Wine For Christmas: Gum Arabic Vintages

You might be considering giving away some good bottles of wine as Christmas presents. Any wine aficionado will be thrilled by such a gift. On the other hand, you might want to reconsider once you know what is really inside a bottle of wine.

When drinking wine, people usually think of hardworking vintners. They battle the elements to scratch out perfectly sweet grapes. They carefully harvest and press these grapes to produce an incomparable vintage of perfect wine to be enjoyed. Unicorns exist, did you know? Vintners are allowed many additives to improve their product; none of these additives sounds like grape. Gum arabic is one of these additives.

When drinking wine, grapes may usually account for the majority of the product. Many other ingredients have gone into making a vintage bottle, too. One legally permissible additive to wine is gum arabic. Gum Arabic is classified as E414 for the European food industry. It is a completely natural product harvested from acacia trees and it is a form of sugar, a polysaccharide to be concise.

In my grandmother’s household, I remember a jar of liquid gum arabic being handy at all times. This would be used to stick on labels onto glasses containing home made marmalade, conserve, chutney, and honey coming from the gardens and the green house. I would not have imagined pouring it into wine, would you? The Egyptians used it in the mummification process; and the last time it was used in such a way was on Lenin. Sounds tasty.

Traditionally, gum arabic was and is still used in the production of watercolors, in certain photographic processes, and in printing. While the gum is there to bind color pigments to paper, it preserves the color, too. It is sugar and preservative all in one which makes it obvious why somebody got the idea of adding it to wine.

Producing wine is a fickle trade; the perfect vintage needs perfectly ripe grapes to produce one of those excellent wines that hold good for a generation or more. But even in the best wine growing areas, the weather isn't always an ideal mixture of rain and sunshine. Grapes end up less ripe than the vintner would wish. At this point, some little helpers come in handy, and gum arabic is just one of many.

Johan Volny

The addition of the polysaccharide E414 rounds out the taste of sour wine. It softens the influence of tannin to make wine less astringent. It makes wine with high alcohol content more palatable. It acts as a preservative in wine that would turn to vinegar soon. It preserves so well actually, it virtually inhibits a wine from ageing. This takes away any chance of ripening a wine to gain in body with age. It does, on the other hand, preserve the color of the wine to perfection.

All characteristics of young, youthful, and rough wines are completely destroyed by gum arabic. Any chance such wines would have had to slowly mature are destroyed by the additive. What you get to buy in the shops are young, full-bodied, and harmonious wines with no future potential. It’s what the market demands. Quite frankly, most wineries anywhere in the world don’t have the soil or the climate to produce a palatable natural wine anyhow. Adding a few little helpers make their wines at least pleasant.

Don’t expect gum arabic to be absent in expensive wines, they resort to it as well in bad years. It is used in biologically and organically produced wines, too. But despite the fact that it has one of the much hated and often needlessly feared E numbers, gum arabic is a completely natural product like any other sugar. It is completely safe for human consumption, and probably healthier than the alcohol contained in the wine. It is definitely healthier than all the processed crap like margarine, and 'diet', 'light', 'low in', and 'free of' products.