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The Under 13% Solution

carswell May 13, 2007 01:02 PM

On Thursday I tasted through most of the 2004 Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs from Niagara's new star, Clos Jordanne. Notes will follow but one thing that stood out was the alcoholic content: 14.4% for the Village Reserve Chardonnay and 14.8% for the Claystone Terrace Pinot, to take two examples. In Ontario wines!

The trend to high-alcohol wines is alarming. Not only are such wines often hot and unbalanced, they're drinker-hostile: a 16% wine has one third more alcohol per volume than a 12% wine, meaning if you don't want to get sloshed, you have to drink less.

Yesterday I ran across the following quote from Michael Broadbent in Marc de Villier's entertaining *The Heartbreak Grape* (Broadbent was writing in *Decanter*): "The influence [of these wines] with an obscenely high alcoholic content is, in my opinion, disastrous. It is now admitted -- though not by all -- that they are too heavy for food, to heady as a drink. The combination of a hot climate and later-picked riper grapes is some excuse. But where are the old and tried wines of yore? Wines of delicacy and finesse, with modest (indeed unremarked-upon) alcoholic content, wines to appeal unthrustingly to the senses? Wines perfect with food?"

Where indeed. I can remember delicious under 13% Zinfandel blends from Ridge. Been a while since any of those have been made...

To their shame, Parker and Wine Spec and most other reviewers aren't raising a stink about this. On the contrary, they're helping to drive the trend. Case in point: www.chowhound.com/topics/390660#2471752

So what can be done to counter the trend? We, the consumers, can fight with our pocketbooks.

With that in mind, how about listing delicious wines we encounter that have an alcoholic content of less than 13%: The Under 13% Solution. To keep things concise, let's declare categories of wine that are, by definition, low alcohol (German Rieslings and Savoie's Bugey Cerdon, for example) as hors concours.

  1. Frodnesor Oct 29, 2007 08:52 PM

    I'm perhaps not as dogmatic as some and will happily drink well-made tasty wines of any alcohol level, but nonetheless find the discussion enlightening.

    Interesting to note that my recently received mailing from Copain indicates that they are consciously seeking to make their pinots lower-alcohol. A few highlights -

    - "The pinots from 2006 are the first wines where I focused on lower alcohol levels."
    - "I have become increasingly fatigued with pinots that, though interesting to taste, were cumbersome to finish or fell apart with food."
    - " If someone describes our pinots as smelling and tasting of black fruit: blackberry, plums, and boysenberry, I would feel as though I have missed my mark."
    - 2006 pinot alcohol levels range from 12.8 - 13.4 percent.

    The whole thing is here ->
    http://www.copainwines.com/2007_Winte...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Frodnesor
      w
      wally Oct 29, 2007 10:50 PM

      Thanks for posting this. I was about to do so also.

    2. v
      vinosnob Sep 21, 2007 11:41 AM

      http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/s...

      Although this topic has been discussed countless times on ebob, I like the exchange in these threads between Wes Hagen (Clos Pepe) and Brian Loring.

      13 Replies
      1. re: vinosnob
        Robert Lauriston Sep 21, 2007 11:52 AM

        "The #1 enemy of developing a true American wine culture are hugely extracted high alcohol wines that are impressive in a cattle call of 50+ bottles, but have no use at table or in the cellar."

        1. re: Robert Lauriston
          v
          vinosnob Sep 21, 2007 01:49 PM

          Wes makes a sound point. But, I like how he circles back and finishes with:

          Taste is taste and I'm stoked we can have differing opinions on style and still go have a drink and eat some buffalo and toast to being alive and breathing on a chunk of rock flying through space at 70,000 mph. Here's to the flava! (wherther it be delicate or bold.)

          1. re: vinosnob
            Robert Lauriston Sep 21, 2007 02:30 PM

            Yeah ... unless we go have a drink at one of the many places where every bottle on the list is a high-alcohol fruit and oak bomb.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              j
              jock Sep 21, 2007 04:47 PM

              Simple solution to that one. Go somewhere else.

              1. re: jock
                o
                olasek Sep 23, 2007 08:10 PM

                >> Simple solution to that one. Go somewhere else. <<<

                I agree. I find most of those lamenting comments about "high-alcoholic", "fruit/oak bombs", American "wine culture" going to hell in a handbasket bordering on comedy because of their repetitiveness. There is plenty of different wines on the market for everyone to find something they like.

                1. re: olasek
                  Robert Lauriston Sep 24, 2007 12:07 PM

                  Yes and no. I have no trouble finding wine for my own cellar, but there are a lot of restaurants where the wine list is so one-dimensional that there's little or nothing I want to drink. So I do go elsewhere.

                  Here's an example: I would have gone to this restaurant yesterday, but there's only one red on the list that isn't heavy New World style, and we drank that there a few weeks ago:

                  http://www.t-rex-bbq.com/Wines.html

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                    o
                    olasek Sep 24, 2007 02:29 PM

                    But this place has reasonable corkage fee - if you bring your own bottle you have total control over what you drink, just another dimension to this discussion.

                    1. re: olasek
                      Robert Lauriston Sep 24, 2007 02:39 PM

                      What we really wanted was a variety of wines by the glass, so we went to this place instead:

                      http://www.acoterestaurant.com/menus/...

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                        o
                        olasek Sep 24, 2007 03:11 PM

                        >> so we went to this place instead <<

                        wow! this place is literally in my backyard ....
                        You see Robert, there is no shortage of choices specially on highly cosmopolitan College Ave. ;)

                        1. re: olasek
                          Robert Lauriston Sep 24, 2007 05:42 PM

                          Unfortunately there are only a handful of good wine lists in the East Bay. We were just talking about that last week:

                          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/441179

        2. re: vinosnob
          eatzalot Oct 2, 2007 01:51 AM

          In the flap on the same ERP site in April-May (after Darrell Corti of the Corti Bros. specialty retailer announced he'd stop selling high-alcohol table wines) Robert Parker called that "stupid ... arbitrary ... a police state's mentality" (but did not mention that retailers make choices constantly about their products and focus). Mark Squires said that despite expertise in California wines he'd never heard of Darrell Corti (though Corti is a familiar name in California wine circles and known internationally as a wine judge).

