The one thing we know about wine is it is filled with complicated terms. There are many complex terms, from primary and secondary fermentation to frizzante and spumante.
One of these terms is chaptalization. Luckily, you no longer have to be confused about chaptalization after reading this blog post.
What is Chaptalization?
In short, chaptalization involves adding sugar to grape juice before or while it is fermented. The sugar is added to increase the alcohol levels of the final product. Chaptalization is also known as enrichment, sugaring, or amelioration.
The theory is that yeast ingests sugar to generate alcohol. Therefore, the additional sugar means the yeast has more sugar to chow down on, ultimately increasing the alcohol levels in the finished product.
Chaptalization was named after Jean-Antoine Chaptal. Chaptal is not to be confused with the inventor Jean-Antoine Chaptal. This particular technique was named after Napoleon’s minister of agriculture, who played a pivotal role in the popularity of chaptalization.
Chaptalization occurred before the 19th century. In fact, the practice may have been around during Roma times. In these days, adding honey to the wine must be a widespread practice.
However, the Romans did not understand the inner workings of chaptalization completely. Nevertheless, they recognized a good thing when they tasted it, which is probably the reason why the practice continued and kept evolving to what it is today.
Chaptalization was popular in France for several years until 1907. In 1907 winemakers began to protest chaptalization.
At the peak of this protest, 900,000 individuals mobilized and protested the practice. Unfortunately, an overflow of inexpensive wines emerged and decreased the price of wines.
These inexpensive wines were produced from low-quality fruits. The fruits were also chaptalized to increase the alcohol content of the wine. After things got out of hand, the French Army was summoned, escalating things further.
5 people died and a local government building was burned the next day. All of this mayhem led to the French government putting stipulations in place to standardize how much sugar could be added during chaptalization.
What Kind of Sugar is Used in Chaptalization?
Most wine producers use cane sugar. However, beet sugar and corn syrup are also popular ingredients in chaptalization.
Brown sugar is illegal. However, there are still fans of adding brown sugar to wine because it adds a molasses caramel-like tone to the final product.
Is Sugar Wine Legal?
Whether or not chaptalization or not is legal or not depends on the region. For example, chaptalization is illegal in California, but it is legal in colder parts of the U.S, like New York and Oregon. Chaptalization is also illegal in Australia, Greece, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina.
In addition to this, chaptalization is also legal in Europe, Canada, China, Champagne, Germany, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. While everyone may not agree with chaptalization, it can be helpful during cooler years when grapes are not as ripe as they usually are for winemaking.
However, in Europe, the European Union determines how much sugar can be added to wine depending on where they are cultivated. These limits can range between 1.5% to 3% increase in alcohol via chaptalization.
Can You Taste Chaptalization?
Chaptalization does not add a sweet flavor to the wine. It only increases the alcohol content. Unfortunately, this increase in alcohol content is not something you can taste.
Nevertheless, some wine tasting experts believe that chaptalized wines are not as complex and have an extremely acidic flavor because they are produced from under-ripe grapes.
The alcohol produced by chaptalization gives the wine much of its body. It gives it some viscosity and helps give it a rich flavor.
How Do You Know If Wine Is Chaptalized?
There are no rules that require capitalization to be mentioned on the label. If there were requirements, many famous wines would use chaptalization to make their wine taste better.
Nevertheless, natural wines that do not contain any additives or those that contain sulfur additives are the only wines that are not chaptalized.
Capitalization is not as complicated as it seems. It does not sweeten the wine. It simply involves adding sugar to increase the wine’s alcohol content. It creates more food for the yeast and creates a more robust end product.