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Maria Samms

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Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Maria Samms » Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:05 pm

Last night I was going through my WTNs and I noticed that all the red wines that I really liked have had an alcohol level of 13.5%. Do you think this is just a coincidence?
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Paul B.

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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Paul B. » Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:10 pm

My opinion has always been that 13% gives a good feeling of fullness on the mid-palate of a red. I generally believe that 13.5% in a white wine is too much; I can usually feel the heat at that level. In a red, it's a highish but decent amount. My general level of tolerance in reds is up to 14%. I don't like anything over that as it starts tasting hot and blowsy to me. Zins are a curious exception, as is Primitivo: I once had a 16% alc. Primitivo that was smooth as anything, with no palpable heat. But it was also quite glycerolic in texture. Having said that, even if a red is high-acid and only has 10% alc., that is still very much within my sphere of palatability. I have had a few of those, mostly red hybrids grown at small-farm country wineries way north of the moderating influence of the Niagara Peninsula. The wines were light, crisp and racy-dry. I did enjoy them.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by JoePerry » Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:17 pm

My ideal amount is whatever a particular wine is capable of carrying.

It's very different from bottle to bottle.

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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Jon Peterson » Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:43 pm

Paul, I impressed. I had made the connection between % alc and taste/feel but not at the level you have. I will pay more attention. And Maria, after Paul’s post, I do not think coincidence is involved.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Rod Miller » Fri Jan 12, 2007 4:01 pm

Paul B. wrote: glycerolic in texture.


Does that mean?
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Paul B. » Fri Jan 12, 2007 4:26 pm

It had a heavy, rounded, smooth mouthfeel; home winemakers sometimes add glycerine to their wines "to improve mouthfeel" (though I never do as I am philosophically opposed to such additions). Having said that, the wine carried its largesse exceedingly gracefully.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Carl Eppig » Fri Jan 12, 2007 5:36 pm

I liked it when all wines were 12.5% alcohol. At least that what it said on all the labels.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Robin Garr » Fri Jan 12, 2007 7:08 pm

JoePerry wrote:My ideal amount is whatever a particular wine is capable of carrying.

It's very different from bottle to bottle.


That would be my answer, too. I like Moscato d'Asti (5%). I also like Port (20%). But I would not like a 20% Moscato or a 5% Port. ;)

I'll often utter a ritual blast about the upward creep in alcohol levels, and I certainly don't like out-of-balance "blockbuster" wines. Yet I've had a few remarkable table wines in the 15-and-up range, including some of the controversial Turleys, that just plain didn't show their alcohol.

And yet I love a nice 11.5% Muscadet, too. Go figure ...
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Maria Samms

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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Maria Samms » Fri Jan 12, 2007 7:57 pm

Interesting replies!

So far my 13.5% only applies to red wine and more specifically, bordeauxs, Cab S., or Merlots. I haven't really tried anything else yet.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Marc D » Fri Jan 12, 2007 8:05 pm

The unqualified answer, according to Clark Smith of Vinovations of California, would be yes.

For those unfamiliar, Mr Smith runs a company called Vinovation in California. Using technology such as reverse osmosis he removes alcohol from wine to make a better tasting wine. Winemakers bring their wine to Vinovation, where the wine undergoes what Mr Smith calls "sweet spot testing". Using reverse osmosis, the wine is dealcoholized to various alcohol levels, and tasted side by side. At a certain point where the wine tastes the best, they have hit the sweet spot.

Here is an exert from Grapecraft, the Wine Technology Blog:
When we do a sweet spot trial, we reduce the original wine (via our recombinatory reverse osmosis permeate distillation process) to somewhere below where we think we want to end up. Then we blend the original wine in, or we bump the alcohol back up by adding back high proof alcohol, either way laying out fifteen or twenty wines which are different only in their alcohol content and separated by 0.1% alcohol. For example, we might take a 15.0% chardonnay and look at the range of 12.5% to 14.5%, 21 wines lined up: 12.5, 12.6, 12.7…14.4, 14.5%. You'd think the wines would just gradually get better, then worse. That never happens. There are marked differences in "harmoniousness." You see maybe one wine in siz that is focused. The rest are astringent and unbalanced. Kind of like the unfocused, defect-free wines you usually see on the market. The differences are pretty obvious.

Mr Clark has received lots of negative press for this process, as many people feel these technological innovations create Frankenwines. I think there is no doubt that there is an ideal alcohol level for each individual wine as shown by Mr Clark, whether you agree with the technology or not.

I hate to say this, but I think Joe Perry is right, the ideal is whatever the individual wine can carry. In California, that may be whatever sweet spot alcohol level that is created through technology.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Jenise » Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:11 pm

Maria, you're definitely onto something, and how smart of you to notice. Higher alcohol wines are usually heavy, ripe/jammy, sweeter, and some have a taste that's not unlike vodka to me which I detest. I find that lower alcohol wines taste lighter, brighter, more focussed, and somehow more honest.

The next connection you're likely to make is with where wines come from. Wines from hotter climates produce riper grapes which means more sugar must convert to higher alcohol. For instance, in California's hot Paso Robles region, 14% is relatively low alcohol and relatively rare--15% is fairly standard and 16.5% not uncommon. Table wines are port-like.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Bill Hooper » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:11 pm

Jenise wrote: For instance, in California's hot Paso Robles region, 14% is relatively low alcohol and relatively rare--15% is fairly standard and 16.5% not uncommon. Table wines are port-like.


For me, wine over 14% tends to taste like grape-jelly flavored gasoline. I will not drink it. Port, on the other hand...