          1. re: eatzalot
            Robert Lauriston Oct 2, 2007 09:39 AM

            If Mark Squires has never heard of Darrell Corti that says more about Mark Squires and Robert Parker's hiring policies than it does about Darrell Corti.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston
              z
              zin1953 Oct 30, 2007 06:55 AM

              Yes it does . . .

        3. m
          Mr F Jun 14, 2007 07:46 AM

          Domaine La Hitaire Les Tours, vin de pays des côtes de Gascogne 2006.

          11.5% on SAQ.com, but 10.5% ABV per the label. C$12.75.

          Crisp, refreshing summer sipper, easily among the best I've had lately in the price range. Mainly Ugni Blanc with some Colombard and Gros Manseng. (Some sites also claim there's Sauv Blanc in the mix -- may vary by vintage.) Floral notes, subtle citrus, apple on the nose; surprisingly elegant on the palate.

          The same producer has a low-alcohol sweet wine (probably better as aperitif than dessert): Dom. Tariquet Les Premières Grives, @ 11% ABV (C$17.75). 100% Gros Manseng. Moelleux, with lively acidity. I found the 2006 drier and more elegant than the 2005. It's also pricier, but still a great buy.

          Turns out the producer (the Grassa family) was featured in a local paper last Friday, but I didn't know that when I picked up the Hitaire on Monday.

          http://www.ledevoir.com/2007/06/08/14... (en français)

          1. m
            Mr. Cookie Jun 5, 2007 04:10 PM

            This is an interesting discussion. I have to agree with Robert Lauriston that a majority of wines above 15 percent alcohol just don't taste that good to me. The phrase "tarted up" comes to mind.

            The alcohol content doesn't say everything about a wine, but it says a lot. And because so many producers are making alcohol/fruit bombs these days, not knowing the alcohol content makes it very problematic to order anything online unless the alcohol content is listed, which is seldom.

            My wish is that as long as we are going to be saddled with an increasing number of high alcohol wines, sellers list the alcohol content just as they would the vintage or the producer for every wine they advertise.

            23 Replies
            1. re: Mr. Cookie
              Bill Hunt Jun 5, 2007 06:58 PM

              Not a bad idea, as the data are available on the lable. However, shouldn't any residual sugar (RS) be noted. Next step would be for those, with sulfide/sulfite sensitivty to want that listed as well. In no time, they'd sound like the auto-dealer adds, with the fellow, who comes on with the mile-a-minute speech on all of the fine print. My only question would be where do we stop?

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt
                eatzalot Jun 6, 2007 10:18 AM

                Wise comments as usual, Hunt. A problem with extra label data is that the data convey less than meets the eye. Take residual sugar. Some firms include it on back labeling. What does it really tell you? Sugar content does not meaningfully predict perceived sweetness at all (strongly altered by components like acids and the alcohol congeners -- polyols or "sugar alcohols" -- present also in ripe fruit -- that aren't legally sugars, but taste sweet). Modern German wine laws, as a practical example of label data, dictate an impressively long check number (AP Nr.) which however conveys only a little useful information.

                1. re: eatzalot
                  Bill Hunt Jun 6, 2007 07:12 PM

                  I agree completely. Beyond the ABV levels, my tongue was getting more, and more firmly in my cheek - along with a bit of "devil's advocate."

                  As for the GR Rieslings, I've had QmPs that seemed almost topsey-turvey: Kabinetts that were more like Spätlesen that reminded me of Kabinetts, or Auslesen, yet the harvesting was well within the rules.

                  Personally, I'd be shy of too much government (especially the US) dictating of standards, and labeling. Soon, it will require that all wines be sold in 3ltr. bottles, just so that all of the gov. required data can be printed, even with 2pt. type!

                  Hunt

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    eatzalot Jun 6, 2007 07:38 PM

                    Good one about the 3L bottles!

                    With the German Rieslings, I wonder if popular explanations have created an expectation that the Prädikat (Kabinett, Auslese, etc.) actually denotes sweetness in the finished wine. On the contrary the German laws, as I remember, govern "must weight" (starting material), not finished wine. The higher categories tend to make more concentrated wine, for a given vinification, but beyond that it's risky to read much into them. (A little off that point but what an incredible run of vintages Germany's had recently, eh? ALL under 13% and most under 10%, that I've tried.)

                    1. re: eatzalot
                      Bill Hunt Jun 6, 2007 09:42 PM

                      Yes, if one does not read between the lines, i.e. producer, vineyard, etc. and only go on the QmP designation, they might be in for a surprise. I know that I have, and think that I know many of my GR wines fairly well.

                      As for recent vintages, I'm still trying to finish my '01s. Also, I try to keep a few aside, as I really like a well-made Riesling with some years on it. I've got a few from the '70s & '80s left - waiting for some GR winos to try them with. My wife, OTOH, likes them young, fresh, etc., but has not done her part to help with the '01s! I have picked up some run-o-the-mill Rieslings, of later vintages, that have been very good.

                      And yes, ALL are in the 8.5 - 10% ABV, plus they are so-o food-friendly. It's too bad that I have to order most of the top producers' wines in, as GR wines are just not that big in AZ. For so "metropolitan" a place, it is a wasteland in some respects.

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        eatzalot Jun 7, 2007 10:26 AM

                        "As for recent vintages, I'm still trying to finish my '01s" (Bill Hunt). Don't be in too much of a hurry! Well-made Rieslings as you probably know are among the longest lived of all wines. It's impressive to see demonstrated. A merchant specializing in German wines (in San Francisco) showed some from a recent vintage and then, to make the point, opened one from the same vineyard from the 1970s -- and then again from the 1930s. All in fine condition, and developing.

                        1. re: eatzalot
                          Bill Hunt Jun 7, 2007 06:37 PM

                          In the 90's, I had a few from the '60s, and then, through now, try all of the '70s, that I own, or can find. Probably the highlight was in '98, and was a '76 Egon Müller, Scharzhofberger, Auslese Goldkapsel, that he poured. It was the last of this wine in his library, and he declared that it was the defining wine of Weingut Egon Müller. I believe every word, tha he uttered. Well stored, and well made, they are amazing wines. Even the few, that had a little oxidation, were still great. Too bad that PHX has just not gotten into higher-end Rieslings.

