Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Complaints against High Alcohol in Wine – a little history

They never seem to stop do they? It’s a pity most of the complainers know very little of history, at least those ranting against Australian wines. I was remained of this again last week on a note over at GLUG. In reply to the growing argument, primarily by UK wine merchants, that Australia make wines lighter than 13-14% alcohol David Farmer quotes from H.E. Laffer’s "The Wine Industry of Australia" (1949). Lafer discusses the complaints of a Dr. Thudicum. "In records of the trade round about 1870 there was a good deal of discontent among shippers because some of the wines imported were said to be over 26% proof spirit (this equals 14.85% alcohol by volume), and were therefore charged one shilling and sixpence a gallon extra duty. Dr. Thudicum claimed that these must have been fortified, because it was not possible for that amount of alcohol to be produced by natural fermentation. The controversy raged through the columns of the daily Press, both in editorial and in letters from correspondents. The learned Doctor based his assertion on the claim that it could not be so "because it would simply upset the whole scientific facts hitherto established throughout the world."

Dr Thudicum is rebuffed by a letter on 18th December, 1873, from P.B.Burgoyne which states "There is one remark of Dr. Thudicum's which I take leave to dispute. He says, 'If Australian wines have to pay the half-crown duty on importation into England, it is because they are brandied.' Now, although I would not pretend to say, nor do I believe, that all the Australian wines that have come under my notice are without brandy added, yet I can, and do most positively assert, that the 'Tintara' grown by A.C.Kelly, M.D., which wine has been made the scapegoat by Dr. Thudicum (vide the Journal of the Society of Arts, December 5th, page 48) does generate 26 degrees proof spirit in fermentation and no brandy is added.....".

A good dose of alcohol has always been, and will always be, in the wines from the hotter regions of Australia like the Barossa Valley. The real story, if the international critics want to make note of it, is that the cooler regions of Australia do make the wines they prefer. The problem is that very few, if any, of these critics make the effort to taste those wines. And so they continue to complain when all they really need is a little history lesson and the initiative to seek beyond what is put in front of them. Even Robert Whitely agrees with that.

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