There’s a lot of wine in the world and some of it not very good, this really isn’t trying to be cynical or aloof, it’s real life student experience, on the front lines! However, as one becomes more interested in wine beyond the effects of alcohol, you strive to drink the best wine you can get your greedy paws on, and the more you limit yourself. Such is the curse of standards: once raised, they are difficult to lower. It is not often we tell someone to lower their standards, but in the case of wine, you’re probably doing yourself a favour (financially). Sometimes, though, strange wines are produced that fall into the category of “fun” or “experimentation” and to condemn them would be to take them far too seriously than was ever intended.
I recently had the displeasure of drinking a “chocolate wine”. Before eyes start to roll, it was not a chocolate pinotage nor the metropolitan “Chocolate Block”, but chocolate additive added to something that may have once been wine. As a child, I imagine I never put a thought to it, but if I had to, I would likely have never paired displeasure and chocolate in a single sentence and as a winemaker that same dogma can be restated with wine instead of chocolate. When I voiced my opinion I was retorted by a fellow taster: “As a winemaker shouldn’t you like like all wines?” – the question was posed in condescending manner, which after explaining a casual portion of French wine legislation, I definitely deserved. Having a plethora of useless knowledge, I was primed and ready to shoot back and explain how it was not technically wine (thank you, SAWIS) but for fear of murdering the conversation, I avoided dipping into a second country’s wine legislation.
To return to the point, as soon as we have something great – like wine, which anyone reading this, presumably agrees – people start playing around with it, trying to make something they think is better. For instance, I enjoy Coca Cola, and really never thought it needed a vanilla tinge, perhaps the marketing team thought milkshake-soft drink hybrids were the next big thing, who knows?
Nothing is sacred anymore, but we still try and pretend it is anyway, and shun the things that taint our original, pure product. The irony is, in an industry striving to be purist (on the elite level) “nasty” chemicals are slowly becoming frowned upon, yet adding concentrated green pepper or letting tea leaves lie in the wine is outright blasphemy. Personally, I actually have no problem with the system the way it is, sulphur has unquestionable further benefits besides the characteristics it undoubtedly creates (or retains) in wines and I don’t need anyone putting vegetables in my wine, especially artichokes, but it certainly is curious the way additives are cherry picked, and no real line seems to be drawn as to the degree of effect they may have on the wine before they become a “flavourant”.
When one thinks about the direction wine is headed, it’s not easy to give a one-size-fits-all answer, as wine exists on so many different levels of quality and intent. A bit of fun here and there benefits everyone and sells very well, which is good news for a tough industry. The fact is that not everyone will appreciate the subtle integration of red berry flavours in a aged Cabernet, as much they might in a bottle of Strawberry Lips, so even if it may be sacrilege to put chocolate in wine, if it makes someone happy, it may be for the good of the industry.