                          Hunt

                2. re: Bill Hunt
                  Midlife Jun 6, 2007 07:28 PM

                  Also there's the fact that few wineries make residual sugar information readily available. It's not on the labels and I can tell you that it's not on most trade fact sheets either. And...... not all wineries provide fact sheets with any real detail on them, if at all. You guys have a good thought here, but I think it's practical application is something of a stretch. I think it would take legislation to require this kind of thing.

                  1. re: Midlife
                    Bill Hunt Jun 6, 2007 09:44 PM

                    Midlife, please do not mention the word "legislation," as someone in DC will seize upon it, and we will never hear the end of it. (Grin)

                    Hunt

                3. re: Mr. Cookie
                  z
                  zin1953 Jun 6, 2007 10:42 AM

                  >>> The alcohol content doesn't say everything about a wine, but it says a lot. And because so many producers are making alcohol/fruit bombs these days, not knowing the alcohol content makes it very problematic to order anything online unless the alcohol content is listed, which is seldom. <<<

                  Hmmmm . . .

                  It is ILLEGAL to sell wine in the United States without an indication of the wine's alcoholic content by volume.

                  Jason

                  1. re: zin1953
                    r
                    RicRios Jun 6, 2007 11:26 AM

                    I believe Mr. Cookie is referring to the fact that on line wine sales do not routinely -if ever- spell out the alcohol contents of a specific bottle. There are no legal disclosure requirements so far, as far as I know, for on line sales.

                    1. re: zin1953
                      m
                      Mr. Cookie Jun 6, 2007 02:16 PM

                      RicRios is right, as far as I know. And it's getting increasingly common to order online from wine shops such as K&L or BevMo, and then drop by the store just to pick up your order.

                      It's frustrating. Often the Web sites have more info about the wines than you'll find in the stores. But rarely do they include the alcohol content.

                      1. re: Mr. Cookie
                        z
                        zin1953 Jun 6, 2007 03:41 PM

                        Ah, my error. HOWEVER . . .

                        Keep in mind that the alcohol content listing on labels of wine sold in the U.S. need *not* be accurate; also, some labels may merely say "Table Wine" and be in legal compliance. (See my first post in this thread, dated May 14, 2007.)

                        In the 1970s, as alcohol for Zinfandels (in particular) began to creep upward, I was of the opinion that ALL wine labels should merely say "Table Wine," that the specific alcohol number was useless -- there were big, full-bodied wines with low(er) levels of alcohol as well as high(er) levels; there were wines that seemed "hot" with low(er) levels of alcohol as well as high(er) levels; and so on and so forth . . . Too many consumers made too many (often incorrect) judgements by seeing a specific number.

                        Part of me still believes that.

                        Jason

                        1. re: zin1953
                          m
                          Mr. Cookie Jun 7, 2007 11:49 AM

                          Well, I still say that if they want me to buy wine online, considering today's glut of high-alcohol wine, they have to give me info on the alcohol content first. It would be absurd for me to shell out hundreds of $ for a mixed case, only to find it consists of a bunch of wines I never would have purchased in the first place.

                          Apparently I and other lower-alcohol fans in this string are in the minority, however.

                          1. re: Mr. Cookie
                            Midlife Jun 7, 2007 12:07 PM

                            In my experience at least, most online wine purchases are for wines with which the buyer is already familiar. Your idea is possibly an idea for an online retailer's wine club selections: "Under 13% Club". Seriously.

                            1. re: Midlife
                              m
                              Mr. Cookie Jun 7, 2007 12:24 PM

                              I might sign up for such a club. Then again, I might not, preferring to pick my own producers and varietals.

                              Given the huge trend toward high-alcohol wines, and the backlash it is engendering, I don't see why they wouldn't include the alcohol content when they list or advertise wines for sale. It makes sales sense.

                              And to respond to Bill Hunt, I don't think it's hard to draw the line after including that info. There isn't any hue and cry for listing residual sugar, fermentation temperature or other production details, the way there is about the alcohol content.

                              1. re: Mr. Cookie
                                Bill Hunt Jun 7, 2007 06:47 PM

                                Actually, I have not heard the backlash and the hue and cry. I, and most of those around me, attempt to find enjoyable wines and not get too hung up on oak, ML, alcohol, or much of anything else - except the enjoyability of the particular wine. About the only bias, that I harbor is against Chilean wines, and that is because of all the ones, that I have tasted, only one rates my, "Hey, I'd buy THAT" rating.

                                When my suppliers tout the "latest, the greatest, the most undiscovered," or "the type of wine that is selling like hotcakes," I usually take a pass, until I have had the opportunity to taste these for myself. If they merit my attention, and interest, I put in a few cases. Otherwise, I let the trends do what trends seem to - cycle.

                                Heck, in another thread, I just found out that all of the society elite are downing copious quantities of Rosés. Seems that they have been "discovered." Big deal. I've been downing them for decades and still attempt to introduce wino friends to them. I guess all that I have to do is mention that P'Diddy drinks them - or not. Now the price will go up, and soon all of the accountants will force the winemakers to do Rosés. Everyone will do one and the quality will likely go down. It's the same with high-alcohol, or low-alcohol wines. So long as there is a market, then folk will make and sell them. If there is a backlash, the producers will cease to produce them. I just have not seen this backlash, except in this thread.

                                Hunt

                                1. re: Bill Hunt
                                  m
                                  Mr. Cookie Jun 8, 2007 10:21 AM

                                  I think the term "Parkerized" and some of the references that others on this thread have made to reactions by restaurateurs, wine shop owners and some winemakers themselves shows that the backlash to high alcohol wines extends well beyond this thread.

                                  1. re: Mr. Cookie
                                    Bill Hunt Jun 8, 2007 04:50 PM

                                    I could be wrong on this, but I see that more of a backlash directed at Robert Parker, Jr, and less at the wines. I see the same trend in criticism of the WS, and almost anyone/anything that holds sway over such a vast and diverse industry.

