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May 13, 2007 01:02 PM

The Under 13% Solution

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:

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.

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  1. 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 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....

    1. 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. 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

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

          1. 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,