In Vino... Veritas?
Something about drinking wine seems pure: natural and clean. It could be the role wine plays in augmenting the magic of a perfect meal, accompanying deep conversation with great company, or the proven health benefits of moderate consumption. Or maybe it’s the earthy adjectives we use to describe wine – oaky, floral, fruity, or, indeed, earthy itself. Whatever it is, wine has a reputation for being close-to-the-source, healthy and as untainted an alcoholic choice as we could make. After all, wine is just fermented grapes, right?
Wrong. In this recent NYT article, “If Only the Grapes Were the Whole Story,” Eric Asimov tells us that wine is often filled with sugars, preservatives, stabilizers, chemicals, pesticides and other unnatural enhancers. To make matters worse, wineries are not required to post the ingredients on their bottles, keeping consumers in the dark as to what they are truly imbibing.
Say goodbye to quality fermentation and authentic expressions of grapes, and hello to another complicated process of trying to discover what’s really going into our bodies.
“For all of its natural, pastoral connotations, wine can very much be a manufactured product, processed to achieve a preconceived notion of how it should feel, smell and taste, and then rolled off the assembly line, year after year, as consistent and denatured as a potato chip or fast-food burger,” Asimov says. The list of chemicals that can make their way into the swirl of your next glass of Sauvingnon is long: you might find residue from the poisonous chemicals used in the vineyards, additives to enhance a wine's texture, sugars to lengthen fermentation (and increase alcohol content), acids or other extracts to affect color and body.
To the frequent wine-drinker who is cautious about chemicals and additives, this is disheartening news. It’s impossible to make the right choices about what to consume if we have no information. “It is very surprising how many discerning foodies will drink mass-produced, highly processed wines without batting an eyelid,” Isabelle Legeron, an educator and "master of wine", suggests. “They just haven’t engaged with wine in the same way, yet.”
Which leads to a greater question: Why are wineries reluctant to release the information about how their wines are made and what goes into them?
Asimov suggests, “Many wineries argue that consumers will be confused by long lists of ingredients, or even a short list of traditional but unexpected substances that have been used in winemaking for centuries. For example, artisanal producers who disdain adding enzymes may still try to clarify their wines with egg whites or isinglass, which is derived from fish bladders. Certainly vegans might want to know that information.”
Fortunately, there are many natural wineries that do stick to the good ol’ fashioned ways of winemaking, and are proud of it. With a little research and with the help of organizations like RAW, a fair in London that brings together producers of artisanal and natural wines, it is possible to drink all-natural, organic wines.
We are also happy to add that Wanderlust’s Winederlust wine-tasting program offers many options from an impressive list of local, organic, and biodynamic wineries making it an informative tasting session, in addition to being an opportunity to kick back and enjoy a glass of vino with friends after a long day of yoga. Read Asimov's original article here to get up to speed on what might be finding its way into your long-stemmed glass, and then you'll be fully prepared to being asking the right questions when it comes to the wine intake that accompanies your next Farm to Table meal.