For people who care about wine (and think about it too much) the topic du jour for the past couple of years has been the increasing amount of alcohol in our wines. California is always singled out as the main violator and there are thousands of words written by way smarter people about the rising amounts of alcohol - I have included links at the bottom of this page.
Do you remember how alcohol ends up in your wine glass in the first place? The quick explanation is that during fermentation when the yeasts are chomping on the natural sugars in the grapes, they produce heat, CO2, and alcohol.
Therefore, when it’s all sunny and warm (and they have sufficient water) the grapes can fully ripen and become fat and juicy and their sugar levels increase. There’s a ton more to it, but warmer climate = more sugars = more alcohol.
Please feel free to add some sort of global warming aspect to it.
Also, remember that California is sunny, warm, and has fairly fertile soil to boot!
What is high?
Alcohol is measured and labeled as “alcohol by volume”. The normal range is somewhere from 10% to 14% ABV depending on the wine (champagne is lower – whites are in the middle – reds are on the high end (usually)).
Above 14% is where I start saying, “Woooo! This is high!”
That shit is alcoholic
I don’t drink a lot of wine from California. Nothing personal to California, but since I have been drinking for academic reasons my wines seem to all come from Europe where the alcohol generally isn’t so overbearing.
Overbearing. That’s the word.
We are studying North America and the other night our study group met and was hosted by a fellow who adores Califorina wine. He provided the majority of the wines which came from his sizable collection and we basically tasted from the popular category of “crap” all the way to the also popular category of “crazy expensive cult wine from a producer who only makes 100 cases a year and uses solid gold barrels overseen by a really smart monkey named Chuckers”.
“You’ve got to taste the 1984 Chuckers Blend!”
It was an evening of drinking California wines in the pursuit of analyzing them like dorks. But, damn. Every one of these California wines was overbearing with the alcohol to the point that you couldn’t taste anything else. Apart from two zingy crisp unoaked Chardonnays, almost everything was over 14%.
What’s the problem? There was nothing to taste. Many of us just gave up trying to taste anything. Alcohol. Hot. Jammy one-note fruit. Nothing secondary. No personality. No character (unless “hot jammy simple” is the style you are going for).
Did they need to breathe? Should we have decanted them hours earlier? Were some still a bit too cool from being in the wine cellar machine?
Let’s go buy wine
Your project (and mine) this week is to buy something red that is under 14% ABV. This will probably rule out California and even some of the Pacific Northwest. And Australia. Southern France. A good part of Italy - although if I were smarter and had more time, I think a case could be made that many Italian wines can have high alcohol yet balance it with relatively high acidity, tannins, and all that stuff.
Ideally when drinking this not-crazy-ass-high alcohol wine, we should taste things. Different things. A variety of things. Fruit things. Earth things. Depth.
And unlike the high alcohol wines, it will probably go well with food.
Unfortunately we won’t get crazy drunk.
Would you like more information? Check out the following links at your public library: