If you appreciate a glass or two of wine with some savory snacks after a long, productive day, then we have something in common.
Once one appreciates wine, it is natural to be curious about the complexities of wine origins, taste and enjoyment. Does the wine aroma have notes of chocolate? Fruit? Other pleasurable associations? Does the wine have a pleasurable feel in the mouth?
And important to know, does the wine have additives that may make one very sorry to have drunk the wine?
Adulterated wine is apparently an ancient hazard.
"Wine fraud is a form of fraud in which wines are adulterated, usually with the addition of cheaper products such as juices and sometimes with the addition of harmful chemicals and sweeteners to compensate in colour or flavour. Another form, is the substitution of labels, with cheap poor quality products sold under the labels of more expensive better wines.
As wine is technically defined as the product of fermented grape juice, the term "wine fraud" can be used to describe the adulteration of wine by substances that are not related to grapes. This can refer to the use of coloring agents such as elderberry juice, or flavorings such as cinnamon and ginger. While some varieties of wine can naturally have deep, dark color and flavor notes of spices due to the presence of various phenolic compounds found in the skin of the grapes, the use of additives in order to artificially create these characteristics is generally frowned upon in the wine world. In recent years, much attention has been focused on the label fraud, where counterfeit labels from cult wines and other rare and expensive wines are affixed to bottles of less expensive wine and then resold. Wine fraud can involve less expensive wines if they are sold in large volumes. Wine Spectator noted that some experts suspect that as much as 5% of the wine sold in secondary markets could be counterfeit....
Expensive and highly collectable wines such as the French Bordeaux wine from Château Pétrus are often the target of wine fraud
....For as long as wine has been made, wine has been manipulated, adulterated and counterfeited. In ancient Rome, Pliny the Elder complained about the abundance of fraudulent Roman wine which was so great that even the nobility could not be assured that the wine they were pouring on their table was genuine. For the poor and middle class of Rome, local bar establishments seemed to have an unlimited supply of the prestigious Falernian wine for unusually low prices....
One of the most dangerous forms of wine fraud is when producers use hazardous materials such as lead acetate, diethylene glycol and methanol to wine in order to increase sweetness. Some chemicals may be used to mask other wine faults and unpleasant aroma. Government authorities, such as the European Union and the American Food and Drug Administration, across the globe have set up laws and regulations of acceptable chemicals that can be added to wine in order to avoid some of the scandals that have plagued certain wine producing countries in the 20th century.
In 1985, diethylene glycol appeared to have been added as an adulterant by some Austrian producers of white wines to make them sweeter and upgrade the dry wines to sweet wines; production of sweet wines is expensive and addition of sugar is easy to detect. Fortunately, the amount added was not high enough to be toxic except at impossibly high (for most people) levels of consumption (one would have needed to ingest about 28 bottles per day for approximately two weeks in order to suffer fatal effects). Twenty-three people died in 1986 because a fraudulent winemaker in Italy blended toxic methanol (wood alcohol) into his low-alcohol wine to increase its alcohol content (emphasis mine)...."
One may wonder how dangerous lead acetate in wine has been.
"...Like other lead(II) salts, lead(II) acetate has a sweet taste, which has led to its use as a sugar substitute throughout history. The ancient Romans, who had few sweeteners besides honey, would boil must (grape juice) in lead pots to produce a reduced sugar syrup called defrutum, concentrated again into sapa. This syrup was used to sweeten wine and to sweeten and preserve fruit. It is possible that lead(II) acetate or other lead compounds leaching into the syrup might have caused lead poisoning in those who consumed it. Lead acetate is no longer used in the production of sweeteners in most of the world because of its recognized toxicity. Modern chemistry can easily detect it, which has all but stopped the illegal use that continued decades after legal use as a sweetener was banned.
Pope Clement II died in October 1047. A toxicologic examination of his remains conducted in the mid-20th century confirmed centuries-old rumors that he had been poisoned with lead sugar. It is not clear if he was assassinated.
In 1787 painter Albert Christoph Dies swallowed, by accident, approximately 0.75 ounces (21 g) of lead acetate. His recovery from this poison was slow and incomplete. He lived with illnesses until his death in 1822.
Although the use of lead(II) acetate as a sweetener was already illegal at that time, composer Ludwig van Beethoven may have died of lead poisoning caused by wines adulterated with lead acetate...." (End excerpt)
While some humans might go to a store's wine section and trust that the labels on the bottles of wine truthfully indicate what is in the bottle, I go to a store's wine section and wonder what the odds are that the bottle of wine advertised as delicious and on sale is actually adulterated wine that got shipped to the United States so those who adulterated the wine would have less liability.
So what is a solution?
Make your own wine!
While discussing winemaking with my neighbor, she read some recipes to me from a book owned by her English grandmother. Recipes to make wine from various fruits and vegetables were included under the term "country wine".
"Country wine" is a key term to search for if you want to make an alcoholic beverage out of whatever fruit or vegetable is currently in abundance. Apparently even sweet potatoes can be made into wine.
For those who know that the term wine is sometimes regulated and must indicate the fermented juice of grapes, you are correct.
Excerpts from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_wine:
"...Fruit wines are usually referred to by their main ingredient (e.g., plum wine or elderberry wine) because the usual definition of wine states that it is made from fermented grape juice.
In the European Union, wine is legally defined as the fermented juice of grapes.
In the United Kingdom, fruit wine is commonly called country wine; the term should not be conflated with the French term vin de pays, which is grape wine. In British legislation, the term made-wine is used....
List of fruits and plants used to make fruit wine
feijoa (pineapple guava)
Vegetables and roots
palm wine (toddy)..." (End excerpts)
If you are interested and have never made grape wine or country wine, the search for best information process can be tedious.
There are many websites for homebrewers.
The posters often specify using daunting amounts of chemicals of unknown long term effects for sanitizing, killing any wild yeast, nourishing an added yeast, etc.. Many advocate using plastic buckets which are purportedly food safe for brewing. Some advocate using ceramic containers without explaining how to determine if the glaze is safe for fermentation.
Happily, there are some dissenting views.
One of my favorite views on the process is that of Nigel Deacon:
"...Most wine books are based on other wine books. They show little originality, and are badly out of date.... The odd way in which wine books are written probably accounts in part for the decline of home winemaking.
These notes are based on practical experience of winemaking over the period 1985-2008. No commercial winemaking book has been consulted...."
Ahh. Based on practical experience.
Most refreshing after slogging through the volumes of writings on how to ferment fruit.
Further evidence that country wine fermentation can be simple is found in the many country wine recipes in Housekeeping In Old Virginia (1879). Many of the recipes consist of mash the fruit, add sugar and water and let ferment:
Since I am now in Day 9 of primary fermentation of my Blueberry Wine Experiment #1, the simplicity of the above recipes is reassuring.
Please feel free to add relevant information.