The place for all things wine, focused on serious wine discussions.
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

20309

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 13, 2018 1:42 pm

(From this week's [30 Second Wine Advisor)

Don’t water that wine!

Sometimes I try an experiment just so you don't have to. Take Howard McGee's riff on adding water to fine-tune the flavors of wines and spirits, for example.

Thanks to the miracles of social media optimization, McGee's July 2010 Curious Cook article in The New York Times, "To Enhance Flavor, Just Add Water," just popped up on my screen again. I may have missed it the first time around, but it definitely caught my attention eight years later.

When McGee talks about food and drink, I listen. His magisterial, 895-page "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen," an encyclopedic but approachable guide to food science, has been on my bookshelf for years and gets lots of use. (Buy it at this Amazon.com link and we’ll earn a small commission at WineLoversPage.com.)

But this article made me wonder, when he declared that adding water – yes, water – to spirits, wine, even coffee, can make them taste better. I can see it with spirits, sort of, knowing that a splash of water in a glass of liquor can cut the alcoholic heat a bit and spread out the flavors on one's palate. But watering wine or liquor on the sly has a long and unsavory history; the practice was known to lead to gunfights in Old West saloons.

Still, McGee was persuasive, as he usually is. "Water is indeed a useful flavor enhancer, exactly because it dilutes other ingredients and can change their balance for the better," he wrote, following up with an observation that spoke directly to my personal low regard for overly alcoholic monster wines: "It's no secret that the alcohol in drinks can get in the way of our enjoying their flavors. When alcohol makes up more than 10 to 12 percent of a liquid's volume, we begin to notice its irritating, pungent effects in the mouth and in the nose."

Why, yes. Yes, we do. Or I do, anyway. You've seen me rant about this before, blaming a combination of warming climate and the taste buds of American critics for a gradual, continuing increase in the typical alcohol levels of wines, particularly reds.

Adding a little water can help, McGee claimed, explaining the hypothesis in clear science:

How can water reduce one sensation and amplify another? Both alcohol and aroma molecules are volatile, meaning they evaporate from foods and drinks and are carried by the air to the odor receptors high up in the nasal cavity.

Aroma molecules are also more chemically similar to alcohol molecules than they are to water, so they tend to cling to alcohol, and are quicker to evaporate out of a drink when there's less alcohol to cling to.

This means that the more alcoholic a drink is, the more it cloisters its aroma molecules, and the less aroma it releases into the air. Add water and there's less alcohol to irritate and burn, and more aroma release.


Sounds good, doesn't it? Of course I had to try it. A quick trip to my neighborhood wine shop, The Wine Rack, unearthed a highly regarded single-vineyard Argentine Malbec, Ricardo Santos 2016 "El Malbec" La Madras Vineyard Mendoza Malbec, with "14%" printed in the usual tiny type on the label. Upon tasting, it lived up to the claim and then some. From its impression of alcoholic heat on the palate, I'd have guessed it exceeded the label claim by a good margin. To its credit, it tasted good, showing fresh plums and blackberries and intriguing minerally terroir. The alcoholic edge carried an almost liquorish burn, though, so it seemed like a good candidate for a splash of water.

Alas, though it hurts me to push back against as lofty a figure as Harold McGee, it just didn't work for me, not with this wine. A water dose amounting to one-fourth of the wine, as he recommended, just made the wine seem dilute. Sadly, even a smaller splash in another glass did not improve the wine; if anything, the result diluted the fruit more than the oak, making the wine unbalanced.

I might try this again some day with another high-octane wine. Or not.

How about you? Have you ever tried adding a little water to a high-alcohol wine? How did it work out?
User avatar
User

Bill Spohn

Rank

He put the 'bar' in 'barrister'

Posts

6100

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:31 pm

Location

Vancouver BC

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Bill Spohn » Fri Jul 13, 2018 1:53 pm

When I do single malt tastings I always supply everyone with an eyedropper and glass of water. Even a few drops of water in 1 ounce of Scotch can have a profound effect. Don't think 'll be watering my wine any time soon, though.
User avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

32593

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Jenise » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:15 pm

Sorry: he's right.

