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Bruce Hayes

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WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bruce Hayes » Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:58 pm

As I sit here typing this my head is literally spinning, after yet another encounter with a super-sized wine. The Kaesler GSM 2004 from the Barossa Valley in Australia came highly recommended by a couple of wine writers. What they neglected to mention was the stunning (to me) 15.5 per cent alchohol level!!

While the wine was spicy and featured very nice red licorice, as well as good cherry-strawberry-raspberry fruit, it also boasted a strong burn. While I have never partaken of tasting rubbing alchohol, I can only imagine that it can't taste must worse than this and, I would think, at a much cheaper price.

I simply don't understand why so many wineries are making such bruising wines these days. Not that many years ago one expected higher alcohol levels only from warm climate wines (California and Australia), but it seems to me that today one is hard pressed to find any wines at 12 per cent or below - save for German Riesling.

Until now I have been making my wine purchasing decisions based on comments from critics and my own personal wine tasting preferences. However, it appears I will now also have to take alchohol content into account.

Quite apart from the intoxication factor, these wines are never balanced, with the burning alchohol usually obilterating any other flavour. What a waste of my time, my money, my brain cells and winemakers' time, skill and talent. Arghhhhh. :x
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Mon Nov 13, 2006 10:24 pm

Good rant there, Bruce. Next up, the Maple Leafs???
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Mon Nov 13, 2006 10:42 pm

According to some well known wine critics and the sycophants who follow them, this high alcohol thing is all in our imaginations. The wines are great!

I've been actively seeking wines below or at 13% and have been having a hell of a time finding them lately.
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keith prothero

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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by keith prothero » Tue Nov 14, 2006 3:25 am

It always amuses me when I read such rants on high alcohol wines.
If the wine is well made and in balance the alcoholic content does not matter,unless of course,you drink more than you should and hence get a hangover.
I live in South Africa for 6 months of the year,where due to the climate,the vast majority of wines are in excess of 14%abv.However,this does not stop me enjoying the wines that I know are well balanced.
I wager,that it would be impossible to tell in a blind tasting,the high abv wines from the low abv wines,provided of course they were all well made.
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David M. Bueker

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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by David M. Bueker » Tue Nov 14, 2006 9:20 am

While I completely understand your sentiment Bruce, there are any number of wines at 14%+ that are well balanced. Granted once you top the 15% mark it gets a lot harder, but "never balanced" is both a gross generalization and quite often not the case.

Of course you could just drink German Riesling. :D
There behind the glass lies a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along. Move along.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Howie Hart » Tue Nov 14, 2006 9:42 am

Bruce,
I think you'll have a hard time finding wines from Ontario over 13%. Whites are generally very good, as are some red varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Gamay. Cabs and Merlots are variable, depending on the weather (I'd avoid the '06 Cabs when they come around).
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Ian Sutton

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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Ian Sutton » Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:12 am

I share many of the concerns.

It is indeed wrong to say wines are never balanced at 15+% alcohol. I'm very happy in finding plenty of fortified wines perfectly balanced! I've no doubt this can be achieved with (unfortified) table wine

However my own experience has shown, that for my palate, once alcohol starts to get up to 14.5% I find more unbalanced wines (yes I notice the burn too) and the risk that there's a sweetness provided by the alcohol that causes an imbalance against the acidity. It is possible to acidify cleverly, to ensure good long-term balance, but it's also possible to get it wrong.

Once it goes above 15% the risk is even greater and based on my experiences to date, if I know the alcohol is 15% or more I probably won't buy it. It might still be very good and I might even enjoy it myself, but for me the risk isn't worth it.

Of course I can remember the reverse of this, with patently underripe fruit either released at 11-12% alcohol or chaptalised up to 13%. There are plenty of decent wines at below 12% alcohol, but barring certain styles which work well at low alcohol (which I like), anything else below 12% would probably not be worth me risking it either.

Are all the best wines between 12.5-14.5% alcohol? No, but I do seem to have better luck between those ranges.

Finally, I suspect others will have their own ranges, or not have an issue at either extreme. We might also change over time - I used to love Amarone, but now it's quite hit and miss for me. It's quite reasonable that every 15% alcohol wine that Bruce tastes is indeed unbalanced for him, whereas for others the same wine could be full, warming and intense.

Different strokes
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Jeff Yeast » Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:24 am

I don't start to taste "burn" until about 126 proof (63% abv) :D

Kidding aside, while I tend to like higher abv wines, probably because I have been desensitized by my bourbon hobby, I agree that it has to be in balance with the other components of the wine. I've had several cheap bottlings recently (i.e. Napa River from TJs) that all I could taste was the out-of-balance alcohol. It made everything else taste "grape-y" for lack of a better word.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 10:52 am

It is all about balance--always. But let's explore that balance in high alcohol or low alcohol wine. What is usually needed to balance high alcohol wine is an abumdance of extract, powerful fruit and, as someone mentioned, sweetness. Ok, so the wine is balanced--it's a bomb, a blueberry milkshake with alcohol, pleasant to drink and talk about, and rhapsodize over, and dull your palate as well as your brain.

