Is Mega Purple "wine"? You can add it to wine without listing it on the label, and it's not a filtering agent that's later removed. So technically, I suppose it could be.
I can say with confidence that you have drunk Mega Purple. You can't be a regular US wine drinker without having had some. This is the stuff that has eliminated forever the idea that a $9 wine will be light in color.
Mega Purple is a grape-based compound that is supposed to darken the color of a wine without adding any flavors or aromas. I found out that's not true.
While it is almost flavorless, it definitely has an aroma. I compared it yesterday* to a gymnasium floor -- something I have smelled in many cheap wines over the last few years.
(BTW, congratulations to Guren and Meg for correctly guessing it. You win a No Prize!)
Wineries adore Mega Purple because American consumers are caught up in the idea that for wine, darker is better. Black fruit is better than red fruit. Roses should be red, not light pink. And heaven forbid if a bottle of Zinfandel doesn't look inky.
When your cheap wine does look inky, there's your reason.
But is it only cheap wine? Not likely -- but not easy to prove.
I want to thank Charlie Kidd, winemaker at Flat Creek Estate in Texas, for mixing me up the pictured sample of Mega Purple in water. Texas wineries have an annual problem with grapes not getting enough color because of their short growing season; Mega Purple is a good solution for them. But it wasn't developed in Texas -- it's a California innovation.
However, I have never been offered the chance to taste it here. Whenever I ask, the winery representative responds with something like, "Let me show you our new $6.3 million tasting room."
Mega Purple is like steroids in baseball in the '90s: plenty of people are doing it, and it might be increasing their average, but overall it's bad for everyone because it changes the expectations of what's possible.
If a vineyard manager can't get enough color in California, he's doing something wrong. But wineries aren't satisfied with enough color -- they want The Dark Knight. And they want it every year in every wine. Nobody wants to have the one maroon-colored Cabernet on the shelf.
I wish I could say categorically in every review, "Includes Mega Purple." I'll never be able to do so with authority. You can't say for sure when you see dark purple if you're seeing this additive.
But now I know what it smells like. Many winemakers have better noses than me, so you know what I'm saying -- this stuff is not odorless. And its odor isn't great.
Is there any chance we can ever bring the "red" back to red wine?