Alcohol: Can We Please Stop the Whining and Get to Some Thinking?

The alcohol issue has become an abyss. In the most recent flare up, Bob Parker went on a tear, and Jancis Robinson and Alder Yarrow among others responded. But I think the discussion continues to miss the real issue, which is not the merits of low alcohol wine vs. high alcohol wine.The real question, it seems to me is, where in the world are the terroirs that allow grapes to just barely tip the scales into perfect ripeness WITHOUT the next ten dominoes falling and catapulting the wine’s alcohol level skyward?

I think certain places can get ripeness while sidestepping high alcohol. Among them: Rioja; Tuscany; parts of the Rhone; Austria; the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys; parts of Sonoma; British Columbia; Oregon; parts of Chile; even parts of Australia. And of course, Bordeaux in warm years; Napa Valley in cool ones. More than weather is undoubtedly at work, however, including the complex issue of the efficiency of various yeast strains in converting sugars to alcohol; and the complex role that rootstocks and clones play.

I wish we heard from more winemakers about these things, rather than rehash the elliptical (and pointlessly simplistic) conversation that suggests it’s all just about preference and picking date.

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5 comments on “Alcohol: Can We Please Stop the Whining and Get to Some Thinking?

  1. Hi, Karen! You are right in what you say about terroirs–though there is no doubt global warming is changing the old parameters. But I also know that winemakers who are putting out chardonnays and cabs at 16 percent alcohol–which under federal guidelines puts them out of the category of table wines–are not innocent in boosting their wines to those absurd levels. Wines typically and enthusiastically described as “monster cabs” that will “blow your doors off” with “awesome ripe fruit” are wines out of whack for a reason and that reason begins in the winery owner’s marketing plans.

  2. In addition to just microclimate/weather is soil health. In recent vintages we can consistently achieve optimal ripeness when picking at 21-22.5 Brix, leading to 12.4-13.5% wines that are balanced, complex and achieve an optimal acid balance representative of the extreme Sonoma Coast.

  3. I appreciate the new directions this topic is going. Each of the pieces being discussed play a role. I aspire to produce wines that express, season, place, balance & variety. I think Katen is right, separating out alcohol misses the mark.

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