Aside from the burning that no balance seems able to supress, which meal best suits a wine that takes over your palate?

A lot of the high alcohol argument seems centered on the fact that some people prefer wine as a stand-alone and some prefer wine as part of the meal. The same way I could never understand, or engage in, a martini with my food, I find that wine beyond 14% starts to interrupt my dinner.

The exception: sherry, Port, Madeira, all of which I consume with snacks--but I did prove once that Madeira can be paired with food when I arranged a five course dinner, each course paired with one style of Madeira. And so, I just shot down my argument against high alcohol wine with food, but I'm sticking to the argument anyway.

Like Randy R, I'll go down swinging even when I know I could be wrong... ;)
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Dave Erickson » Tue Nov 14, 2006 11:40 am

I have two words for you, and for everyone who makes and drinks high-alcohol wines: Domaine Gauby. I don't know how he does it, but Gerard Gauby manages to make wines in the extremely hot climate of the Cotes des Catalanes that come out at 12%. Global warming is no excuse!
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Robin Garr » Tue Nov 14, 2006 11:54 am

Bruce Hayes wrote:these wines are never balanced


I'm sort of with David on this one, Bruce. By and large, with an instinctive preference for balanced, minerally, "Old World" wines, I don't like the high-alcohol monsters either, and will often put a bottle back on the shelf if I spot an alcohol level well over 14%.

But "never" is strong talk, and I've run into too many stellar examples to accept it without qualification. I know that praising Turley can get you flamed around here, but I've had a couple of their wines in the 15-plus range that carried their alcohol very well.

In the 14.0 to 14.9 range, a surprising number of California wines manage to balance alcohol with extract and intensity and structure ... both of the California Wine Club Connoisseurs' Series wines I featured in yesterday's <I>30 Second Wine Advisor</i> fall into this category for me. I did find the <b>Ramey 2003 Jericho Canyon Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon</b> a bit Parkerish for my tastes, but can't deny that it carried its 14.5% well. Even more impressive was the <b>Byron 2001 "Io" Santa Barbara County Syrah</b>, which was labeled at 14.8%, but, happily, I would never have guessed that.

On the other hand, I'd almost be willing to use the "Never" word with high-alcohol Barossa Shiraz, which just doesn't seem to have what it takes to handle the kind of alcohol that some of the producers seem to want to give it.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bob Ross » Tue Nov 14, 2006 11:56 am

Thanks, Dave. I'll follow Gauby more closely.

One point worth making: high alcohol wines can be delicious to my taste, but my tolerance for alcohol is very low -- even the smell of vodka can give me a headache.

15%+ wines may be delicious -- sometimes are -- but I still have to limit the amount I drink. More's the pity. :(

The alcohol percentage is the most important wine related number for me.
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Bruce Hayes

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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bruce Hayes » Tue Nov 14, 2006 12:06 pm

Okay, I will retract the statement that "these wines are never in balance."

I was ranting and raving when I wrote that and I confess I got a little carried away. :oops:

Still hate "rubbing alcohol" wines though.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Robin Garr » Tue Nov 14, 2006 12:10 pm

Bruce Hayes wrote:Still hate "rubbing alcohol" wines though.


As do I! In some of my sessions at the Sydney International Wine Competition, I've been known to get visibly angry in the midst of a large flight of oversize Shirazes. :)
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Thomas

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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 12:23 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Bruce Hayes wrote:these wines are never balanced


In the 14.0 to 14.9 range, a surprising number of California wines manage to balance alcohol with extract and intensity and structure ...


...and the meal too? It's one thing to view wine as a stand-alone; it's quite another to view it as a food.

When this subject came up on another bb, those who defend the high alcohol--high extract wines claim they are perfect with a thick, intense cut of beef. Perhaps, but when these people defend their choice by going so far as to say that lower alcohol, lower extract wines do not pair well with food, all I can say is that they should eat something other than thick, intense cuts of beef!

Of course, there is no black or white, but for me, I don't eat much beef anyway. Plus, as Bob alludes to, less alcohol, more opportunity to finish the bottle, thereby prolonging the enjoyment. Too much alcohol makes whatever enjoyment short lived, and seeing how some people act at tastings after injesting...nah, that's another issue entirely.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Robin Garr » Tue Nov 14, 2006 12:48 pm

Thomas wrote:...and the meal too? It's one thing to view wine as a stand-alone; it's quite another to view it as a food.


Thomas, your point is well-taken, and you already know I agree in principle: Wine is made to go with food, and if it can't be matched with dinner, it's a waste.

That said, I rarely have a problem finding pairings for these big, extracted wines, and while I won't quibble that simple rare beef works, the fact is that I paired both the high-alcohol wines I mentioned with appropriate, albeit robust and hearty, fare. Looking back at my TNs:

<b>Ramey</b>: <i>Connoisseurs' Guide</i> correctly pegs it as an "opulent" wine, and it fared well with a similarly rich food companion, polpette-style veal burgers topped with dabs of duck foie gras mousse.