Now I didn't realize that old Hal was a proponent of this, in fact I had never heard of anyone putting water in wine until one warm evening when I was sitting outside with a glass of wine and my usual chaser of ice water. The wine was from a local winemaker who favors a rather rich, reductive style and leaves each vintage in barrel about a year later longer than anyone else would. It had no technical flaws, it was just so strong and cloying, I just couldn't drink it.

I was about to dump it on the rhodos when it occurred to me to try dilution. I can promise you that I didn't go as far as 25%, but a mere tablespoon or so worked magic. I couldn't believe it was the same wine, and the effect was greater than mere dilution. It didn't taste diluted, but it was lighter, brighter, and more detailed. In my glass was a wine I could actually enjoy, and we were able to finish the bottle. It was as if it had been drugged asleep and was now fully awake. I've employed that technique more than once since.

I also came here and posted about it and basically got the equivalent of doubtful stares.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
User avatar
User

Bill Spohn

Rank

He put the 'bar' in 'barrister'

Posts

6100

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:31 pm

Location

Vancouver BC

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Bill Spohn » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:18 pm

Malt that requires a soupcon of water is done by design.

Wine that has to be watered to be palatable bespeaks winemaker incompetence.

IMHO.
User avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

32593

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Jenise » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:22 pm

Bill Spohn wrote:Malt that requires a soupcon of water is done by design.

Wine that has to be watered to be palatable bespeaks winemaker incompetence.

IMHO.


He makes the wine he likes, is all I can say, and he has a huge following. He's not trying to make the kind of wine you and I prefer.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
User avatar
User

Bill Spohn

Rank

He put the 'bar' in 'barrister'

Posts

6100

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:31 pm

Location

Vancouver BC

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Bill Spohn » Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:26 pm

Lots of people make wine that I don't like. Some of them make wine that just about no one likes! Their prerogative, and their loss of my money.

I daresay there quite a few wines out there that would benefit from a little added sugar or acid, too. Not my job to fix the mistakes of winemakers, though. I carry a corkscrew and glass, not a chemistry set.
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

20309

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:30 pm

Jenise wrote:Sorry: he's right. ...

Let's say he was right about the wine you tried. It didn't work with the Santos Malbec, though, and it was pretty easy to tell why: The water diluted the fruit more than it diluted the oaky spice, so the watered wine ended up as an unbalanced oak bomb. With lower alcohol, yeah, but the brute-force alcohol reduction created a less interesting wine.

Conclusion: It can work, but it doesn't always work.
User avatar
User

richard.peck

Rank

Just got here

Posts

1

Joined

Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:23 pm

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by richard.peck » Fri Jul 13, 2018 4:08 pm

Robin Garr wrote:(From this week's [30 Second Wine Advisor)

. . . How about you? Have you ever tried adding a little water to a high-alcohol wine? How did it work out?


Yes, I've tried adding water and it worked out well. Here's how it happened.

Years ago, when Sarah and Sparky Marquis were still together and doing U.S. promotional tours, I attended one of Mollydooker's "blending exercises." If you know the Mollydooker approach to life, these exercises were fun. Unlike a more traditional blending exercise, however (where one might combine various percentages of Bordeaux varietals to simulate a left- or right-bank blend), the Mollydooker event involved blending three of their finished wines, all in the mid-15% to 16% alcohol range.

The event was attended by roughly 100 wine enthusiasts seated at tables of 8-10. The challenge was for each table to try several combinations of the three finished wines—say, 40% #1, 35% #2, 25% #3, and then repeat using different percentages. After several tries, each participant tasted their table-mates' blends and voted to determine the best blend at their table.

Since I find alcohol out of balance (just one person's palate) in many 15-16% wines, I added 20% water. When all the blends at our table were blind tasted before any of us revealed our percentages, the watered blend was voted best.

