Fri 26 Jan 2007
On Wednesday, Tom Wark at “Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog” — http://www.fermentation.typepad.com — referred to a recent article in Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar newsletter in which Tanzer, a highly respected and astute wine reviewer and commentator on the wine industry, said that he thought that alcohol levels in California wines were coming down.
It would be good if that tendency were true. High alcohol levels, the result of long hang times for the grapes so they achieve a sort of monster ripeness, have produced a whole generation of hot, sweet, unwieldy and one-dimensional wines. We have seen alcohol levels soar to 14.5 percent, 15 percent, 15.5 percent, not only for zinfandels, many of which have a reputation for hugeness, but for cabernet sauvignon, syrah, petite sirah and even pinot noir. Even white wines commonly now top out at 14.5 percent alcohol. The notion that a wine ought to be balanced, that a wine ought to reveal integration of all it essential qualities seems to have been forgotten. The typical alcohol levels of the past — about 11.5 to 13.5 percent — now seem almost naive.
So if Tanzer, who tastes thousands of wines a year, is correct, I would rejoice.
But look at the alcohol levels of these wines that I plucked from my shelves and the refrigerator this morning:
*Logan Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay 2005, Monterey County: 14.7 percent.
*Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc 2004, Paso Robles: 15.3 percent.
*Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Napa Valley: 14.7 percent.
*St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Napa Valley: 15.6 percent. (For a cabernet!)
*Mazzocco Stone Ranch Zinfandel 2004, Alexander Valley: 16.9 percent.
Not exactly a representative sample, perhaps, but enough to tell me not to hold my breath until alcohol levels in California wines really start to tumble.
On the other hand, it’s unfair to dismiss these wines merely because of the alcohol content. I’ll try them and post another entry in a few days to tell you how they perform.