                                    I guess the final test is, do the wines sell? If they do, then they will be made in a style that sells. If not, the winemakers will try something different.

                                    That said, I am not a big fan of the homogenization found in too many wines. I really enjoy finding diversity and a personal expression in the wines, be it the winemaker, the terroir, whatever. One of the biggest complaints that I have with "value" wines is they tend to taste alike. Most of that comes from the industrialization of the craft, but a lot has to do with the one dimensional aspect of too many of them.

                                    Personally, I probably really appreciate only about 30% of what RP, Jr raves about, but then tastes differ. If everyone got on his train and constructed wines to his formula, if there is one, we'd loose the individual nuances, that make wine so wonderful. Personally, I hope that everyone does not agree with him completely, or a vast sea of sameness is likely to sweep over the wine world. I just see "bigger" wines selling like hotcakes with little sign of abatement on the horizon. But hey, I missed that recent boom in Rosés too, so maybe my head is buried more deeply in the sand, than I would like to think.

                                    Hunt

                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      r
                                      RicRios Jun 8, 2007 06:22 PM

                                      "I guess the final test is, do the wines sell? If they do, then they will be made in a style that sells. If not, the winemakers will try something different."

                                      Well, winemakers, I mean, the real ones, those that have been doing it for generations, might think differently.

                                      I remember once while visiting chez Rousseau, I asked Corinne Rousseau -confidentially- how much she was selling their top of the line, the Chambertin. It was -and is- sold out many years in advance, so it was a rhetorical question anyways.

                                      She mentioned the price, and I got very surprised, it was well below what I was expecting.

                                      So next question I asked was "Why don't you sell it for twice as much, you'll be sold out anyways?".

                                      Her answer will be very hard to understand to American minds, she said "If I sell it that high, I won't like the people that will buy it."

                                      Next she told me about the "recent" craze re. Burgundies. "Before the 1980's, said Corinne, we made our bread and butter planting lettuce."

                                      So you see Bill Hunt, winemakers don't necessarily follow Parker, or the market, for that matter.

                                      1. re: RicRios
                                        z
                                        zin1953 Jun 9, 2007 08:52 AM

                                        I'm not sure your story illustrates the point you think it does . . . .

                                        1. re: RicRios
                                          Bill Hunt Jun 9, 2007 07:30 PM

                                          Reminds me of the argument, some years back, between Dan Duckhorn and Kerner Rombauer, as part of a panel of Napa producers. Mr Duckhorn argued that prices were too high for Napa Cabs and Merlots. Mr Rombauer stressed that he sold everything and was going to bump his prices to match some of the "then" cult Napa wines, because the market would bare it. Two good winemakers with a great deal of overlap in their portfolios, and next-door neighbors, with divergent feelings, re price.

                                          What was it that you were saying again? How does this affect Parker and the wines that he likes? You lost me along the way.

                                          Hunt

                                          1. re: Bill Hunt
                                            r
                                            RicRios Jun 9, 2007 08:58 PM

                                            A friend in the advertising business once told me re. billboard ads:

                                            "If you got to explain it, it's no good"

                                            Obviously, same applies in this case. Mea culpa. I'll expiate with a Fernet Branca.

                    2. j
                      jeremysvt May 27, 2007 05:02 PM

                      Dr. Frank semi dry Riesling, Finger lakes, 11.5%, Most roses around 12.5% if French, Italian Vermintios, Vino Verde is usallly around 9-10%...

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: jeremysvt
                        Yaqo Homo May 27, 2007 08:53 PM

                        Dr. Frank is great--dry and semi dry rieslings are highly recommended! I love that producer. Makes wonderful sparklers too.

                        1. re: Yaqo Homo
                          a
                          anewton May 30, 2007 09:13 PM

                          I think I may be the odd man out, here. I taste a lot of wine, am a member of my local wine society. I like some low alcohol wines, particularly German rieslings. But my favourite wines are Argentinian malbecs, Pacific Northwest bordeaux blends and syrahs, some of the better quality Australian shirazes, New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, you get the idea. Many of these wines are 14% and up. I have not noticed any correlation between alcohol content and quality of the wine, excepting some of the massive California zins that exceed 15%, which I do find overtly alcoholic.

                      2. Nate Uri May 27, 2007 04:12 PM

                        I'm also thrilled to see this discussed heavily - as I recently have had enormous success finding better wines by selecting based on alcohol content.

                        I've been out of the US for about 7 months, and what is shocking is how much of the wine that gets sold in Japan is under 13%. And I believe it has to do with a market that is much more interested in finding a balanced wine than a popular or mess-you-up wine. It also happens that it's been really hard to find a bad wine here.

                        At home (in Mpls), I go for Portuguese Vinho Verde (sometimes even under 9%), Soave Classicos, Alsatian anything, a lot of Loire valley, Oregon Pinot (if I can afford it), and a lot of red blends.

                        Some reds are definitely built for higher alcohol - Zins, some Cabs, Merlots, but 13.5 to 14 Rhone? Where are the days of 11.5 to 12.5 Rhone? I want my damn Cotes du Rhone back!!!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: Nate Uri
                          m
                          Mr F May 28, 2007 01:35 PM

                          "Alsatian anything"

                          That's not really a guarantee of low alcohol and/or good balance anymore. Not too long ago I had a 2001 Zind-Humbrecht Gewurz (Herrenweg de Turckheim) that was 15% and, to my palate, exceedingly hot. As I said at the time, it was like somebody had spiked my wine with vodka. It had some redeeming features inluding a pleasant nose, and nobody else around me seemed bothered by the booziness, but overall the experience was a powerful reminder to check alcohol levels when buying wine.

                          I don't think the Zind is an exception, either. Seeing lots of Alsatians well over 13% on the shelves these days.

                          1. re: Mr F
                            z
                            zin1953 May 28, 2007 05:05 PM

                            Agreed, but Alsatian wines have ALWAYS been higher in alcohol than their German counterparts. Then again, +13% is not the same as +15%!

