[Billet vins] Do you know what you drink?

If you’re reading this column, it’s because you’re drinking wine, not a glass of milk. As Gabin so aptly said: “I will drink milk when the cows eat grapes!” »

So yes, wine. But what exactly does this glass of wine contain? This is what Pascaline Lepeltier, emeritus sommelier, restaurateur, author and ex-candidate for the 2023 world’s best sommelier competition, where she recently ranked fourth, comments on, among other subjects.

This lady is above all an intense and passionate woman, of pleasant commerce, of boundless curiosity and whose work A thousand vines. Thinking about the wine of tomorrow (Hachette Vins) is a real Ali Baba’s cave of information, observations and points of view brought to light with rigor coupled with undeniable professionalism. A reference book for those who have done their classes, but which will also instruct this new generation which has since turned its back on the glass of milk to better dive into the wine of tomorrow.

To put it simply: a more than relevant sequel to the works of the great Émile Peynaud (The taste of wine, Knowledge and work of wine or The wine and the daysall published by Dunod editions), which have so far served me personally as a bottle.

One of the chapters of this book comes at just the right time. It intersects precisely with this question that torments many of you, namely what is in the glass of wine you drink. Idealists will only see the result of a fermented grape juice, good for them. Chemists will detect in it a cocktail of elements which, without being harmful to health (although…), hides a reality that advances in modern oenology push back even further. The empirical know-how of initiates leaning over their vats, like sorcerers repeating the same gestures without understanding their deep meaning, gives way today to an “à la carte” oenological science which, transposed on a literary level, would approach from ChatGPT.

But, asks Pascaline Lepeltier, wouldn’t this oenology denature the wine by resorting to ever more advanced technologies? “It is technically capable today of changing the molecular composition of wine, of extracting constituents from it, of bringing them together as it pleases to guarantee consistency and compensate for variations in an agro-industrial logic. It can also resort to an increasing number of exogenous products. »

Rest assured all the same. There is a code of oenological practices regularly updated by the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine), a serious organization, which offers a binding list of 102 products reviewed by experts of all kinds.

But, as Pascaline Lepeltier rightly points out, “while wine is one of the most controlled food products, from its production to its marketing and consumption since 1889 and the Griffe law, it is paradoxically one of the few that escapes labeling of its ingredients. Only nine mentions are mandatory, including among others the degree of alcohol by volume, the origin, the presence of allergens (sulphites, milk, egg) and the volume.

For the rest, the back label would require a QR code to collect the entire list of all the ingredients contained in your bottle of wine, especially if reference is made to so-called “conventional” or high environmental value (HVE) practices. So diammonium phosphate, potassium polyaspartate, gum arabic, thiamine dihydrochloride, copper citrate, beta-glucanases, ovalbumin and other yeast protein extracts are just the tip of the pipette emerging from the lightning containing a list of ingredients for you make your hair stand on end with your own taste buds.

Does this mean that organic wine is more Catholic than the Pope? Not in his cruets, at least. Of course, the doses of sulfur dioxide allowed here are respectively 100 milligrams per liter (mg/l) for reds and 150 mg/l for whites (against less than 30 mg/l for natural wine), but the list citing other inputs – even authorized ones – is also particularly generous.

Organic is not without flaws either. For example, a property which claims organic, but whose plots adjoin a vineyard treated as “conventional” or which drives galvanized iron rods into the ground (instead of acacia stakes) slowly but surely diffusing underground heavy metals (not the least of which is arsenic), is it in this sense above all health suspicions? We must not drink everything we believe. Even if we don’t know everything we drink.

Grab while there’s some left!

A thousand vines. Thinking about the wine of tomorrow

Pascaline Lepeltier, Practical Hachette, 360 pages, 2023

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