Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Voting on Alcohol in Wine

I get lots of email that I just ignore, but the title of a missive from Dave Chambers of the SidewaysWineClub.com caught my attention today. “Michael, are you drinking less high-alcohol wine?” No, Dave I’m not Darrell Corti, I drink a lot of wine that is over 14.5% alcohol.

Who is Darrell Corti? He’s a retailer who has decided that he will no longer sell wines with alcohol above 14.5%. That’s table wine, not dessert wine. Oh, and not Italian Amarone either. Why? Because Amarones are made to be 16.5%. At least that’s Darrell’s excuse, and he’s sticking to it. Any other exceptions Darrell? Only if one of his best customers asks for a Carlisle Zinfandel, wines that are certainly not below 14.5%. Then his company will contact Mike Officer of Carlisle and try to buy the wine. Fortunately for Darrell Mike reminded Corti Bros that they can’t buy his Zinfandels because they are all above 14.5%.

Unfortunately Corti has no real control over what happens.
1) He can't control what alcohol is actually in the wine by what's on the label. The labeling of alcohol content allows 1% variation, over or under, on wines above 14% of alcohol content by volume, and a 1.5% variation, over or under, on wines below 14% alcohol by volume. So a 14.5% wine could be a 15.5% wine, and a 13.9% wine could be a 15.4%er. So just how is Darrell Corti going to determine what is above 14.5%? By what is on the label or in the bottle?
2) He can't control what critics will say about wines. For example Parker loves the Molly Dooker wines of Sarah and Sparky Marquis. These are not alcohol shy wines (the label says 16.5%, but Sparky admits its something like 17.2%) but their wines sold out in 21 days in the USA last year.
3) He can’t control what wine drinkers will buy, except in his own shop.
4) He’s inconsistent. His excuse for selling Amarone over 16.5% is that they are made to be like that. Well, news flash, big fruity, full flavored wines have high alcohol, even without being dried out. And, unless I’m mistaken, much of the wine buying public seems to like wines with plenty of flavor.

Darrell Corti's decision is really only likely to affect those who buy wine from Corti Bros. And as they list less than 30 wines on their web site I doubt that internet sales are a large part of their business. So for the majority of the wine world, I predict, this will be a storm in a tea cup. Changing the wine buying publics' acceptance of high alcohol wines requires more than retailers saying they won't sell them.

Want to express your opinion on what I think is a really silly retailing decision? Head off to Dave Chambers blog, and VOTE! No prizes for guessing that I voted for the last choice.

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