                            1. re: Mr F
                              Bill Hunt May 30, 2007 07:39 PM

                              Again, I think that the problem is one of balance, or out-of-balance. If the impression of the wine is "hot," then the alcohol level is probably higher than it should be. OTOH, many high-alcohol wines are in perfect balance. Alcohol provides much, much more than heat. The same problem would exist if the wine had too high an acid level, though one would not likely fall and hurt themselves in that case. The wine would still be out of balance.

                              Personally, I feel that the alcohol level is a bit of a "witch hunt." When done poorly, it is a bad thing, but all higher alcohol wines should not be damned by a simple number, alone.

                              Hunt

                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                m
                                Mr F May 31, 2007 07:39 AM

                                Your point is well taken: I have had wines that were delightful at 14 or 15%, and others that seemed hot at around 13%. Still, the "hot" character does seem to be more common at higher alcohol levels, and for me it happens to be a deal-breaker of an imbalance. I did finish my glass of that highly rated Zind, but it was mighty disappointing -- yet my companions found it tasty and could tell it was a fine, relatively expensive wine without knowing the price (just under C$50 here, though I paid less), so it's clear to me that heat isn't a problem for all.

                                I can often work my way through something that's too jammy, or underripe at the other extreme (helpful foods exist for both cases); air and red meat will often make overwhelming tannins bearable; brett, which I'm not wild about even when it's present in "quality" not "flaw" quantites, can become an asset if there's game meat about; high acidity (within reason) can be balanced with the right food; but so far I've yet to find an accompaniment to tame heat and make it acceptable to me.

                                1. re: Mr F
                                  z
                                  zin1953 Jun 1, 2007 12:54 PM

                                  Let me agree, with the statement that I, too, have had wines which are (to continue with the perameters of the original discussion) 13% and under which showed heat and were definitely out-of-balance, and wines over 15.5% that were fine, excellent, and in perfect balance. Of course the reverse is true, too, and (anecdotally) more often. But I wish to add a few things, morsels for thought perhaps:

                                  1) In life generally, but ESPECIALLY in the world of wine, there are no absolutes. "Always" doesn't mean 100% of the time, and "Never" never means all the time. In other words, there are exceptions to everything.

                                  2) Quite often, wines which are higher in alcohol are indeed lush, wonderful, delicious ***in their youth *** and they fall apart with bottle age, becoming increasingly hot, alcoholic and brittle. Similarly, some wines with lower levels of alcohol ***need*** time in the cellar to develop.

                                  2a) What's the difference? Well, in the first instance, the wine remains all primary, and never developing the complexities that only time and bottle age permits. This may or may not be a good thing -- to produce wines that ***need*** bottle aging. After all, there was a statistic from Nielsen (or was it Gomberg, Fredrikson?) that claimed, IIRC, 96% of all wine purchased in the US was consumed within seven days of purchase.

                                  3) I have had some truly exceptional wines that were 14.5-15.5% alcohol that were totally outstanding after 10-15 years in my cellar . . . still the exception, rather than the rule, but -- refer back to Point #1. ;^)

                                  Jason

                                  1. re: Mr F
                                    s
                                    StephP Jun 3, 2007 09:45 PM

                                    Those are interesting observations. I think because over 14% is the rule and not the exception, I avoid swirling wine in the glass because then all I smell is ethanol.

                                    1. re: StephP
                                      z
                                      zin1953 Jun 4, 2007 06:14 AM

                                      >>> over 14% is the rule and not the exception <<<

                                      That depends upon the "market segment," and what you are drinking. That is, it isn't if what you drink most is (e.g.) German Riesling, French Muscadet, or California jug wines; it is, OTOH, if what you drink most are Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Australian Shiraz, or California Cabernets.

                                      But "balance" is indeed the key. I've has wines that were out-of-balance and "hot" which were under 13% alcohol, and above; I've had wines that were 15.5% alcohol that were smooth and balances, as well as disjointed and hot.

                                      As I said above -- there are excecptions to everything, but in a broad generalization, balanced wines will age better, and there are more of those <13% than there are >15% alcohol!

                            2. Bill Hunt May 27, 2007 10:01 AM

                              Back to the OP for a moment. I wonder if we are not getting to "hung up," on the fine print on the bottles of wine, that we injest. To me, it's far more important that the wine be balanced, than it is to dissect the minutiae of the constituent parts. It seems to be an almost “knee jerk” reaction, like the ABC [Anything But Chard/Cab/fill-in the blank] movement of some decades back. It should be about the taste, and if it isn’t right, i.e. balance, then we can go out and find where the faults are. Alcohol, fruit, acid, etc. can all contribute to failings within the wines.

                              I’ve had very low alcohol wines, that seemed perfectly in balance. Same for some high alcohol ones. Now, I prefer, on a totally different note, the low alcohol ones, as I can drink more, before I fall down, or start hitting the wrong keys on the laptop!

                              To me, singling out just the alcohol by volume is a bit like tilting at windmills. If there is a problem with a particular wine, and it’s that its alcohol level is out of whack, then so be it, regardless of the % by volume.

                              Just one wino’s opinion. Still an interesting thread with a lot of info, and thanks to Carswell for addressing it.

                              Hunt

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Bill Hunt
                                Robert Lauriston May 27, 2007 10:33 AM

                                I taste a lot of wine. I'd say on average less than one in twenty of those 14% or higher taste good to me, compared with more like three out of four of those under 13%.

                                So, when buying stuff I haven't tasted, I pretty much avoid anything over 13% unless I get a strong recommendation from someone who knows my taste.

                                The issue's not just the high alcohol level. Wines made from overripe grapes are usually too low in acid, and more often than not they're also overoaked.

                              2. Robert Lauriston May 26, 2007 09:15 AM

                                Parker's not raising a stink about high-alcohol wines because he's in significant measure personally responsible for the trend.

                                He likes them (as do many of his fans) and gives them high scores; high scores from Parker lead to better sales; so winemakers make wines they think will please him.

                                Everybody I drink with knows exactly what I mean when I call a wine Parkerized.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                  r
                                  RCC May 27, 2007 11:33 AM

                                  I think that you are missing out on a lot of Parker's so-called fans such that you errroneously think that they like high alcohol.

