so instead you can easily mask it. Most overoaked wines are also off-dry. Just add lemon juice to taste. Takes about 10 seconds to kick in Shake the bottle afterwards. But your inexpensive wine probably won’t have much oak, if any, so the whole matter is academic anyway.

There is the addition of sweetness: just add some sugar to taste. If you are looking for body as well as sweetness (the two go together), buy some glycerine (glycerol) from a drug store, and add some to your wine, no more than a teaspoon per wine bottle. But watch it: add too much and you’ll get the trots…

There is the removal of sweetness: actually, again, just a masking. Add lemon to taste, as above.

There is also the addition of fruitiness: to create your own fruit bombs redolent of peaches or nectarines for whites, and blackberry or cassis or sour cherry or cherry for reds, get the relevant bottle of syrup from a grocery store. Middle European countries send over boatloads of fruit syrups, available at three dollars or so apiece, so you should be able to find them. Mine are at No Frills. Experiment with these, since you are adding sugar as well as fruit flavours. Usually one teaspoon is enough per wine bottle.

You can also add chocolate/mocha tones with a good grade chocolate syrup: no more than half a teaspoon per wine bottle.

There is also the addition of herbiness: should you want to create your own $25 Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc, just take a small slice of green bell pepper and use it as a swizzle stick for 10 seconds or so (experiment), shorter for red wines. You’ll be amazed at the difference. Any inexpensive white wine can be picked up to resemble an Oz or Kiwi or California Sauvignon Blanc by using bell pepper. Great for the summer patio and aperitif hour. And, by golly, you’ll be using local bell peppers in summer season!

Overall, you could have great fun here by concocting your own wine flavours, and of course it is perfectly legal at home. You could really get into this by visiting a U-Vint or home winemaking store, and looking at books from the library. If your palate is too sensitive for these adulterations, then you shouldn’t be drinking cheap wines anyway. There are better and easier ways to save your money. But then again, it might be a good theme for an April Fool party…

Personally, whenever I drink a wine without much flavour, I try the bell pepper trick. If the wine is too sweet, I add lemon. I’d really like to add Sinatin 17, but then I’d have to wait a couple of days. Good luck fooling around. Let Gremolata know what happens…


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