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Robin Garr

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Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by Robin Garr » Wed Jul 25, 2007 3:43 pm

This just in by E-mail. Good stuff. Nice to see some voices (other than mine) speaking up against this particular manifestation of creeping Parker/Specktatorization.

It is time for the average wine consumers, as opposed to tasters, to speak up. The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop. Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 -16. +% alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to enjoy with a meal. About the only dish that seems to put them in their place is a good hot, spicy dish.

I don’t believe the average person is so insensitive to flavors and aromas that they must have a 15% Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir to get the aromas and flavors. Influential members of the wine press have lead the score chasing winemakers/owners up the alcohol curve and now I hope that it soon will lead them down.

Winemaking is not really much different than cooking. The end product should be enjoyable to consume - not just to taste. Hopefully most who read this don’t think it’s a novel concept that we should be making wines to consume. Would you want to sample a soup, meat dish or other course that is so overpowering that you cannot enjoyably finish what is in front of you? These new wines are made to taste and spit – not to drink.

This is all linked to my views on the ever evasive and vanishing terroir; the subtleties of terroir in wines have been melted together in a huge pot called “overripe” or the vogue “physiologically mature” grape. Gone are the individualities of specific regions, replaced by sameness – high alcohol, raisiny, pruney, flabby wines. Likewise, the descriptor “herbaceous” was often used in a positive sense when describing Cabernets. Now it is the kiss of death. Voluptuous – I do remember seeing that only occasionally, but not on the aroma/flavor wheel.

So I would like the consumers to take the lead for a change, rather than being led. Ask for wines that are below 14% when you are out to dinner. The reactions are fun, but the results are not good for United States wines. The sommelier usually comes back with a French or New Zealand wine. On the restaurant level, high alcohol wines have reduced the number of bottles sold. It is very simple arithmetic; % alcohol times volume equals satisfaction. If % alcohol goes up, volume must go down for satisfaction to stay the same – or else we all get plastered.

Consumers – wake up and get active. Reviewers -please at least include the labeled alcohol percentage in all your reviews, and try to remember that not everyone is spitting.
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wrcstl

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by wrcstl » Wed Jul 25, 2007 4:44 pm

Robin,
You are preaching to the choir but I do want to make one point. I am told that one of the things that leads to higher alcohol is the newer yeasts. Guess they allow for more sugar to be converted to alcohol. In other words, if all other things were held constant, most wines would creep up in alcohol. Certainly not the only reason, and probably not the biggest reason, but it does play some part. I for one will not buy a wine that is 15% plus alcohol, it is just not pleasant.
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Tom V

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by Tom V » Wed Jul 25, 2007 5:03 pm

I couldn't possibly agree more Robin. More than anything else this trend drives me nuts! The last couple of years, when I order wine in a restaurant I always tell them to bring me the bottle. If the alcohol level is over 13.5 I almost always move on to another wine. As you say, I want to DRINK THIS STUFF and be able to get off my chair at the end of a meal and make it to the door! I miss the days when most California Cabernets were closer to 12% than 13%. I found them enjoyable and you could pop that second bottle on occasion without getting blind!

I don't know, maybe some folks like to have one 6oz glass of wine with dinner. Personally I'd rather a couple or sometimes a few at lower alcohol levels, and it's not like you're giving up something, most times the reasonable level wines are more balanced and more enjoyable! I always find out the alcohol level now before I buy a wine for my cellar also.

