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What is the problem with high alcohol wines?

Last night I had a wine I just love. It is 15% alcohol from a typical summer of dog days down here on the Mediterranean. Ripe concentrated fruit. No hot finish. It's sooooh good. I just bought another 11 bottles last Friday.

What is the problem with that? Well, other than falling asleep after dinner in front of this screen. Is high natural alcohol really a flaw?

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  1. Balance has everything to do with it. What was the wine?

    1 Reply
    1. re: wally


      Sorry. Did not see your post, when I responded - you beat me to the punch! BALANCE is everything.


    2. low acidity.....as sugar goes up, acid comes down. My understanding of French regulations is that you can add sugar, but you can't add acid.

      1. Well, the weather can dictate, to me at least, the wines that I will choose from.

        However, and not considering the weather, I can enjoy some very high alcohol wines - but ONLY so long as they are balanced. Got to be balanced.

        Heck, the other night, it was still 102 F at 10:30PM. I had the misting system going, and enjoyed a copita of Fonseca 20 Year Tawny Port. Not my normal Summer go-to, but enjoyable, after a fine meal, with a Cuban cigar, regardless of the heat. While I do not have the label in front of me, I would guess about 18% ABV.

        It all just depends.


        1. It's rare that I encounter an unfortified wine with 14% or more ABV that has enough acid for my taste.

          Which wine are you talking about?

          1. The wine is Cotes-du-Roussillon Villages 2011 Domaine Serrelongue Saveur de Vigne, gold medal winner in Paris, every year it seems;

            40% Mourvèdre-30% Syrah-30% Grenache. Chewy, balanced, concentrated.

            Our normal summer here is hot and dry. It may rain only once a month between June and September. That produces clusters of small, concentrated ripe grapes. 2013 promises to be the 11th consecutive such growing season. Our last average vintage was 2002.

            1 Reply
            1. re: collioure

              How's the grape juice? Is it as sweet as Arkansas Concord?

            2. High natural alcohol . . .

              OK, so you plant Syrah in a cool climate -- say, the Sonoma Coast or Côte-Rôtie -- and the resulting wine is, say, 13 percent abv; plant Syrah in a warm climate -- say Paso Robles or the Barossa Valley -- and the resulting wine is, let's say. 15 percent abv. Knowing ONLY this, plus the fact that the wine was neither chapitalized nor acidulated, which would you prefer to try?

              Now the truth is I've had great Syrahs from all four places, BUT . . .

              Balance. Balance in all things . . . alcohol, acidity, fruit, tannins, oak, etc., etc. -- if everything is in balance, the wine has a chance to be great. Out-of-balance, and it's lost before it even gets a chance.

              Think of a tightrope walker -- as long as balance is maintained, he or she can reach the other side. Lose their balance and -- well, let's hope they weren't working without a net!

              Slightly off-topic, but it *does* apply: one of the legendary winemakers of Napa Valley once said, "You want oak? Chew a toothpick!" If oak is the first thing you taste and it dominates all of the other components in the wine, the wine is out of balance. So, too, for the high alcohol burn -- it doesn't matter what the specific number may be, if the wine is in balance, it works; if it's out-of-balance, the alcohol dominates and burns . . .

              5 Replies
              1. re: zin1953

                I posed the question, Jason, because I have so many friends here who shy away from high alcohol wines.

                I always tell them that I don't drink the labels, but maybe it just goes to their heads too quickly.

                I've been drinking the 2011 vintage for several months now and just noticed the alcohol level on the label.

                1. re: collioure

                  I find many, who drink wines "by the numbers." Those numbers might be from Robert Parker, Jr., or might be from a lab. They always cite various numbers, but seldom actually taste wines - just read from spreadsheets, or from labels.

                  I pay not attention to them, and drink what I like - the numbers be damned.

                  As Jason mentions, BALANCE is what it is about - not numbers.


                2. re: zin1953

                  Actually, the toothpick story I have heard attributes that quote to August Sebastiani (in Sonoma). But, I bet more than one old school winemaker said it!

                  1. re: dkenworthy

                    Can't speak for whether or not August said that -- only met him a couple of times -- but certainly he and my former employer were not only of the same generation, but also good friends.

                    Nonetheless, Louis P. Martini and I were in the winery's conference room when he said that to me . . .

                    1. re: zin1953

                      Yes, I would have guessed that Louis and August felt about the same way. I heard August say that at a winery tour when I was at Davis, back in the late 70's. I think I heard it from another old school Italian down in the central coast. Back when small oak barrels were controversial.

                3. There is no problem, as long as there is plenty of fruit, flavor, and a nice texture to match the higher alcohol levels.... and especially if matched with complementary food.

                  Great examples: a well-made complex zinfandel and a nice char-grilled steak... about as good as it gets in the food world.