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Mega Purple – I had to join the debate

This morning, I was reminded of the, as of late, hotly debated subject about MEGA PURPLE, by Alder of Vinography. It all started with a wine thread over at the eRobertParker’s bulletin board. At it’s root, it comes down to the “ethical” question as to whether or not it’s ok to use additives in winemaking. Mega Purple is supposed to give color, flavor and tannins to give the wine more body and “ooomph”.

This story, which has spread to many a blog across the wine blogosphere, drew my attention in the beginning but just didn’t seem like a relevant article for a wine blog about Portugal and Spain. I’ve tried to keep my writing more focused on the happenings here on the Iberian Peninsula than on the wine world as a whole, but then I realized that this exact situation might be occurring here as well. In all honesty, I never even thought to ask the question, “Senor, do you use the Purple-Grande?” during an interview at a vineyard, but being a good wine geek, the question has been rattling around in my brain to the point of driving me insane.

I hear people shouting, “If it tastes good, do what you want!” or “Wine’s a natural beverage. Don’t add anything”. To the second point, those of you who read the thread on Parkers BB or Alders comments know that wine has always had things added to it to change it’s flavor. Alder pointed out the more common practices of chapitilization(adding sugars to wines) and adding water to overripe grape must to balance the wine. In fact, recently there was a long discussion over at Grape Radio that brought up the technique of “watering your must” to bring it back into balance before making wine. But if we step further back in time, or even look to present day applications, we find all sorts of additions being made. The Romans were known to add herbs and acorns to flavor their wines; while even today, we add herbs and other spices to Vermouth. How many of us actually call Martini and Rossi wine?

Personally, I want to be a purist. I want my wine to be grape, yeast and magic in a bottle – nothing more. The only problem is that I love Cava and Champange. I love German Reisling. I love Vermouth on ice on a Spanish terrace on a hot summer’s day. None of these wines are “pure”. Stated clearly on the label, they are all manipulated – maybe not directly, but through the wine laws that regulate much of the world of wine as we know it. As a result, I have choice. I can choose between a manufactured product or a natural product.

Imagine a person selling orange juice at the neighborhood market. You buy a glass and are amazed by it’s sweetness and orange flavor. So you buy more, and more, and then you overhear the secret behind his success: the vendor is adding orange concentrate to the fresh squeezed juice, just to boost the flavor a little. What would you do? You like the flavor, and in the end, it’s just juice added to juice.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what I would do? Throughout history, we have used the latest technologies to improve wine and food in one way or another. How is Mega Purple any different? Maybe wine is better with additives, or maybe it’s better without. My issue is not with MegaPurple, it’s the fact that I am being kept in the dark about which wines contain it and which don’t. What I find so humorous are the people who act shocked to find out that it’s actually occurring. “Not my beloved wine!” they cry, “How dare they do such things to it!”. These are the same people that would come into my store looking for a Friday night pizza wine and be worried about the vintages. Wine is a beverage, enjoy it.


Winemakers: If you want to use Mega Purple, water down your wines, add sugar, acids, tannins, bacterias or whatever else you want to do, then let’s talk about labeling. Every other manufactured food product out there has a label on it with contents noted – no reason why you shouldn’t. Oh, and if you whine that sales will fall, bite me! I sold all matter of wines from Sangria to d’Yquem, and in the end, most people don’t care what’s in it as long as it tastes good. Personally, altering wine in this manner makes me sad, but it’s the way it is. I can support the wine makers I like, while others can support the ones I won’t. Just don’t try to come off as a great purist with some fancy slight of hand work behind the scenes. If your wine has more in common with Arbor Mist by the process you use than say La Tache, admit it, or change your practice!

Consumers: Demand disclosure, but be consistent. If Mega Purple users have to say they are using “dehydrated grape skins” to color their wines, then Zind Humbretch needs to tell me that he added a bit of sugar(and what kind) to his latest hundred dollar bottle. Don’t try to walk the line between what’s right to use and what’s not right to use. Throughout time this line has changed and don’t think it’s an easy one to nail down.

Just my two cents…let me know what you think,

Ryan Opaz

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