Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A note to Dan Berger (and the rest of the anti-high alcohol league),

After several attempts to post a comment on Dan Berger's latest article on high alcohol wines, and getting the message of an error on the page, I've decided to post my thoughts here. Maybe they will take my comment later?

Appellation America is directed toward a very small segment of the wine drinking population, so I wonder how much thought you or any of the other writers on the “big wine” topic give to the average wine drinker. Is it in the interests of the majority of consumers that appreciate the riper style of wine that you pen these articles?

There are an additional few questions I would like some data for, and no I don’t want dogma or anecdotes. Let’s put some meat on these bones!

1) Where are the studies showing that there is a correlation with the popularity of high alcohol wines and cola drinkers? (Just pose that possibility to the average Australian wine drinker and see what answer you get).

2) How many wine drinkers buy wine so that they can determine the regional characteristics of a wine? (Do you really believe that Mr/Mrs Average Winedrinker is at all interested in regional character when they drop by their local wine shop to get a few bottles to serve at their dinner party?)

3) More to the point, how many wine drinkers can actually identify regional characteristics in a wine?

And finally,

When is the anti-high alcohol league (Corti, Dunn, Asimov, McCoy, yourself and others) going to attempt something constructive in terms of addressing alcohol levels in wines? No, the diatribes that have been written thus far are not constructive. They are destructive, divisive and elitist. When will any of you judge these wines blinded against food? Wine has been judged this way at The Sydney International Wine Competition for the last 26 years. (Just as an FYI, the 2007 winner was the 2004 Neagles Rock One Black Dog Reserve Cabernet Shiraz. At 15% alcohol it came away with best Fuller Bodied Dry Red Wine, Best Red Table Wine of Competition, and Best Wine of Competition.) When will any members of the wine press pull together both sides of the argument to discuss alcohol and balance in wine as the Wine Press Club of NSW attempted in July of this year? If winemakers believe that less ripeness and lower alcohol levels will be popular with the cognoscenti then why don’t they make limited releases of such wines? These wines would likely sell at a premium, albeit to very small market. But surely that is a more constructive approach than writing “The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop.” If the Australian wine community can approach this topic in a constructive manner then its about time that the US does the same.


Arthur said...


There is an interest in makeing these types of wines. There are a number of winemakers who already make wines this way.

To explore this style of wine in a broader forum and to give awareness to the style and to let the public try it, I have initiated a collaborative experimen: project23. (www.redwinebuzz.com.23_bx_wine.htm)

Because I started this very recently, many people are too late in the game to plan on participating in the project in 2003. At this time, I have the interest of winemakers in the Central Coast, Claveras County and in Oregon. Once I have their full committment, I will publish their names.

Additionally, I will put up a discussion forum where all participants can discuss topics relevant to making this style of wine.

I invite you to join us.

Arthur said...


There are a number of winemakers who already make the style of wines Dan is talking about.

I have started a collaborative experiment: project23 (Please visit: www.redwinebuzz.com/23_bx_wine.htm). This project will explore the type of wine Dan mentions. It will give them a forum and a place in the marketplace. The purpose of this is to explore this style of wine. After all, wines in California were made at 23.5 Brix, with potential alcohol in mind. It was wines made this way that won the 1976 Academie du Vin tasting. This project will explore how to make more composed, yet still flavorful wines.

Once the discussion forum is up and running, you are welcome to join the conversation.

(if this entry is redundant, I apologize, had a little browser trouble)

Salil said...

Just curious (as I've not read many of these other sites/articles), but is there an argument that high alcohol obscures regional character?

If so, it's quite ridiculous. A lot of Zind Humbrecht's wines are big, rich and with not-modest levels of alcohol. Yet Z-H makes some of the most terroir-specific wines around, especially from their grand cru vineyards.
I also recently had the privilege of enjoying a bottle of 1995 Pegau Cuvee Laurence with some friends. Pegau is another wine that's big, rich, has a fairly high alcohol level (I remember reading Da Capo clocks in around 16-17% somewhere)... yet that went spectacularly with food. A sniff was all we needed to tell that this was a true Chateauneuf du Pape with the sort of flavours and complexity you find only from there. Regional character, food friendliness, purity, elegance - and with what did feel like a fair bit of alcohol (judging by my head the next morning). I don't see how anyone can say those elements all can't work together, because that's just one of a number of wines I've had where they all have.

Arthur said...


The contention about excessive alcohol becomes more of an issue in California - not only because of the climate bu of the style adopted lately. The link to varietal and regional character is twofold:

Firstly, high alcohol goes hand in hand with extreme, and in many cases, excessive ripeness. At excessive ripeness, grapes verge on raisins and the components in them that give a wine distinct varietal typicity change and the varietal (and regional) character is lost.

Yes, european wines can come in at higher alcohols, but and here the second aspect of the argument comes in, when the grapes are so ripe that the potential alcohol tops and exceeds 15% the alcohol often overpowers the subtleties and finesse of the wine - if there was any left after all that hangtime. These wines taste like some vague fruit juice mixed with vodka. These wines don't do well with food - especially spicy food.

"Richness" has become a bit of a monster these days. Part of that is cultural: cuisine frames one's reference on aromas and flavors. Much of what we in the US drink and consume is very over-the-top and extreme in aroma and flavor (it seems the more intense and extreme the better). In that way, our reference of "richness" is calibrated differently. Immediate, gobby, jammy "richness" is not the natural characteristic of many varieties. But in pursuit of ever-elusive and ever-higher "richness" wines have become bigger, raisinier and higher in alcohol and sugar.

Some people like that. Fine. But those wines do not represent the best possible examples of what the grapes are capable of and should not be given the priases they do from wine writers and should not retail for mor than 12 or 15 USD.