As your exchange with Jenise suggests, watering is probably a dice throw? Its success probably depends on both the base wine and the taster's definition/sense of balance. Still, I haven't forgotten this experience because Mollydooker enthusiasts are by definition fans of big reds. By the vote at our table, at least, the watered wine showed better.

By the way, at the end of the room, Sparky polled each table to find out the percentages of their best blend. When ours was announced, he was very gracious and even stopped by later to chat.
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

20309

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Robin Garr » Fri Jul 13, 2018 7:37 pm

Richard, great story! Thanks for dropping in to share it. I hope you won't be a stranger now that you've found your way here.
User avatar
User

David M. Bueker

Rank

Riesling Guru

Posts

27490

Joined

Thu Mar 23, 2006 12:52 pm

Location

Connecticut

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by David M. Bueker » Fri Jul 13, 2018 9:21 pm

Seems like something worth trying with Turley Zins.

Welcome Richard!
Democracy dies in the darkness
User avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

32593

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Jenise » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:02 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Jenise wrote:Sorry: he's right. ...

Let's say he was right about the wine you tried. It didn't work with the Santos Malbec, though, and it was pretty easy to tell why: The water diluted the fruit more than it diluted the oaky spice, so the watered wine ended up as an unbalanced oak bomb. With lower alcohol, yeah, but the brute-force alcohol reduction created a less interesting wine.

Conclusion: It can work, but it doesn't always work.


I would agree with your last statement, but your choice of titles suggests that you didn't conclude that at all.

Here's the thread on a wine I added water to (includes an interesting discussion):

viewtopic.php?f=3&t=57583&p=456630&hilit=water+wine#p456630
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
User avatar
User

Peter May

Rank

Pinotage Advocate

Posts

2905

Joined

Mon Mar 20, 2006 12:24 pm

Location

Snorbens, England

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Peter May » Sat Jul 14, 2018 7:41 am

Which water?

Not our very hard tap water, certainly.

Regarding whisky... that already has water added to dilute it down to 40%abv. I don't add any more.
User avatar
User

Bill Spohn

Rank

He put the 'bar' in 'barrister'

Posts

6100

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 8:31 pm

Location

Vancouver BC

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Bill Spohn » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:29 am

Peter, that's why we do tastings. Most cask strength malts need some water; only some 40% malts benefit and when they do it isn't necessarily because the tiny bit of water reduces heat (there usually isn't muchh sensation of heat) but because it releases good things in the nose.

Our conclusions are that 30-40% of regular strength malts may benefit from a hint of water, and for the most part the rest show no change either way. I can't recall an instance where the water affected the malt negatively.

We are probably talking about no more than 1/2 a dropper (less than 1 ml added to a 1 oz - 29 cc
User avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

32593

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Jenise » Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:52 am

Bill Spohn wrote:Lots of people make wine that I don't like. Some of them make wine that just about no one likes! Their prerogative, and their loss of my money.


Well sure! But some of us end up with those wines anyway. David N's wine yesterday might have 'come back' a bit with a splash of water.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
User avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

32593

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Wine Advisor: Don't water that wine!

by Jenise » Sat Jul 14, 2018 12:01 pm

richard.peck wrote:
Yes, I've tried adding water and it worked out well. Here's how it happened.

As your exchange with Jenise suggests, watering is probably a dice throw? Its success probably depends on both the base wine and the taster's definition/sense of balance. Still, I haven't forgotten this experience because Mollydooker enthusiasts are by definition fans of big reds. By the vote at our table, at least, the watered wine showed better....

By the way, at the end of the room, Sparky polled each table to find out the percentages of their best blend. When ours was announced, he was very gracious and even stopped by later to chat.


Richard, I love this story! Met Sparky only one time. He was pouring/introducing their $100+ bottling, had an 'i' word name. Incognito might have been it. It was OTT in every way and he was bragging about the fact that it was over 17% alcohol (like that was a GOOD thing) where the label claimed less, and he'd slipped it past the FDA. I couldn't stand the wine.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Rahsaan and 10 guests

Powered by phpBB ® | phpBB3 Style by KomiDesign