                                  Where did you get your information that made you generalize that Parker and his fans like high alcohol in their wines?

                                  1. re: RCC
                                    Robert Lauriston May 27, 2007 12:05 PM

                                    I formed that opinion by tasting lots of wines and seeing which Parker scored highly. It's not a very original observation.

                                    "The wine world knows what Parker likes and increasingly supplies it. If producing an alcoholic fruit bomb increases your chances of getting a ‘Parker 90’, then fruit bombs we shall have, even from Bordeaux, which had for some time been the centre of resistance to supplying these jammy monsters."

                                    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n03/shap01_.html

                                    "I had a guy try to sell me 16.5 percent Merlot," says Kent Liggett, owner and wine buyer at 1550 Hyde restaurant in San Francisco. "He said (critic Robert) Parker liked it out of barrel. I said, 'Parker can drink it. You drink two glasses and you'll be face down on your plate.'"

                                    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      r
                                      RCC May 27, 2007 03:03 PM

                                      Obviously written by third parties who has generalized views of Parker's and think they can write and interpret Parker views.

                                      Well, I've had completely contradictory (from what you've quoted) comments and testimonies based on very recent live conversations with actual Bordeaux and Rhone winemakers.

                                      1. re: RCC
                                        Robert Lauriston May 27, 2007 06:01 PM

                                        I'm not sure what you mean by contradictory. What did they tell you about alcohol levels and/or Robert Parker?

                                    2. re: RCC
                                      z
                                      zin1953 May 27, 2007 01:04 PM

                                      Uh . . . could be from reading his reviews, and the tasting notes postedby others on his site???

                                      1. re: zin1953
                                        r
                                        RCC May 27, 2007 02:53 PM

                                        If I go by his (Parker's) scores, there are a ton of 12% to 13.5% Bordeaux that Parker has scored way above those sporadic high-alcohol reviews that you refer to.

                                        Besides, you should lurk at the more dedicated wine sites where wine, not food, is the primary topic being discussed by wine geeks who seem to have their lives revolve around nothing else but wines and you will observe how Parker, yes he posts liberally too, and others do not go for alcohol, unless it really helps the wine. This is something that Parker had stressed in some offlines where I had been that he had attended as well.

                                        1. re: RCC
                                          z
                                          zin1953 May 27, 2007 04:52 PM

                                          >>> Besides, you should lurk at the more dedicated wine sites where wine, not food, is the primary topic being discussed by wine geeks who seem to have their lives revolve around nothing else but wines and you will observe how Parker, yes he posts liberally too, and others do not go for alcohol, unless it really helps the wine. This is something that Parker had stressed in some offlines where I had been that he had attended as well. <<<<

                                          My name is Jason Brandt Lewis, and I have over 10,000 posts on eBob. ;^)

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            r
                                            RCC May 29, 2007 04:56 PM

                                            good. then, i'm glad that you understand exactly what i mean.

                                            1. re: RCC
                                              z
                                              zin1953 May 29, 2007 05:28 PM

                                              I understand what you're saying. I just strongly disagree. But, as they say, YMMV.

                                    3. re: Robert Lauriston
                                      z
                                      zin1953 May 28, 2007 09:04 AM

                                      >>> Everybody I drink with knows exactly what I mean when I call a wine Parkerized. <<<

                                      Me, too -- and even though Parker himself claims no such word exists, and has no idea what it means, there are people who write for him who have used the term more than once . . .

                                      1. re: zin1953
                                        Bill Hunt May 30, 2007 07:35 PM

                                        Actually, it is a play on two totally different applications of the name "Parker." In firearms, the term is used to define a coating of the steel framework of a gun (handguns most often), while within the wine world, it is used (by exactly whom, I cannot state) to describe a wine that has met the criteria of Robert Parker, Jr. In usage, the firearm reference preceeds RP, Jr by some years.

                                        That said, I have to admit that I have enjoyed many wines, that would probably be best described as "Parkerized." Turley, Biale and some others come quickly to mind.

                                        Hunt

                                    4. Yaqo Homo May 25, 2007 10:56 AM

                                      Not only are red wines too big and hot these days, but I have heard that many American producers deliberately *understate* the alcoholic content of the wines they sell. Is this true?

                                      I remember hanging out with a winemaker in Mendocino county who claimed that the alcohol level of California Pinot Noir is often 1% to 1.5% higher than that number printed on the label. I was very tipsy (from high alcohol zin) at the time, so I don't remember the stated reasoning for this supposedly widespread deception, but it still confuses me. Are there legal/taxation consequences for admitting your wine is high-alcohol, or are these lies for the sake of marketing?

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Yaqo Homo
                                        Robert Lauriston May 25, 2007 11:15 AM

                                        The actual percentage can vary by 1.5 points from what it says on the label. Winemakers may overstate or understate depending on what they think the market wants.

                                        In the USA, I don't think there's any difference in tax rates on unfortified wine based on alcohol content.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          c
                                          chickstein May 25, 2007 12:37 PM

                                          Actually there are huge differences in taxes. In GA anything over 14% and the taxes go WAY up. In TX there are certain counties that do not allow wine over 14% to be sold.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            Midlife May 26, 2007 10:44 AM

                                            Actually the US TTB website quotes the Federal Excise Tax rate for a 750ml bottle at $.21 for up to 14% alcohol and $.31 for 14-21% alcohol. Those hot wines have a ten cent premium.

                                            http://www.ttb.gov/tax_audit/atftaxes...

                                          2. re: Yaqo Homo
                                            Yaqo Homo May 25, 2007 01:19 PM

                                            I apologize, zin1953 already addresses this point in an early post to this thread; sorry for missing it. In any case, 1-1.5% can make a huge difference in the drinker's experience.

                                          3. Robert Lauriston May 25, 2007 09:19 AM

                                            Darrell Corti of Corti Bros. will no longer stock unfortified wines over 14.5% alcohol:

                                            http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              z
                                              zin1953 May 26, 2007 08:09 AM

                                              This was originally posted by Michael Dunne, the wine and food writer of the Sacramento Bee in his online blog the Bee's website -- go to http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/dining/ and scroll down to read the entries from 4/25 and then (to see the flak) 4/27.

