Food & Wine Thursdays: The Half-Truths of Spoofulated Wine

Spoofulation is a term used in geekier wine circles as a general catch-all for the processes that create overly manipulated wine devoid of any sense of place or distinctiveness. In the United States, there are numerous legal ways to doctor wine: grape juice concentrate can be added to increase sweetness; concentrated grape color can be added to darken a red wine’s hue; powdered grape tannins can be added to, well, increase tannin; oak chips can be used as an inexpensive alternative to aging wine in costly new oak barrels; overly alcoholic wine can be watered down and you can add acids to wines that are overly sweet and flabby. The general purpose of spoofulation is to produce a homogeneous product that achieves consistency at a production level that general renders consistency impossible without such manipulation.

Some of those in the “natural wine movement” have, unfortunately and to their discredit, sought to group all wines above certain alcohol level (for argument’s sake, let’s say 14% abv) or with a tangible oak presence or with actual ripe fruit flavors as comrades in spoofulation. As a former believer in that myself, I can say that that generalization is wholly unfair.

What if I were to tell you that you can harvest some Cabernet Franc at 22 degrees brix (a measure of a grape’s sugar content as percentage of its weight and therefore a reasonable gauge of how alcoholic the juice from that grape might become. 22 brix is widely considered average for red wines with brix levels over 24 regarded as the starting point for high-octane juice), naturally ferment it with native yeasts and still achieve an alcohol level pushing 16%? Such wines can and do exist (mostly from the hotter inland pockets of the California Central Coast) and they’re just as natural as anything coming out of Minervois or Mendocino County. These wines are delicious and well-balanced, retain plenty of acidity, and taste less alcoholic than lesser wines at 14% abv.

Because thatĀ isthe terroir of the Central Coast. The grape varietals grown there and the warm climate produce full-bodied wines and there’s no way around that. Or, rather, the only way is to water the wine down, but I hope that would be anathema to any natural wine purist. If such bold wines can be produced without spoofulation, or even without deliberately letting grapes hang on the vine into overripeness, isn’t the debate over alcohol levels in wine as a measure of their natural/unnatural-ness an irrelevant one? Just because it doesn’t smell like the armpit of a Sardinian fishwife, doesn’t mean it isn’t a natural, honest wine.

For far more technical details about ripeness in viticulture, check out this Wikipedia article.

And for just one example of high-octane natural(ish) wine, check out Field Recordings Winery which, in the interest of transparency, I would be remiss not to disclose that I do sales work for them.

About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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3 Responses to Food & Wine Thursdays: The Half-Truths of Spoofulated Wine

  1. Can you explain the conversion factor of 22 brix -> 16 percent abv. I thought the expected conversion factor range was .55 – .64. I know that there are super yeasts capable of fermenting out to 18 abv.

    • David D. says:

      Well, I’m taking the wine maker’s word here. Andrew Jones’ Field Recordings Three Canyon Paso Robles Cabernet Franc is clocked at 15.9% ABV and he records an average brix of 22 degrees on the label. I actually asked Andrew directly and he said he always labels toward the high side for his alcohol listing.. The cab franc also came from three different harvests, I believe, and that was the average brix reading. Perhaps one of the three came in significantly higher and upped the alcohol? It’s also naturally fermented, so perhaps there’s some particularly efficient east side Paso yeast?

  2. If you were to tell me that you could harvest cab franc at 22 brix and make a wine at 16% alcohol, I’d say you should stop chaptalizing or maybe invest in a humidifier in your cellar.

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