As long as Parker holds the sway he does I don't think there will be a major shift in this area, but I would love to see a competing philosophy begin to gain some serious momentum. Tom V
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Ian Sutton

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by Ian Sutton » Wed Jul 25, 2007 6:41 pm

Tom
Seems like here is a good place to start (well in truth continue) that momentum. Not by being dogmatic (otherwise we'd have to give up port, Amarone and Rutherglen stickies :shock: ), but by using tasting notes to highlight the issue where a wine is (in our opinion) unbalanced by the alcohol, or where a lighter wine is packed full of interest (as many are).

regards

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Brian K Miller

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by Brian K Miller » Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:15 pm

14.5% Cabs don't bother me too much (although I would rather drink lower levels). What bothers me are the wines that are downright fume-y. And, I'm not talking only about Zinfandels, either. There are far too many California Syrahs and Rhone blends that taste hot, that burn my throat. The sad thing is, they have good flavor in other ways.
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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by David from Switzerland » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:33 am

Agree 100%. It's not a secret that an out-of-proportion alcohol level has been a favourite scapegoat subject of mine for years (nor even that I come from a cultural background and/or grew up in the belief that anything over 12.5% is exceptional). The fact that some high-alcohol wine miraculously manages to taste balanced enough (the occasional top of the crop Amarone, the odd bottle of Henri Bonneau Châteauneuf-du-Pape etc.) has never seemed to me to prove much to the contrary - high-alcohol wine of which people beg for a refill or that go well with food remain an exception. There is disagreement as to what's cause and symptom, but I keep wondering why huge, full-bodied, highly-concentrated, late-picked dry reds, legendary wines of the twentieth century included, could be made in the past mostly without the alcohol levels or then at least the alcohol disintegration of modern wines (all right, all right, let's not forget about 1947, but then I said "mostly"), whereas today, winemakers claim it's "unavoidable", "due to climate change", earlier/later harvesting, "what the customer wants", or - some are as candid as that - what one "needs to do in order for one's product to stand out in blind tasting and get high ratings" from certain, primarily American wine critics. I'm sceptical on the verge of cynical, and believe it's got more to do with the latter than the former - cannot help being reminded of what one Châteauneuf producer I spoke to earlier this year exclaimed when I asked about the connection of climate change and the "apparent necessity" of making high-alcohol trophy cuvées: “Mais, il a toujours fait chaud en Châteauneuf-du-Pape!” (= “But it's always been hot in Châteauneuf-du-Pape!”)

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
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Tim York

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by Tim York » Fri Jul 27, 2007 8:53 am

I am not against high alcohol per se in areas where it is classically part of the wine's make-up and where the wine has the right matter to balance it; witness much Châteauneuf du Pape and southern Rhône, port and sherry, to mention only a few.

However I am against body built, steroidal wines without balance and burning alcohol is usually a feature of their lack of balance. In particular, I do not think that the noble grape varieties from north-western Europe, e.g. cabernet franc and sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling and even syrah take well to this kind of forcing.

Fortunately the body built styles do not seem to have caught on greatly with consumers in continental Europe and there are certainly signs of a reaction under way in favour of lighter and more elegant styles in France at least. One producer in the Midi, Gérard Gauby in Roussillon, is trying to lighten his wines' style in spite of their natural tendency to high alcohol, partly because he prefers the more elegant style himself but also, I think, because he perceives it as a way to appeal better to the domestic market; certainly those of his recent wines which I have tried are delicious IMHO. I think that there will be imitators.
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David from Switzerland

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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by David from Switzerland » Fri Jul 27, 2007 10:27 am

I agree, but remember "high" (if not very high) once meant 14.5% even in CdP (Port's another matter, it's fortified to 19 to 21%, after all).

Agree on Gauby, too, even though these wines still border on the overwhelming sometimes.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by David M. Bueker » Fri Jul 27, 2007 1:55 pm

All of the grumbling about high alcohol wine used to make more sense to me. Then I tasted the 2005 Rosenblum Richard Sauret Zin & it was big but balanced. So it can be done at 15.5% alcohol.

Alcohol is one element in the mix. I've had 9% alcohol German Rieslings that tasted hot.
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Re: Randy Dunn echoes Corti's attack on high-alcohol wines

by David from Switzerland » Fri Jul 27, 2007 3:48 pm

My kind of guy! :wink: It's all a matter of balance.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
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