                                              To read the flak directly, go to http://dat.erobertparker.com/bboard/s...

                                              1. re: zin1953
                                                Robert Lauriston May 26, 2007 08:44 AM

                                                Thanks. Permalink for that blog post: http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/dining/archives/006631.html

                                                "California's first high-alcohol zinfandel, says Corti, was made in 1968 by Mayacamas Vineyards in Napa Valley. It had 16 percent alcohol, he recalls. 'Today, it tastes terrible.'"

                                                And a follow-up post:

                                                http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/...

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                                  z
                                                  zin1953 May 26, 2007 09:21 AM

                                                  The thread on Parker's site lasted over 200 posts. My favorite was when the Man himself chimed in to say that Corti's decision "Seems apallingly stupid,frigheningly arbitrary,and like some part of a police state's mentality to me"

                                                  Jason

                                                  1. re: zin1953
                                                    Robert Lauriston May 26, 2007 09:45 AM

                                                    No surprise that Parker doesn't get it.

                                                    Sure, there are tasty, balanced wines with over 14.5% alcohol. The problem is that lots of growers with good vineyards and good vines are following the trend for overripe grapes, and the winemakers who buy those grapes are making unblanced, overly alcoholic wines.

                                                    The point of Corti's ban is not to keep those wines off his shelves--he's not going to buy them anyway. The point is to send a clear message to the growers and winemakers.

                                                    I went to a Dashe Cellars / JC Cellars tasting a couple of years ago and was talking with one of the winemakers about how I found all his dry wines overly alcoholic. He said something like he wasn't happy with it either but all the available grapes were overripe.

                                                2. re: zin1953
                                                  eatzalot Jun 1, 2007 11:12 AM

                                                  In the erobertparker thread (zin1953's "flak" link), Mark Squires writes of never having heard of Corti before this. I'll have to add that to a list of things about California wines apparently perceived differently from afar. I haven't dealt with Corti myself, but in Bay Area blind tasting groups I attend (people with similar length of experience to Squires's) I doubt a month or two go by without Corti's name surfacing in some way.

                                              2. Dr. Debs May 15, 2007 09:24 AM

                                                Good post. I dislike and steer away from high-alcohol wines. Last night I had the 2004 Falesco Vitiano, a red blend from Italy with just 13% alcohol. Other favorites recently that have stood out for their relatively low alcohol/vol are the 2004 Sandoval Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (when was the last time you saw a $13 Napa Cab at 13.5% alc/vol?) and the 2004 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel Heritage at 13.5% alc/vol. Sparkling wines are often great for lower alcohol choices, and often come in at between 8% and 11% alc/vol. Beaujolais (the real stuff, not the nouveau) is almost always under 13%, and a good substitute if you like pinot noir.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Dr. Debs
                                                  eatzalot May 15, 2007 09:46 AM

                                                  Good point on Beaujolais. The numbers may have changed but traditionally, along with prescribed yield limits, one of the legal requirements for Beaujolais was 9% minimum alcohol and for Beaujolais Supérieur, 10 per cent.

                                                2. eatzalot May 14, 2007 02:40 PM

                                                  Amazing is not just how high they are but how they've gone up. California Cabernets used to run around 12-13% routinely for decades. The good Calfornia wines that made the region's name in the 1970s and 1980s (at the "Paris" tasting and others) were lower than today. (Ridge zins crept up sooner than some, if I remember.)

                                                  "Parker and Wine Spec and most other reviewers aren't raising a stink about this." Ironically, two decades ago Parker was criticized as paying little attention to California wines.

                                                  1. r
                                                    RicRios May 14, 2007 09:20 AM

                                                    On the <13% subject, one of my favorites:

                                                    Pamela et Aubert de Villaine
                                                    2, rue de la Fontaine
                                                    71150 Bouzeron
                                                    http://www.de-villaine.com/page-uk/

                                                    Outstanding finesse, amazing value!

                                                    (Isn't that ironic, the co-manager of DRC making such excellent "petit vins" ?)

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: RicRios
                                                      carswell May 14, 2007 12:20 PM

                                                      Probably my favourite QPR Burgundies but I'd never noticed the ABV. saq.com lists only one bottling at the moment, the 2004 Les Clous, clocking in at a reasonable 12.5%. Will have to check the reds next time I'm at my cellar.

                                                    2. z
                                                      zin1953 May 14, 2007 06:11 AM

                                                      First of all, I agree that many wines producd today suffer from an excessive level of alcohol. But -- secondly -- let's remember that, at least in so far as labels go, all is not what you read.

                                                      I am not sure, off the top of my head, what the Canadian regulations are, but for wines sold in the U.S., labeling the alcoholic content of a wine falls into categories. These are based not upon quality, but upon taxation.

                                                      "Table Wine" is defined as wines containing 14.00 percent of alcohol by volume or less. Wines in this category must declare their alcohol content on the label in one of three ways: 1) By printing the phrase "Table Wine" on the label; 2) by printing a range of numbers (e.g.: "11-14% alcohol by volume") on the label; or 3) by printing a specific number on the bottle (e.g.: 12.5% alcohol by volume).

                                                      Keep in mind that, for wines 14.00% alcohol by volume (often abbreviated as "alc. by vol.") and below, the specifc number on the bottle must only be accurate within +/-1.5%, with a "hard ceiling" of 14.00%. That is, a wine labeled "12.0% alc. by vol." can, in reality, actually contain between 10.5% and 13.5% alc. by vol. A wine labeled "12.5% alc. by vol." can, in reality, actually contain between 11.0% and 14.0% alc. by vol. BUT, if a wine is labeled "13.5% alc. by vol." can, it will contain between 12.0% and 14.0% alc. by vol. -- that's the "hard ceiling."

