Another sensible discussion on Eric Asimov's blog concerning high alcohol in wine. To summarize, elevated alcohols are an artifact of the desire for more richness of flavor expression, and sometimes can result in a beautifully balanced wine which can carry as much as 16% with perfect grace. Such wines are the exception, and even in these cases one cannot prudently drink as much as one might wish. The commercial success of the Big Wine is undeniable, and many commenters defended the trend, though others thought less would be more.
What’s missing from this conversation is the simple fact that the majority of California winemakers who are using extended hangtime to increase body (often but not always sacrificing longevity for richness) are reducing their alcohols in order to have a balanced palate. Between Vinovation and the Spinning Cone, we are now adjusting about 45% of the wine in the North Coast. There are still many producers who are shy about balancing the wine because it’s supposedly evil. But the vast majority choose the sensible road – they do it and they don’t tell you.
Alice Feiring even liked my Faux Chablis better with the original 15.3% alcohol than the 12.9% with which I finished it. Although my wife Susie, whose palate is very French, was somewhat horrified, Alice is allowed to like what she likes, and in truth, I like the wine that way, too.
The point of Faux Chablis is that we are able to make a wine like that (removing alcohol rather than enhancing it with beet sugar as the vrai Chabloisie do), and a California wine can present the lemon oil aromas and minerality we used to think only French wines were capable of, until we found them hiding under the alcohol. It's a demo that we can do these things, a plea for diversity, not an argument for yet another monolithic style-ocracy. If I wasn't trying to show this possibility, I could choose a higher "sweet spot" for that wine; there are usually two or three choices available. On the other hand, I'd lose those who are passionate about this style.
I greatly appreciated Eric's Interventionism discussion. Winemakers are just chefs—they’re being paid to be artesans, which means pay attention and do the necessary, hopefully in the context of presenting terroir more elegantly. Such understanding and encouragement allows these artists to use and talk about their tools openly. Thanks for being on their side.