If you don't watch a lot of TV you may have never heard of the MTV show Pimp My Ride, where old jalopies are transformed during the course of the program into tricked-out dream cars for their respective owners. It's a bit like Extreme Makeover except for cars.
And if you haven't been hangin' 'round the 'hood, you may not know that “pimp” is no longer a derogatory term. Used as a verb it now means to customize or make cool, hip and stylish (but usually in a Huggy Bear sort of way).
In this article we'll explore the various ways that wines are currently pimped and try out some pimpin’ ourselves.
Tricks of da Trade
There's a whole posse of winemakers out there who've jumped on the natural or real wine bandwagon dissin' the wild manipulations we're looking at here. That's all fine and noble, but make no doubt about it: we're going to blast right past their horse-drawn booties so hang on to your hat (which would be a velvet fedora if you're truly with us).
The ways that wines are pimped:
- Oak Barrels, Sheaves, Chunks, Chips, Dust, Essence, etc. Oak is the old school way to to get those great toasty vanilla, butter, clove and black pepper flavas. These flavas will vary depending on what type of oak and how its toasted. Barrels are legal everywhere but cost a lot of dough and slows down the process. The fastest way and cheapest method, oak essence, is contraband practically everywhere. Most of the new world (Australia, Chile, California etc) allows chunks, chips, and dust to get the great flava as easy as makin' tea.
- MicroOxygenation MicroOxygenation replicates the way barrels let in a little oxygen to help the wine mellow and soften the tannins etc. but in a turbocharged way. I'm thinkin' Oak chips + MicroOxygenation= Barrique aging. Why let your wine chill in a barrel when you can be sippin' it today?
- Cultured Yeast Yeast occurs naturally on the skin of all grapes which is basically how we first found out about fermentation. The old school still use this natural yeast to make their wines but are missin' out on a whole other world of flava like the cherry banana bubblegum found in most Beaujolais Nouveau. Without their signature Yeast 71B -- made in Holland from tomatoes -- they'd still be limpin' along like Beaujolais Oldveau. Those Dutch cats know a thing or two about better livin' through chemistry.
- Flavorings Totally illegal but who's goin' to know? A little cherry here, a little rasberry there and you're on your way to a major thermonuclear fruit bomb. Yo! Lady Jancis of Robinson's OCW1 states that illegal flavoring used to be easy to catch when they were isoproponal based but now that they're ethanol (the same alcohol in wine) based they're almost impossible to detect.
- Chapitalization A big word for adding sugar to the grape juice before fermentation. Since all the sugar is fermented into alcohol, it's for makin' a wine more powerful not for makin' it sweet. Word up.
- Reverse Osmosis Hi-tech lab method used to lower the octane on high alcohol juice. The opposite of Chapitalization. What's up with that yo?
- Acidification Hot weather makes grapes very ripe with low acid which means low refreshment. No prob Holmes: a few scoops of tartaric acid will make it all better. Sad how global warmin's gettin' way too many wines hooked on acid.
- Deacidification The opposite of Acidification and very rare these days.
- Etc. If you really need to geek out see A comparison of legislation about winemaking additives and processes
Since it seems everyone's pimping these days it was damn difficult to find a pimp-free wine to work on. Most cheap wines these days are pretty much pre-pimped with some clumsy-ass oak or fruit jackin' yeasts. We had to go through the whole bottom shelf just to find a few inoffensive ones: a 2004 Bell'agio Chianti and a 2003 Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon AKA Two Buck Chuck. The Two Buck Chuck (4 X 50 Cent) was surprisingly low key but no match for the Chianti which became our blank slate for pimpin'.
- Note on the base wine: Practically no aroma, very little flavor some indistinguishable fruit but good acids and no faults – technically vinous. Tasted blind it barely registered as a red.
- A few oak drops later: Uh, oh Dr. Frankenstein, it's ALIVE! No wonder everyone's pimpin' their wines.
- Then the cherry flava: Very scary, very convincing – a definite improvement on the original. Who's zoomin' who?
- Then the raspberry: Aroma convincing but the the palate is getting a little contrived.
- Then the cherry brandy flava: Added to vodka and water, this one makes a cheap cherry brandy. Added to our pimped Chianti it makes a cheap tacky wine. Yo! Ciao vino. And we was just getting' started!