                                                      Above 14.01% alc. by vol., there is a +/-1.0% tolerance, with a "hard floor." A wine labeled "14.2% alc. by vol." may be anywhere from 14.0% to 15.2% alc. by vol.; a wine labeled "15.6% alc. by vol." may actually contain anything between 14.6% and 16.6% alcohol, etc., with a cap at the next level where the tax rate changes.

                                                      So while I certainly agree far too many wines are far too high in alcohol, it's good to remember that what you read isn't always what you get . . .

                                                      Jason

                                                      P.S. EVERY "number" on a wine label has a percentage tolerance. . . .

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: zin1953
                                                        carswell May 14, 2007 07:23 AM

                                                        Your point is well taken. I figured somebody would make it and should have figured it'd be you. ;) It's also somewhat US-centric: the SAQ (and I suppose other "evil" state-run monopolies) analyze all the wines they sell and issue an independently verified ABV reading (e.g. the estate's label on abovementioned 2005 Vannières rosé says 13%; the SAQ-approved importer's label says 12.5%). These can be obtained from the www.saq.com website.

                                                        While the ABV number on a label may represent a range, it's still useful for comparative purposes. If you and others are interested in discussing the topic, please start another thread. The purpose of this thread is to fight the trend to high-alcohol wines by listing low-alcohol wines of interest and encouraging consumers to seek them out. You I'd encourage to be less literal about the thread's title -- it is, after all, a conceit, a wink at a Sherlock Holmes parody -- and cough up some recommendations. After so many years in the business, you're bound to have some good ones.

                                                        1. re: carswell
                                                          z
                                                          zin1953 May 15, 2007 10:01 AM

                                                          Well, for the most part, I don't drink very many wines from California.

                                                          I drink a lot of wines from the Loire Valley -- Muscadet, Vouvray, Sancerre for the whites; Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur-Champigny for the reds -- that are almost always less than 13-13.5%. The same goes for most Alsatian whites and wines from the Languedoc -- Picpoul de Pinet for the whites; Coteaux de Languedoc, Montpeyroux, Corbieres, Minervois, etc. for the reds, and of course Beaujolais -- both red and white.

                                                          Rhone wines and Bandol tend to be higher than 13-13.5, but there's not much I can do about that.

                                                          Alvarinho, as well as Douro, Dao and Alentejao reds from Portugal are generally under, though some of the Douro reds are pushing it.

                                                      2. c
                                                        chickstein May 14, 2007 05:55 AM

                                                        WOW! You have entered the winery catch-22. You are damned if you make wine under 14%, and you are damned if you don't!

                                                        Look at the wines that are scored high by Parker and WS. You want to get a good score, you have to have the alcohol. Which we all know comes from overripe fruit., so you get this jammy fruit bomb-but really high in alcohol. So you make a wine that is higher in alcohol. When you do that you are punished by the states. Some states charge three times the taxes on wine over 14%. Some states have COUNTIES, that do not allow the wine to be sold when it is over 14%.

                                                        Insignia 03- 14.4%
                                                        Kistler Chardonnay 14.5%
                                                        Kosta Browne, Dumol, Siduri-All high alcohol pinots.

                                                        I looked through my cellar to see what I had that was under 13%. I am still looking. This may take awhile. Even the Robert Mondavi Fume BLanc Rsv is over 14%.

                                                        1. Bill Hunt May 13, 2007 08:05 PM

                                                          Though I have to admit that I am a fan of some of the really big Zins and Cabs, I also consume a lot of GR & FR Riesling, mostly < 10% ABV. Most of these have great acidic balance and go so very well with food.

                                                          I think that you have hit on the right note: "balance." When it's there, the %s don't really matter, but let it get out of whack and you end up with some grotesque wines.

                                                          Keep up the good work,
                                                          Hunt

                                                          1. carswell May 13, 2007 05:10 PM

                                                            Tonight's wine: Douro 2003, Quinta do Côtto. 12.6%. Tasting note in the third flight at www.chowhound.com/topics/336227 though the price has dropped C$1.10 to C$16.95, making it even more of a bargain.

                                                            1. carswell May 13, 2007 01:30 PM

                                                              Haven't been keeping records, but checking through my recycling bin, the following are both under 13% and delicious:

                                                              Château Vannières 2005 Bandol rosé: 12.5%
                                                              Clos de la Briderie 2005 Touraine-Mesland red and white: 12.5%
                                                              Domaine St-Nicolas 2005 Fiefs Vendéens "Gammes d'été": 12.5%

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: carswell
                                                                b
                                                                bubbles4me May 13, 2007 02:10 PM

                                                                I could not agree more! As someone considers herself a wine drinker not a wine taster I find that most wines from the new world are just too damn high in alcohol. I too hit my recycling bin and here are my findings. Oh and btw almost all Champagne is around 12%...so I say we should all just drink more Champagne.

                                                                2006 Domaine Sorin Cotes de Provence Rose 12.5%
                                                                2005 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon Macon 13%
                                                                This was just funny 2004 Domaine Tempier Bandol 11-14% (That is what is says)
                                                                I'll post on others as I drink them

                                                              2. Midlife May 13, 2007 01:23 PM

                                                                I remember seeing a Portugese Vinho Verde at 9% but I just checked 29 mostly California Chards and found 3 at 13%, a few in the mid-13's, but most in the 14+ range. I know better than to check any reds.

                                                                1. f
                                                                  fauchon May 13, 2007 01:14 PM

                                                                  Thank you SO much for raising this issue. Drives me bats for wines to come in at 14% & 15%. I find now that I ALWAYS have to check alcohol content when I purchase wine or else I get the bottle home & find to my horror that the zin I planned for dinner is up at 16%....Plus 13% is food unfriendly & drinker unfriendly. Who on earth is supposed to drink these alcohol bombs anyway?

                                                                  As for minus 13%, Beaujolais often come in at 12.5%...Loire Valley whites (Muscadet, Sancerre etc) & reds (Chinon, Saumur etc) are often sub 13%...so are the classic French Burgundies...Vino Verde from Portugal tends to be light on alcohol...Italian Vermentino (great with seafood) is usually alcohol-light, too....lots of summer-perfect rosés also weigh in at minus 13%...

                                                                  Thanks again for raising this...I'm looking forward to other answers....

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