Today’s Wine Word: Concentrate

Yes, it’s important for winemakers to concentrate on what they’re doing, but in the wine business the word, concentrate, has other implications. 

How interesting that in Napa Valley, a region known for warm, sunny weather and generous alcohols, thanks to high grape sugars, right now winemakers are trying to get their hands on grape juice concentrate to supplement the sugar that’s lacking this year. 

Concentrate for wine is unfermented grape juice that’s boiled down to be concentrated to nearly 70% sugar! Wine grapes at harvest usually come in, in the low to high 20s so 70% is extremely sweet and syrupy. The best is boiled in a partial vacuum, which reduces the boiling point so the juice isn’t too cooked in flavor. It can be added to the crushed fruit in the tank to bump up the sweetness which bumps up the alcohol.

I was talking with a grape grower/winemaker at choir rehearsal the other night and he said you can’t buy concentrate for love nor money at this point in this very difficult harvest. The 2011 growing seaon, here, has been extremely cool and the grapes need heat to ripen. We also had considerable rain in October which dilutes the sugar down. For those growers whose grapes didn’t rot in the rain, waiting for th sugar to come up in these cool temperatures is an exercise in frustration.

It’s illegal to add sugar (chaptalize) in California, which is a very silly law that should be reconsidered. It’s allowed in other states and countries, including France. So, adding concentrate, something that’s almost as frowned upon as de-alcoholizing the wine on a more normal vintage is, apparently, the way to go this year. If you can get the stuff.  

Why would the winemaker want to supplement the low sugar? Well, the accompanying unripe flavors aside, the alcohol gives the wine a lot of its body. If the winemaker’s producing a full-bodied wine, a low alcohol will feel thin and unsatisfying on the palate. 

How do you feel about it? Jamie Goode, a remarkably wonderful wine blogger with a technical bent, got a lively conversation going on his blog where he took up the topic along with the dreaded Megapurple, a wine word for another day. 

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1 Comment

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One response to “Today’s Wine Word: Concentrate

  1. Jon Bjork

    Another tidbit: concentrate is regularly added to many value wines (and some high-end wines) right before filtering and bottling to boost the fruitiness of the wine.

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