<b>Byron "Io"</b>: A robust wine, it paired well with a robust autumnal dinner of flanken-style beef ribs pot roasted with onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

Now, a 16 percent Turley Zin could be a real food pairing challenge, I won't argue with you there. I'm thinking, though, that maybe a sharp-cheese souffle with a chipotle or green chile accent might work ...
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 2:12 pm

Robin Garr wrote: Now, a 16 percent Turley Zin could be a real food pairing challenge, I won't argue with you there. I'm thinking, though, that maybe a sharp-cheese souffle with a chipotle or green chile accent might work ...


..or maybe just dip a long sword into the wine, light it, and eat fire...
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Ian Sutton » Tue Nov 14, 2006 2:14 pm

Robin Garr wrote:Now, a 16 percent Turley Zin could be a real food pairing challenge, I won't argue with you there. I'm thinking, though, that maybe a sharp-cheese souffle with a chipotle or green chile accent might work ...


The authors of the Penguin Australian annual wine guide have a solution. Every year one wine is selected to go with Brontosauraus Steak :)
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 3:22 pm

Ian Sutton wrote:
Robin Garr wrote:Now, a 16 percent Turley Zin could be a real food pairing challenge, I won't argue with you there. I'm thinking, though, that maybe a sharp-cheese souffle with a chipotle or green chile accent might work ...


The authors of the Penguin Australian annual wine guide have a solution. Every year one wine is selected to go with Brontosauraus Steak :)


Gee, who raises those animals these days? Australia is BIG!
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bob Parsons Alberta » Tue Nov 14, 2006 3:32 pm

Thomas, your new book is in our library system!!!!!! Have placed a hold on it.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 5:26 pm

With the kind of reverence I give to the library system, that sounds really great--although, I am sure there are no royalties connected to it ;)

I donated a copy to my local library and the following week a local women's group asked me to speak at one of their meetings. I haven't a clue what I shall say. I'll take all good suggestions.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Ian Sutton » Tue Nov 14, 2006 6:10 pm

Thomas wrote:With the kind of reverence I give to the library system, that sounds really great--although, I am sure there are no royalties connected to it ;)

I donated a copy to my local library and the following week a local women's group asked me to speak at one of their meetings. I haven't a clue what I shall say. I'll take all good suggestions.

Watch out for those womens groups - you'll just be eye-candy for them :wink:

I guess people are generally looking to be informed, occasionally amused and generally have a sense that you knew your stuff but were at ease with them. Invite questions at the end and be prepared to do some book signing.

In terms of what you say, a bit of background to why you came to write the book, some anecdotes related to what's in there, one or two points you really want to get across (I always think of them as "if you take nothing else away, remember this"). In any talk, a little bit of humour settles you and the audience, not jokes but maybe a humorous story or experience.

I still carry a prompt card in with me to talks / presentations, even though I've usually practised exactly what I want to say. The prompt allows me a little confidence boost/backup, or even an opportunity to venture from the planned path and know where I'm coming back to. The prompt can be as simple as a set of 6-10 bullet points (even single words for each), to something slightly more detailed. I often don't look at the prompt for the whole time I'm talking :lol:

I went to a presentation by a guy called Peter Jordan this week (local mushroom expert). Stuff I remembered
- A couple of stories about fly agaric (used by the Norse berserkers before battle to raise strength and send them into a frenzy; his advice when someone in UK took it, was to put him in a straightjacket and then rope him to the bed - they didn't do the latter and he tore the straightjacket in two)
- Story about how he went from picking mushrooms with his grandfather, to picking some for the pub and to that pub becoming known as "the mushroom pub"
- His passion for nature, using and appreciating what was there and how certain europeans have retained this more than we have.
- His aspirations to write nature books for children to restore the knowlwedge that's been lost
- The key to mushroom picking is positive identification. I knew this anyway I guess, but the point was well stressed.
- The story of how he showed some aborigines in Australia a mushroom they could safely eat that they believed you couldn't (and from their recollection, no-one had eaten before).
- Why you carry a stick to see of wild boar in Italy - not because you could fend it off (you probably couldn't), but because they're short sighted and if you see one you hold the stick like a gun - which they assume it is & hence scarper!

Plenty more I can recall, but I guess these stuck out well, so might give you some idea of the sort of stuff that sticks in the mind.

Hope this helps

Ian

p.s. found our first (definitively identified) poisonous mushroom on the way to the talk. Not deadly, but would make you ill.
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Thomas » Tue Nov 14, 2006 6:18 pm

I think fly agaric is the mushroom that Claudius got as a gift from his wife...

Eye candy--now that's a description even I can't imagine for me :shock:
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Re: WARNING: Rant ahead. Pissed-off with high-alcohol wines?

by Bob Ross » Tue Nov 14, 2006 8:30 pm

Ogden Nash gave me a good way to decide if I can have a third glass of wine, almost as good as reading the alcoholic number:

A tutor who tooted a flute

Tried to teach two tooters to toot

Said the two to the tutor

“Is it harder to toot, or....

To tutor two tooters to toot?"


Rarely a problem after one glass, sometimes a problem after two glass, always a problem after three glasses.
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