Winebits 539: Pepsi Challenge, wine scores, wine production

Pepsi challengeThis weeks wine news: The Pepsi Challenge and how it applies to wine, plus more math criticizing wine scores and a drop in global wine production

Sugar and wine: Jameson Fink recalls the Pepsi Challenge, and how a sweeter soft drink lends insight into the role of sugar in wine. Fink attended a big-time red wine tasting and found that the wines he wanted to like were not the wines he did like, and that sugar made the difference: “But after tasting all these big, tannic wines. … sweetness and fruit was a relief…and made it stand out.” In other words, sugar is a winemaking tool just like anything else. I learned that lesson years ago, watching a winemaker school a younger colleague. He took a sugar packet from a restaurant table, tore it open, and added a pinch to the glass of wine in front of him. The difference was astounding; a bitter and off-putting wine had become drinkable, but not sweet. Shameless plug: I discuss this in more detail in the cheap wine book.

Unreliable scores? Dwight Furrow, writing on Edible Arts, takes wine scores to task, decrying the myth of an “objective” score. Scores “are useful in assessing how much a critic enjoyed the wine. But they mean nothing more than that,” he wrote. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Furrow’s piece is worth reading, if a little dense at times, since he emphasizes that “a wine score is an invitation to try the wine, not a data point in a competition.”

Wine production slump: Global wine output fell to its lowest level in 60 years in 2017, reports the Reuters news service. Production was down almost nine percent from 2016, and the story blames poor weather in Europe. But it’s also part of a longer trend, as European producers keep pulling out vines in the wake reduced consumption in France, Spain, and Italy. And please don’t believe all the scare mongering about wine prices in the wake of this news; world production and consumption are mostly level, so price increases won’t have anything to do with a smaller supply of wine.

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