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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Alcohol levels in wine

From the label of a 1988 Dry Creek Vyds Zinfandel.
Note the alcohol level.

Out to dinner last night at a popular restaurant in Healdsburg. A nice, local wine list, but a $20 corkage fee--a little high.

They offered one Zinfandel by the glass and I figured that would go well with the Pork Chili Verde with Polenta.

By now I should know to check the alcohol level of any Zinfandel I'm not familiar with before purchasing. This was not the kind of wine to have with a meal unless you like having shot of tequila with your food. The overriding characteristics of the wine was alcohol in the nose and taste. I thought the waitress may have noticed I left my wine glass full when she handed us the check, but she didn't say anything so I didn't either.

I've been to a wine bar in Santa Rosa a couple of times trying their Zinfandel flights of three small producers--always wines I've never had before. It's great to try new stuff, but I've found most of what they pour unpleasant because of the high alcohol levels. There was one Zin from Alexander Valley that I couldn't even drink.

Why do the winemakers / marketers feel we need alcohol levels of 15.5% plus? I can't figure this trend. I've had a few of these high alcohol monsters that have enough fruit to mask the alcohol, at least while the wines are young, but these are few and far between, and usually very expensive. A few of these wines can be outstanding but the majority are stinkers.

I think/hope most consumers are looking for fruit, spices and other complexities in their wines and a balanced product that you can enjoy by itself or with a meal. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

It's not just Zinfandel; I've had a few hot Pinot Noirs, too. Pinot should never push 15%. It's no longer Pinot when it does. Heck, even microbreweries are putting out beers typically 7 to 8% and are now pushing over 10%!

I've talked with Europeans and others who drink European wines and when they sample California, especially zinfandel, they call it "strong" meaning they are tasting alcohol.

In the vineyards we go through trellising trends. You can pretty much tell when a vineyard was planted by the trellising system used. Currently we seem to be using a Burgundy style, I guess it is, where the fruit is fully exposed to sunlight. That's great for even ripening, it's great for cloudy areas, I'm not sure why we need to cook 'em on the vine here in sunny California. I realize the old head pruned Zinfandels must be a royal pain as Zin is notorious for uneven ripening (and sometimes pruney tasting wines). OK, I'm no vineyard manager so maybe someone can explain this to me.

If I want a glass of alcohol I'll buy Patron Tequila. If I want a dinner wine I'm expecting the alcohol to be buried under the other characteristics of the product.

I do love my Zinfandel and Pinots. Just keep them under control!

The post originally published 4/30/2009