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Mega Purple, explained

“Mega Purple” is a grape juice concentrate that has become somewhat controversial in the world of winemaking. Here are some details:

  1. Composition: Mega Purple is made from a variety of grape called Rubired, which is a teinturier grape. Teinturier grapes have red flesh (as opposed to the clear flesh found in most red grape varieties), which means they can produce particularly deep, intensely colored juice.
  2. Uses: The primary use of Mega Purple in winemaking is to intensify the color of red wines. It’s often used in inexpensive wines, but there are claims that it can be found in higher-end bottles as well. In addition to its color-enhancing properties, Mega Purple can add sweetness and smooth out some flavors, given its concentrated sugar and fruit content.
  3. Controversy: The use of additives like Mega Purple is controversial for several reasons. Traditionalists argue that such additives interfere with the authentic expression of terroir – the unique combination of soil, climate, and other environmental factors that give a wine its character. Additionally, there’s a perception that using Mega Purple is a way to “mask” flaws or inconsistencies in wines. Critics say it can make wines taste more generic, erasing subtle differences between them.
  4. Disclosure: Many winemakers do not disclose the use of Mega Purple, which has added to the controversy. While it’s legal to use it in winemaking in many regions, the lack of transparency has led to debates about whether its use should be indicated on wine labels.
  5. Availability: Mega Purple and similar concentrates are produced by a few large agribusiness firms. While they’re not typically available to the average consumer, they are sold in bulk to the wine industry.

In summary, Mega Purple is just one of several tools in a winemaker’s toolkit. Like any other tool, it can be used judiciously or abused, depending on the intentions of the winemaker. Some argue that it’s simply a means of achieving consistency in a product, especially at lower price points, while others believe it detracts from the authenticity and quality of the wine.

Is Mega Purple the only wine additive?

No, Mega Purple is just one of many additives and processing aids that can be used in winemaking. The wine industry, like many food and beverage sectors, uses a variety of products to achieve desired outcomes in the final product. Here are some other additives and agents that might be used in winemaking:

  1. Fining Agents: These are substances used to clarify wines by binding to unwanted particles, which can then be easily removed. Common fining agents include egg whites (albumin), isinglass (from fish bladders), bentonite (a type of clay), and casein (a milk protein).
  2. Tannin Additives: Tannins can be added to wine to modify its structure or to add perceived complexity. They can be derived from various sources like oak chips, grape skins, or even commercial tannin powders.
  3. Acid Adjusters: Wines that are too low in acidity might have tartaric, malic, or citric acid added to them to balance the flavor. Conversely, if a wine is too acidic, potassium bicarbonate or calcium carbonate might be used to reduce acidity.
  4. Yeast Nutrients: These are added to ensure that the fermentation proceeds efficiently. They provide essential nutrients to the yeast, which can prevent stuck fermentations.
  5. Sugars: In some regions, it’s permitted to add sugar to grape must (the crushed grape mixture) to increase the potential alcohol of a wine, a process known as chaptalization.
  6. SO2 (Sulfur Dioxide): This is probably the most well-known wine additive. It acts as an antioxidant and preservative, helping to protect wine from spoilage organisms and oxidation.
  7. Other Coloring Agents: Apart from Mega Purple, there are other color concentrates like Mega Red or even elderberry juice, which can be used to enhance the color of wines.
  8. Yeast: While yeast is natural and essential for fermentation, many winemakers use commercially cultivated yeast strains rather than relying solely on wild yeast.
  9. Malolactic Bacteria: These bacteria are sometimes added to initiate malolactic fermentation, which converts harsher malic acid to softer lactic acid, giving wine a creamier texture.
  10. Oak Alternatives: Instead of aging wine in oak barrels, which can be expensive, some winemakers use oak chips, staves, or powders to impart oak flavors to the wine.
  11. Enzymes: These can be used to enhance color extraction, improve clarity, or help in breaking down pectins during fermentation.
  12. Stabilizers: Agents like potassium sorbate may be added to sweet wines to prevent refermentation in the bottle.

It’s important to note that the use of many of these additives is regulated by laws that vary from one country or region to another. The level of transparency around the use of these additives also varies, but many consumers and wine professionals are calling for more transparency in winemaking practices.

Does Caymus use Mega Purple?

there’s no public confirmation from Caymus Vineyards regarding the use of Mega Purple or similar concentrates in their wines. Caymus Vineyards is a well-known and respected winery in Napa Valley, producing some iconic Cabernet Sauvignons among other wines.

The discussion around Mega Purple and its potential use by various wineries is somewhat controversial, and many accusations or suggestions are based on speculation. It’s crucial to rely on verified information when making claims about specific wineries or their practices.

How to detect mega purple in wine

Detecting Mega Purple or similar concentrates in wine can be challenging, especially for the average consumer. These concentrates are designed to seamlessly integrate with wines, enhancing color and sometimes sweetness without dramatically altering the overall profile. Here are a few approaches to consider, though none are foolproof:

  1. Visual Inspection: Wines with added color concentrates might appear unnaturally deep or intensely colored. This is especially suspect in wines that traditionally have a lighter hue. However, this method is not definitive, as many factors influence a wine’s color, including grape variety, age, and vinification techniques.
  2. Taste: Wines with Mega Purple might have a pronounced jammy or candied fruit flavor. Some tasters also describe a certain “slickness” on the palate. But again, discerning this requires a refined palate and experience with a wide range of wines.
  3. Lab Analysis: This is the most definitive method. A lab can analyze a wine’s anthocyanin profile (natural pigments in grape skins) to detect inconsistencies or patterns that might suggest the addition of color concentrates. However, this method is costly, time-consuming, and not readily accessible to the average consumer.
  4. Transparency from Producers: Some wineries are forthright about their winemaking processes and will disclose the use of additives. If in doubt, consumers can contact the producer directly with inquiries.
  5. Educated Guess: Those with extensive wine tasting experience might be able to make an educated guess based on the wine’s color, aroma, and taste, especially if they are familiar with the typical characteristics of the varietal or region in question. However, this is still speculative.

It’s worth noting that while Mega Purple and similar additives can be contentious among wine enthusiasts and purists, their use is legal (within certain guidelines) in many winemaking regions. Whether or not their use should be disclosed on labels is a matter of ongoing debate.


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