About everyone has heard me complain that my wine has too much alcohol. I should say *HAD* because I have refer to my latest wines as my “next generation” wines. My next generation wines are made with more care, criticism, thought and intention. All of them are made with the promise of not messing with sugar and letting the fruit shine through. I want to substantiate my self-criticism and feelings about my early wine with something I found on Jack Kellers blog today. It sums it all up perfectly. I like how he even used the same adjective to describe high alcohol wine, “HOT” – I pass along this excerpt from his site so that winemakers can unite!
“This was a great question, asked casually at a wine tasting in Alamo Heights, an incorporated area surrounded by San Antonio. The gentleman tasted a Pinot Grigio, made a face denoting displeasure, picked up the bottle and announced “Too much alcohol” while scanning the label. “Ah,” he said, “14.6% — too much.” His companion asked, “What percent is too much?” His response was both illuminating and totally correct.
To paraphrase him, he essentially said there is no magic number, but 14.6% for a table wine is almost certainly too much. Certainly it is too much when you taste the alcohol over the fruit, when the heat from the alcohol burns the taste buds, and when the winemaker is obligated to sweeten the wine to attempt to achieve balance and fails in the attempt. What you have here is an overly sweet, hot wine. You have to search for the flavors, which in this particular wine were quite nice, he admitted, but you shouldn’t have to search for them. The fruit, not the alcohol, should be up front.
The gentleman was absolutely correct. Alcohol creep began in earnest about a dozen years ago, when growers began letting their grapes hang longer to develop the full flavor of the fruit. The general consequences were higher Brix and lower acidity. In big reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, these can result in a rich, chewy wine, but one that can pack a whollop when the bottle is empty. In whites, the lower acidity can result in hot, flabby wines. I would not have called that Pinot Grigio “flabby,” but it was “hot” on the tongue.
In home winemaking, one has a certain amount of control the commercial winemakers may lack. We can dilute a high Brix must or chaptalize a low Brix in areas where this is not allowed for commercial producers. When making non-grape wines, we have complete control over the chemistry, limited only by our knowledge and the means to achieve that control. Means in this sense refers to laboratory analysis and equipment.
Yet the greatest abusers of excessive alcohol tend to be novice or young home winemakers. The first group mistakenly believes that more is better while the second group is just seeking a quick buzz without regard for balance or any concept of what a good wine really is. I know. I was among them once, as were many other experienced winemakers. I’m not sure when one grows out of that phase. In my case it occurred when I tasted a truly great, nearly perfect Zinfandel and noticed the alcohol was a few decimals below 13%. For others it might occur when they begin competing and receive feedback from conscientious judges.
But to be fair, I know two local winemaker who have developed a taste for high alcohol wines in much the same way as another friend has developed a taste for moonshine. I do not judge them. They like what they like. But they know what I and most judges will say when we judge their wines.”