Jammy wines

“Jammy” is two-edged wine term. On the one hand, high praise when wine comes from expertly managed vineyards and adroit winemakers. On the other hand, when referencing factory wine, it is unsubtle insult.

Jammy comes from ripe grapes that surrender vivid sweetness, often resulting in higher alcohol, plus a grape, strawberry or other fruit-jam seduction of your palate. Balancing acidity done well creates an amorous fandango. Jammy is high praise for stellar Napa cabs.

The trick is to time grape harvest at peak of sweetness before ripeness rips away balancing acidity. No small thing. Sweetness is measured in “brix,” a term that means one gram of sucrose—sugar—for every 100 grams of liquid. Early pickers go at 23 to 24.5 brix, late pickers at 25 to 30. Very, very tight margins that can literally change in a single day.

When you pick at lower brix, wine can be too acidic or lack sweetness. Pick late, wine is flaccid and lacks life. Consistently great wines have vineyard managers who know precise hours to pick grapes. Hours, not days or weeks. That means a manageable vineyard, very carefully monitored.

Contrast that with monster million-case factory efforts sucking in fruit from from farmers not intent upon perfect hour to harvest, but how to mechanically pick largest possible tonnage from vast vineyards.

Americans love sweet, ripe fruit flavors—jammy wines. But what about flabby? Not so much. Enter stage right a crystalline powder called tartaric acid. It is dissolved by the pounds in water and dumped into the wine. Voilà, acidity. At least a simulacrum of natural acidity.

Factory wine conjurers aren’t finished. With high sugar, they need to knock down resultant high alcohol with water. If fermentation stops before all the sugar has been converted into alcohol, sugar is added. Major supermarket wines like Apothic Red and Ménage à Trois have as much as 10 to 30 grams of residual sugar. These are wildly popular, popularly-priced wines, so while a wine critic may find them cloying and artificial, if you like it, drink away.

Last round: I rode my bicycle to wine store to buy an expensive bottle of wine, then realized I could fall off my bicycle and break the expensive bottle of wine. So I drank the expensive bottle before cycling home. Good thing, too, because I fell off my bicycle several times on my way home.

Email Gus at wine@cwadv.com. Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine. Twitter: @gusclemens. Website: gusclemensonwine.com.