Prost!
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Jenise » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:29 pm

Bill Hooper wrote:For me, wine over 14% tends to taste like grape-jelly flavored gasoline. I will not drink it. Port, on the other hand...



Aw, come on Dragon Breath, you know it makes you hot. :)
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Bill Hooper » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:32 pm

Jenise wrote:
Bill Hooper wrote:For me, wine over 14% tends to taste like grape-jelly flavored gasoline. I will not drink it. Port, on the other hand...



Aw, come on Dragon Breath, you know it makes you hot. :)



Jenise, I didn't say it doesn't make me hot. Only that I will not drink it 8)


Prost!
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Mike Filigenzi » Sat Jan 13, 2007 2:46 am

When it comes to how the wine tastes, I'm with Joe and Robin. I've occasionally blundered into a 16+% wine that held the alcohol well and showed no overt heat or "portiness". I've enjoyed these wines a lot. The only problem with them is that I can only enjoy one glass or so before feeling the effects. From the "effects" standpoint, I'd have to go with wines that are 13.5% or lower. It's nice to be able to drink a couple of glasses over a reasonable amount of time and only feel mildly affected.

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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Rod Miller » Sat Jan 13, 2007 2:59 am

Are you relying on the number the bottle. There can be a 1% margin of error in labeling. I will not drink a wine with less than 14% alc. We drink wine for the alc. not sour last time i checked.

Here is my question. If you use the same glass every time, can you accurately judge the amount alc. by the legs in the glass...say within .5%?
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Brian K Miller » Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:04 am

Paul B. wrote:It had a heavy, rounded, smooth mouthfeel; home winemakers sometimes add glycerine to their wines "to improve mouthfeel" (though I never do as I am philosophically opposed to such additions). Having said that, the wine carried its largesse exceedingly gracefully.


I tried a wine last month with this character-a Zin with 16% abv It was supposed to be a late harvest desert wine, but went completely dry on them. Glycerine? Or just very heavy rich Lodi grapes?
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Paul Winalski » Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:28 am

JoePerry wrote:My ideal amount is whatever a particular wine is capable of carrying.

It's very different from bottle to bottle.


I'm with you, Joe.

Fino Sherry, for example, can be very delicate and elegant at 15.5% alcohol. Yet a chard, cab, zin, or syrah at that level would be completely overalcoholic and undrinkable.

On the other end of the scale, there are lots of German QmP wines where alcohol levels above 10% would be unwelcome.

And, as Robin mentions, Moscatos that are delightful at 5%, but would be anathema at 10%.

And Port or Madeira that ought not be under 20%.

Intended style is all-important. Keeping in mind that alcohol content can always be too much or too little of a good thing.

I seem to detect recently a disturbing tendancy toward too much alcohol, rather than too little, in unbalanced wines. Fortunately there are also a lot of producers who get it right.

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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Rod Miller » Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:37 am

If the grapes are grown in a hot climate like CA with cool nights they are going to be very sweet. When there is a heat wave in Aug. and Sept. there are not enough pickers to get the grapes up in time because they ripen...they will ripen over night.

What do you want a winemaker to do use reverseO to remove the alc. Do you like wines that have been treated with RO?

The terrior produces uniquely low acid wines. There is nothing wrong with it...you are just conditioned by European thinking that is is not right because until recently they could not make ripe wines.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Brian K Miller » Sat Jan 13, 2007 4:01 am

Good point, Rob. Although I think I like the european style the best, I can't completely write off some well-made fruit bombs :) (Whitehall Lane rocks!)
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by keith prothero » Sat Jan 13, 2007 12:26 pm

I have asked this question on another Board and have yet to obtain an answer.
How do you know please,what the abv of a particular wine is? You cannot rely on the label,as often it is inaccurate.
In South Africa a sample of wine is tested for abv % although obviously just a minute % of total production.What is the position in the USA and other countries and is there a device on the market to measure abv?
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Thomas » Sat Jan 13, 2007 12:45 pm

As usual, the answer is about balance--"whatever the wine will carry" is a reference to its balance, and I fully agree.

Having said that, I also like to be able to consume more than two glasses, so I prefer that winemakers stay on a path that allows them to create wines at lower rather than higher alcohol--in balance of course--and I'd rather they do it as naturally as possible.

That "sweet spot" philosophy has a point, but if you don't over ripen, dry out, and generally beat up the crop in the first place, you probably won't have to go looking for the sweet spot in a lab later on; it will appear naturally.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Thomas » Sat Jan 13, 2007 12:47 pm

keith prothero wrote:I have asked this question on another Board and have yet to obtain an answer.
How do you know please,what the abv of a particular wine is? You cannot rely on the label,as often it is inaccurate.
In South Africa a sample of wine is tested for abv % although obviously just a minute % of total production.What is the position in the USA and other countries and is there a device on the market to measure abv?


In the USA, up to 14% a wine has 1 to 1.5% leeway, plus or minus. So, the answer to your question is: you never really get to know the alcohol level.
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Re: Ideal amount of alcohol?

by Otto » Sat Jan 13, 2007 1:02 pm

keith prothero wrote:I have asked this question on another Board and have yet to obtain an answer.
How do you know please,what the abv of a particular wine is? You cannot rely on the label,as often it is inaccurate.
In South Africa a sample of wine is tested for abv % although obviously just a minute % of total production.What is the position in the USA and other countries and is there a device on the market to measure abv?


All wines available in our monopoly are tested. If they do not conform to EU regulations, i.e. +/- 0,5%, they are relabelled to show the correct info. The exact % is of course not known. But it's close enough I guess.
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