The alcohol debate resurfaced this morning in my copy of the San Diego Union Tribune. Much of the information in the article is old news. But it, again, raised the question in my mind of just how many wines have high alcohol? According to some we seem to drowning in high alcohol wines. Are we?
Its not a simple question to answer. First you have to define high alcohol; I’m not going to go into the speculation about how or why alcohol levels have been increasing over the last few decades. Some would argue that anything over 12.5% is extreme. Others, like Darrell Corti, put the limit at 14.5%. For me there is no cut-off level. I agree with my wife, who after looking at the article in the Union Tribune said, “Isn’t it simply a matter of whether the wine tastes good?”
Second, once you have set your limit you need to start counting wines. However most of the critics of increasing alcohol don’t seem to do this. Instead they simply note that average alcohol levels have been increasing (usually over the last few decades). But I’d like to see some real numbers. Are we (actually it really should just be you) up to our butts in high alcohol wines? Our chests? Our heads? Or are they just nibbling at our ankles? Well again it depends on your definition but fortunately we can get an idea by using the numbers in a recent post by Alan Goldfarb on Appellation America. Goldfarb wrote "At the recently concluded ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) annual Zin Drench at Fort Mason in San Francisco, an informal survey by this reporter of about 140 wines revealed some startling statistics. Of the approximately 140 presented at the event exclusively for the press, 54 Zinfandels stated on their labels that they contained alcohol levels of 14 to 14.5 percent. Another 11 listed their alcohol content as less than 14 percent. That’s an astonishing 46 percent of wines that have relatively low levels of alcohol in a varietal category that consistently registers alcohol percentages to the 15 to 16 plus mark. (For the record, five of those 140 wines indeed had stated alcohol numbers of 16 to 16.9 percent - yikes!)"
So how drenched in alcoholic Zins are you? If you are Darrell Corti your about up to your waist because 46% (65 of the 140 wines) were 14.5% or less. If you draw the line at 16% then you only have a few ankle biters to worry about because about 4% were 16% and above. But if you draw the line below 14%, like Randy Dunn, then you better start swimming because 92% (129/140) of the wines were higher than your definition. Me? I’m on dry land enjoying the view. There is no way I’m going to drown over the alcohol in wine. And neither should you.
Drowning image Copyright 2008 iStock International Inc.