How much wine is in... wine

We live in strange times. After all, we have cars without drivers, subways without machinists, chops without meat, books without printed pages, or buses that need no oil, no petrol and not even gas. We also have wine without wine and alcohol without alcohol.

It may seem funny, but the definition of wine is once again beginning to elude all interpretation. Seemingly everything has been clear since at least early biblical times, and yet even experts and MEPs are once again having trouble with it. This is not to say that an exact definition does not exist - on the contrary, it is very precise. It's just that the majority of the earth's inhabitants have quite a different thing in mind when they talk about wine. What chance is there of bringing this definition closer to the people?

The fact that we all refer to any sparkling wine as 'champagne' is a fact, and nothing will change that, even if we know or feel that we are 'slightly' misrepresenting the truth. And it doesn't actually hurt anyone, it's only when someone says they brought real 'French champagne' to the party - then the light goes on that we are indeed dealing with a fool. We also refer to any winiak as koniak, and that doesn't hurt either, if only because many such calques or borrowings from the past exist in spoken language, not only in Polish but in others as well. And cognac and champagne have a very strong position here.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The problem today lies in the substance of wine. More than two decades ago, the European Union defined exactly what wine is and specified, following the Bible, that it is a product which is the result of the fermentation of grapes or their juice, containing alcohol derived from the transformation of the sugar contained in the fruit, without any additives. This is roughly how it looks. All fruit wines (with the exception of those made from grapes) and those with various aromatic additives, such as herbs, and therefore vermouths, have been 'excised' from this definition. The term 'wine' can only appear on the labels of grape wines, others must include a clarification, such as currant or apple wine or aromatised wines. Many must have been offended by this solution, but well - the definition must be precise, even if in everyday life we call anything fruity and on the alcoholic scale between beer and booze.

At the time of the pandemic, light wines began to be bottled on a massive scale, which outraged the slightly more traditional generations, but the post-millenials welcomed it with open throats. So open, in fact, that the market soon began to run out of aluminium. Next, the so-called hard seltzer sector, i.e. carbonated beverages fortified with alcohol and flavoured in various ways, and of course also sold in cans, saw a huge increase in sales. Among these were also wines mixed with various juices. Then the millenials started ringing the alarm bells, but their children didn't give a damn - after all, generation Z is open to experimentation and they don't care much about their fathers' rules, unlike their online and social media activities.

Wine crimes. Counterfeit liquors of the ages, precious ones, your favourites and the pretty cheap ones

French police entered several wine depots in the Bordeaux region.

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A deeper discussion erupted recently when massive numbers of wine... non-alcoholic wine appeared in various packs on this and that side of the Atlantic. That's right - non-alcoholic. And what is it supposed to be? And where does this wine come from? In discussions, some people started mocking that the next stage would be grape-free 'wine'....

Such wines have been made since the days of American Prohibition, removing alcohol in various ways, but this, by God, is not wine. And it's not that the definition has changed, because it hasn't! But among the younger generation, such a thing is commonly treated as wine, and that is the strangest thing. We are used to thinking (not me!) that this is some new part of the wine world, and it is not. Of course, such a drink may be pleasant, as a compote, but after all, wine will never be wine, just like I am not a ballerina.

Analogies can be made, because we live in strange times. After all, we have cars without drivers, subways without machinists, chops without meat, books without printed pages, or buses that need no oil, no petrol and not even gas. We also have wine without wine.

And finally - how would a taster judge such a wine, the area from which it comes, the story behind it? Well, how? Will vintages matter here? Recently, Huon Hooke, columnist for "The Sydney Morning Herald", dissected this issue and conducted a multi-day poll on the paper's website on a who's for, who's against basis. The result was humbling: it is true that 75 per cent of readers voted that such a thing is not wine, but what to do with the remaining quarter who think that wine without alcohol is normal 'wine'? And what if this percentage starts to rise in the coming years?

Last year's spirits competition in Germany's Neustadt an der Weinstrasse featured ... non-alcoholic spirits. Some of the judges were horrified, others took it calmly, judging successive samples of interest-free gin and other 'spirits'. Today, bottles of such drinks line the shelves in German chain stores.

It is well known that sometimes changes take place in our environment, after which nothing is the same anymore. But does it have to happen in my lifetime?

– Wojciech Gogoliński
-Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski

The author is editor of the magazine 'Czas Wina' (Wine Time). Among other things, he has published the 'Lexicon of Alcohols' and is co-author of the book 'Wine Knowledge'.

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

Main photo: Among the bottles of wine stands 'Only You Alcohol-Free Sparkling Brut' (second from left), a non-alcoholic sparkling... November 2021. Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post via Getty Images
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