This is not a term you’ll find in the wine magazines or in any other of the Winestream Media. For one thing, their eyes roll around in their heads like the high school kids in the “Porky’s” shower scene when they taste tarted up wines (and speaks to the number of old white guys who write about wine). For another, it’s something that too many wineries are embracing — including those who know better — in reaction to the recession, increased competition, and the mistaken impression consumers want these wines.
In this, a tarted up wine is exactly what it sounds like, and this definition of tarted up from the Urban Dictionary is spot on:
If you’re going out, most likely to get laid, you get “all tarted up” — in other words, get dressed up, put your best clothes on, wear very few clothes.
A tarted up wine is dressed to sell, which means that it has been stripped of all character save one — lots of sweet fruit flavor, which is often reinforced by adding grape juice concentrate or the dreaded MegaPurple concentrate. This is perfectly legal and very common, and especially in cheap wine (though it’s not unusual in expensive ones, either). The sweet fruit covers up a variety of winemaking flaws and poor quality grapes because it makes the wine taste sweet, even if it’s dry. And since the sweet fruit overwhelms the tannins and acid, it gives the impression that the wine is “smooth” — the ultimate goal of every consumer wine tasting focus group.
The term has its roots in Randall Grahm’s writing; the Bonny Doon impresario has long argued that some wines are made the way plastic surgeons enhance women’s breasts — the more jiggle the better. Peter Bell, the winemaker at New York’s Fox Run Vineyards, also helped me figure this out during a long morning judging grocery store zinfandels, sharing his expertise on the technical skills needed to turn wine into Kool-Aid-style wine coolers.