Thursday, July 26, 2007

The High Alcohol Debate -continues

Because of all the high octane involved the debate on alcohol levels has flared to an even higher degree than usual. Here in the US it resurfaced when Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers, a retail store specializing “in rare and unique gourmet foods and fine wines" decided that he will no longer sell wines with alcohol above 14.5%. Others have jumped onto the band wagon including Robert Parker Jr.’ biographer, Elin McCoy. Even Ric Einstein (TORB) has posted on the subject.

Now Randy Dunn, of Dunn Vineyards, has added his personal opinion in a letter to the media in the US. Comments that include “The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop. Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 -16. +% alcohol.” are clear, rational arguments against high alcohol wines; and if you believe that then there is this bridge I know about……..

The argument that wine should be below 14% in alcohol shows a lack of understanding of the buying public. Most wine is consumed within days of purchase, and only a small percentage of wine drinkers cellar wine for any length of time. More importantly even fewer have the facilities to correctly store wine for years; no, a cupboard in the kitchen is not the correct place. In my experience young wines that are full flavored and ready to drink are preferred to the youthful austerity (excess tannins and acid) of wines meant for aging. Its not surprising that most wine is rich and ripe in style, and its even less surprising for those wines to have higher alcohol.

To appreciate (non-dessert) wine of different alcohol levels all you need is a little commonsense. Earlier this week I drank a 1998 Cape d’Estaing Cabernet Sauvignon (Kangaroo Island, Australia). A beautiful wine that will live for many more years. The alcohol? Below 14%. Last night I opened a 2003 Carlisle Sonoma County Zinfandel that was bursting with flavors and palate appeal but not the 15.8% alcohol.

I wonder if any of the anti-high alcohol league have put their beliefs to the test? Has Dunn taken a group of wine drinkers and let them blind taste wines below 14% and above 15% to see which wines are favored? Darrell Corti’s store claims to “specialize in rare and unique gourmet foods and fine wines”. Does Corti have a program of educating the buying public by showing how the wines he sells match with the foods he sells? The fate of high alcohol wines in such contexts would be a useful contribution, as opposed to trying to force personal preference on the wine buying public.

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