Remember bell bottoms, argyle socks, long hair, striped ties, fast cars, fast women (I don’t really remember that one), Disco, and oh yeah, low alcohol wines? Well, guess what? Most of them are Baaaaaaaaaaack! Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, you have been transported to another place, another dimension, are so it would seem? No, you’re in the here and now but as the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself. Not sure about the rest of the stuff but I’m, for one, glad when it comes to wine.
Many years ago wine from the old world and wine from California was much lower in alcohol, much lower! I hear about ripeness, that I mentioned in another blog, about how we have to get to 24, 25, hell 30 brix before the wine tastes right. Have you ever tasted a 41, 53, 58, 68, 70 B.V. Private Reserve Cabernet? Maybe a 41 Inglenook, 55 or 58 Martini? I bet no one who reads this would turn down the chance at a bottle in perfect condition. How about a 29 first growth, a 47, 49, 50, 55, 61, even 59 and 62, although a little riper then the others. What do they have in common? For the most part they’re all under 14% ALC. and they taste great! This is also true for old Burgundy and holds true today. These wines are fantastic and have aged magnificently. They are great wines but they’re not high in ALC. because they were picked at lower brix. So what changed?
In my opinion, the rating wars are the single biggest influence on the wine industry. For better or worse, depending on where you stand, they have in many cases forced the winery or winemaker into judgment calls he or she may not have made. I am not holding court over any one, on many levels I understand why they made the choices they did. Imagine owning a medium size winery making decent to stellar wine. It’s a hell of an investment. I can speak of this first hand owning a small one. You negotiate with your distributors around the country and you’re off to the races. This is all sped up for blog’s sake, but in the end you don’t sell a lot of wine not because it’s bad or not worth price paid, but because you did not receive 90 plus ratings. You have one vintage pile up on top of another and in the end your distributors starts to discount your product and tell you they might have to drop you. That you need scores! You look at the competition and find out why, even with what you believe to be inferior wines, they’re getting better scores. It’s very easy to figure, like the basic math class long ago, they’re picking later and their wines are riper. So you do the same, moving away from what you believe in, but closer to survival. But why will this fundamental change in thinking turn a critic’s score from say 80 to a 90?
It’s called instant gratification. The wines taste better and sometimes are yummy when they’re consumed young. They’re more forward and round with less complexity. The misconception is sweetness comes from only one sources that’s inaccurate. Sweetness or roundness in your mouth can come from sugar as in dessert wine or it has RS (residual sugar) not being totally dry. But it can also come from high Ph, low acid, barrel tannin, and yes, are you ready? Alcohol! Higher Alc. can show as a sweetness in the wine that makes it attractive to the human palate. Europe has accused us on more than one occasion of being a coke drinking society. In some ways they are correct since we get used to such things and a riper wine may be more familiar to us. Let me be clear, I am not saying riper wines are better just more friendly at first. But the dirty little secret is many of these wines don’t age gracefully. You need balance, and when the baby fat of the wine ages away you’re left with an unattractive, very high alc. brut better used for cooking. So my advice, drink those wines early in their life and don’t get behind the wheel of a car.
There is a small revolution out there started long ago by pioneers in the business that never changed their thinking. Guys like Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climant that have been preaching the virtues of lower alc. wines for 30 plus years! There are others, but now there is a smaller group of new players that are just starting to rise up. They are making age worthy wine that I believe have more to offer in their youth and much more after a few years in the bottle. It will always be a struggle, that’s for sure. But there has been some sightings of winemakers wearing bell bottoms, flip flops, and tie dye shirts. They have also been seen in the vineyard picking early, imagine that? Sometimes there’s even some funny smelling smoke in the vineyard. And that’s alright with me as long as they harvest sooner rather than later!
Maybe we need a low alc. Czar or at least a wine critic that agrees with me. Maybe one of you can start writing and talk of the virtues of the people out there taking the risk for all our benefit. This is kind of a continuation from my “More from less” blog but I guess I wasn’t finished. Imagine me wordless.
Here’s to history,