Thursday, August 02, 2007

This cowboy says, "Stop the high alcohol!"

Appellation America recently announced the surprising email to the wine media from one of the industry’s most respected winemakers, Randy Dunn, owner of Dunn Vineyards in Napa, CA. Known for his uber-Cabernet Sauvignons and Zinfandels, Randy shared with his peers that higher alcohol wines should stop! After blending his own Cabernet Sauvignon - 2004 vintage wine that registered in at 14.11% alcohol, Dunn decided it was time for wine consumers to enjoy wine for it's unique aromas and flavors and not for the high alcohol peak that masks the flavors of a meal. This was the first time in Dunn's 28-years of wine making to reach that high percentage (and did you know that wines over 14% elevate to a higher federal excise tax bracket?).

Dunn's focus is against the new trend of high alcohol wines and these "hot" wines are not just limited to the occasional cherry cough syrup flavored Zinfandel that we run into once in awhile. We are seeing 15% alcohol in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and even Pinot Noir. The reason for the high alcohol wines? It starts in the vineyard. If we remember junior high chemistry, we know the basic - - yeast + sugar = alcohol. When grapes are picked too ripe at a higher brix (sugar) and fermented to "dry" (removing most of the residual sugar), not only is the wine left with a higher alcohol content, but most of all the characteristics known to the varietal and the uniqueness from the appellations of origin are seriously diluted. Dunn, a supporter of regional identity, explains that the only way to get back to terroir and celebrate our appellation's unique differences is by returning to lower alcohol wines.

Also note that Randy Dunn is no stranger to Walla Walla. This humble, yet celebrated winemaker has partnered with Long Shadows Winery. He is producing small quantities of his Cabernet Sauvignon, at the Long Shadow's facility located in Walla Walla, from some of the oldest and most diverse vineyards in Washington State. The 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, known as Feather, is at the top of my list when it comes to elegant Cabs. In fact, I have been hoarding my last bottle of this rich and silky dark wine. Oh - - and the alcohol? 14.2%. Fair enough.

1 comment:

Steve B said...

High alcohol levels in wine are a direct result, I believe, of the addiction to dense, lush, thick, over-ripe wines (especially reds) that has got the super-premium and ultra-premium segments of the U.S. wine industry in its claws right now. Those wines, in turn, are the result of an addiction to the 100-point system and of slavish obedience to the wine critics who hand out the scores. Everyone seems to want to score 90 or better. The way to do it is to pander to the critics' palates, which for reasons beyond me are in love with these alcoholic fruit-bombs.

But the real problem is, well, us -- the wine-buying public, I mean. As long as we use wine scores rather than our own critical judgment to assess which wines to buy, scores will have market power and the wines will follow the scores.

Pogo's words remain true: We have met the enemy, and he is us.