Wine Savvy on September 30, 2014 29 Comments You’ve heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.” When it comes to wine, with a bit of a twist — don’t judge a bottle by its label — the same principle applies. Alluring graphics and clever packaging aside, wine labels can often be misleading. Although they list important facts like grape varieties, region and alcohol content, unlike the food industry, wine producers aren’t required by any governing body or law to list the actual ingredients that make it inside the bottle on the outside. But isn’t wine just fermented grapes, you ask? Essentially, yes, but hold on to your barstool my dearly duped friend. In its most raw state, wine is nature’s best miracle. Grapes alone contain everything they need to transform into a glass of vino. Leave a vat of grapes in a container over time, and eventually the yeasts from the skins will work to convert the fruit’s sugary juices into alcohol. The end product is a delectable libation that’s been sipped and swirled throughout the centuries by oenophiles and armchair aficionados alike. Nowadays, few wines are still made with that simple process. To start, vintners have found inventive ways to manipulate the terroir and have made it both an art form and a science to control the way each tiny fruit matures on the vines. On top of that, modern winemakers have poured their lives into finding inventive ways to craft unique recipes by isolating aromas, manipulating specific flavors, and exploring different textures to create some truly remarkable wines. Aside from grapes, patience and passion, here are the top ingredients you may not have known were swirling around your wine glass. 1. Potassium Sorbate & Potassium Metabisulfite Both potassium sorbate and potassium metabisulfite are used as a protector in the winemaking process to ward off bacteria and prevent the yeast from spoiling. These ingredients are ideal to use together during the fermentation process, as they give the yeast a better opportunity to ferment efficiently, help prevent micro-organisms from spoiling your wine and improve the overall flavor while inhibiting enzymatic browning in white wines. 2. Calcium Carbonate Calcium carbonate is commonly used in the winemaking process to reduce the acidity of the final product. Typically, a vintner will add this ingredient before or at the beginning of fermentation, because it is less likely to affect the aroma of your wine. It is not unusual for calcium carbonate to be added when the grapes are having trouble ripening due to the climate in which they were grown. 3. Sulfur Dioxide As one of the most common additives in wine, you probably refer to Sulfur Dioxide (SO₂) as “Sulfites.” Acting as an antioxidant and antibiotic, Sulfur Dioxide is commonly used to preserve the grapes, stabilize the wine and prevent oxidation during the winemaking process. It is also commonly used to help sanitize barrels and other winemaking equipment. 4. Sugar You may think this one was a given since grapes themselves contain sugar, but oftentimes winemakers add even more sugar to the mix to help boost the alcohol content in their product. Known as chaptalization, adding sugar to wine is mainly done to assist the yeast in the fermentation process. Very few winemakers add sugar to sweeten the wine. Adding sugar to wine is often used in cooler climates where grapes aren’t able to ripen fully before harvest. 5. Grape Juice Concentrate Street names include Mega Purple and Ultra Red, but those menacing sounding names are really just types of a thick concentrate derived from Teinturer grapes. These wine boosters make the color of the red wine more intense while adding a bit of extra sugar to smooth out the mouth feel and make the wine taste a bit more velvety. 6. Water Yes, turns out it’s true that some wine may actually be “watered-down,” but it may not be for reasons you think. Never used as a ploy to fill a bottle, adding water is done early in the winemaking process to bring down high alcohol levels and even out a wine’s balance. 7. Flavors Oak has been used since the beginning of wine making to flavor a wine with strong notes of vanilla (like the flavors found in American oak barrels) or balance undertones of subtle spices (like those found in French oak barrels). Since only a small portion of the wine actually comes in contact with the barrel, many winemakers have taken to adding oak chips, powders or staves to a wine to evenly distribute those subtle flavors (i.e., leather, roasted marshmallow, cinnamon, cloves, etc.) before being strained out after fermentation. 8. Powdered Tannins Tannins are found in the skins of the grape, and can add complexity to wine. The catch can be a bit tricky to manage between crushing, macerations, maturation, climate changes, and more that occurs during the winemaking process. Powdered tannins (a.k.a. oenological tannins) have been used to help add bitterness or balance out the wine early in the vinification process to help boost grapes particularly grown in the warmer regions of the world. 9. Yeast In wine making, yeast is the key ingredient that separates a glass of wine from a glass of grape juice. When oxygen is withheld from the grapes early on in the process, it’s the yeast that works to convert sugars into alcohol. 10. Non-Vegan Materials Although these fining agents and clarifiers aren’t used in all wines, they mainly appear in the organic wine segments or by artisan winemakers who are opposed to adding enzymes. Some of these materials include fish bladders, egg whites, bentonite clay, mammal proteins and plastics. Luckily, all are filtered out before the bottling begins. Even though wrapping your head around the label that’s wrapped around the bottle may seem daunting — and a little “spins” inducing in itself — a bit of knowledge and research as well as plenty of taste-testing will go a long way in helping you learn what ingredients and flavors you enjoy most in your wine. Cheers!