Wine has always been a heady drink. But both the brix and alcohol content in wine has been creeping up over the last few decades. This more potent "Superwine" has many vintners questioning on whether or not it's time to say "enough is enough" and put a limit on the alcohol levels in their wine.
Under the rather-lengthy headline, "Wine's Potent Appeal May Be At Its Limit: Vintners Are Rethinking Their Skyrocketing Alcohol Levels: Alcohol Levels Above 14 Percent, Once Considered High, Are No Longer Even Unusual On the Average Wine," MSNBC Lifestyle Editor Jon Bonné writes:
"In all the high talk about wine, it's easy to forget this stuff can still get you drunk."
"Alcohol content in wines around the world, but perhaps most notably from California, has been creeping up in the past 25 years. If 12 percent was once average for red wine, it now sounds almost uncannily low; 14 percent is almost a baseline for reds, and whites are routinely climbing into the 13s and well above."
"Assuming you're drinking for taste — which is to say, you're old enough not simply to choose beverages for their high-octane qualities — more alcohol can be a mixed bag. Jumping from 12 to 16 percent is like an extra half-beer with each glass of wine."
"Higher alcohol often accompanies the full, ripe, deep qualities that grace some of the most highly prized New World wines. It usually results from ultra-ripe fruit, often picked late into the harvest season, that also yields a taste explosion."
"Yet some winemakers and wine sellers are growing reticent of these powerhouses, often finding them so overwhelming, so "hot" in alcohol, they can only be enjoyed on their own. It is especially worrisome to those want wine as part of a meal."
"Wine is a complement to food. Those wines do not compliment food. As someone once said, maybe wild boar, preferably still alive," says renowned winemaker Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards. "It's a wine that dominates the meal. It's a food in itself. You don't need the food; it's superfluous."
"Draper does not shy away from a healthy alcohol content. While Cabernet sauvignon can express itself just fine at 12 or 13 percent, he believes, zinfandel requires at least 14 percent to show its true colors."
"Yet last year, for the first time in 38 years, he found himself splitting grape lots for his Geyserville zinfandel — using less ripe grapes with lower alcohol to make his usual style of wine, and bottling another version with the late-harvested powerhouse fruit."
"Winemakers have several ways to monitor grapes in the vineyard. They can measure brix, which dictates how much of a grape's sugar can be converted into alcohol. They can simply use their tongues, tasting to see if a grape is ready. Winemakers who produce these big wines often insist they simply pick to taste, seeking the fruit that best reflects the vineyard."
"I've always been baffled by the militant attitude that some people have ... that we're ruining the wine," says Ehren Jordan, winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars, which has achieved near-cult status with zinfandels in the 17-percent range.
You can read the rest of the story here.