Text Size:-+
07.13.2005

Jancis Robinson on High Alcohol Wines

Based on responses to several posts in the past, I can see that alcohol levels in wine are a hot topic for Vinography readers. So when I saw this excellent piece by Jancis Robinson on the subject, I had to let you know.

She goes through the background of the debate, and the causes of high alcohol in wines, and some of the conflicts between growers and winemakers surrounding hangtime (which is all good reading for those who are unfamiliar with the issue) but then she brings up an astonishing fact that I was unaware of, which adds a whole new dimension to the debate.

It turns out that American wines over 15% in alcohol are effectively forbidden from being exported to America's largest overseas market: the EU. Apparently that 15% threshold requires a bi-lateral wine agreement to exist between the EU and the country of export. If it doesn't exist then the EU won't let the wine in, and like so many of our international trade agreements these days, this one just hasn't made the priority lists for American diplomacy.

Of course, the Australians, the Chileans, and the South Africans have all done their due diligence and struck agreements.

Of course, many wine drinkers would say that's the least of our worries, when the wine is to high in alcohol to drink.

Check out the article. It's a good one.

Comments (3)

Terry Hughes wrote:
07.16.05 at 5:25 AM

I did not drink for 22 years and, when I took up the grape again in 2001, I was astonished to see how high alcohol contents were in wines from every part of the world; the old days of 11.5 or even 12% % Bordeaux were clearly over.

This is a good thing in some ways. The thin, astringent wines of 40, 50 or more years ago--no one misses them. New agronomic technqiues and vinification methods have been beneficial and raised the overall quality level, there's no doubt about it.

Still, when we get to the point where we have 15-16% wines for the table, it's a bit unbalanced. I find such wines, as do many others, too hot and not at all food-friendly. And I for one do almost all of my wine-drinking in conjunction with a meal.

So, winemakers increase alky levels because they CAN, I suppose. But there is a market for such monsters, or the winemakers would find some other way to find a competitive advantage.

I have a hypothesis, which someone may disprove: Americans like such high-alcohol wines because the American taste is traditionally for hard liquor, and for the big kick booze gives your body. High-alcohol, rather sweet wines produce pretty much the same effect. A huge sugar load coursing through the system. A few glasses of this stuff and you're asking them to play "Melancholy Baby." Or you're passed out.

Thoughts, rebuttals, disputations, anyone?

Alder wrote:
07.18.05 at 9:47 AM

Terry,

Thanks, as usual, for the thoughtful comments. I'm leery of your theory about the American taste for hard liquor because of our Puritain history. I think we'd be one of the least likely countries to have a cultural preference for high octane wines. I'd think it far more likely that we have a sweet tooth, and that we like our wines fruitier, and therefore picked later. The high alcohol just being a byproduct of our desire to drink wines that taste like jam or berry pies.

Terry Hughes wrote:
07.18.05 at 1:04 PM

I have to agree with the sweet tooth bit. How many times in my long life have I heard people say something like, "I didn't used to like wine--it was too sour for me --but I LOVE Cold Duck/Shiraz/[whatever]..." And they'd put away a couple of bottles in no time. Often the same people who favored Old Fashions and Sloe Gin Fizz and other high-cal drinks.

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)
Yes
 

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Pre-Order My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

Vinography Images: The Red Window Taking Celebrity Wine to the Next Level Vinography Images: The Blue Berry 2014 Family Winemakers Tasting: August 17, San Mateo Will Climate Change be the Death of Cork? The King of Zweigelt: The Wines of Umathum, Burgenland Vinography Unboxed: Week of July 14, 2014 Vinography Images: Solar Powered Dot Wine and the Fear of Change Annual Napa Wine Library Tasting: August 10, Napa

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.