Rising alcohol levels in wine is one of the hot-button issues of the wine world. Many wine lovers, including many readers of Vinography, think this is one of the most pressing problems with wine today and bemoan the fact that fewer and fewer wines can actually be drunk with dinner (as higher alcohol levels make it more difficult to pair wines with food). This concern is based in solid fact. Alcohol levels in California wine in particular have risen several absolute percentage points in the last two decades, and perhaps even up to 20% relative to earlier levels.
Today the San Francisco Chronicle's W. Blake Gray takes a three part look at the alcohol levels in wines that is worth reading for anyone interested in the issue. In the first piece he summarizes the debate about higher alcohol wines.
In the second piece he looks at ways that California winemakers are managing alcohol levels in wine, from the low tech methods of adding water to the fermenting grapes to higher tech methods such as reverse osmosis and centrifuges.
Finally, he highlights one of the most interesting theories I have heard in a long time about high alcohol wines: it's all about the rootstock. Some recent research at UC Davis has pointed to the possibility that the newer Phyloxerra resistant rootstocks that were widely planted in the mid-1980's are partially responsible for higher alcohol wines because of their tendency to produce grapes with higher sugar content at ripening.
I'm sure Robert Parker is sighing in relief to know that the trend in higher alcohol wines isn't his fault after all, and is merely a matter of plant biology. In all seriousness, though, this is a pretty intriguing theory. Unfortunately the article doesn't have enough information about the specific rootstock clones that might contribute to this effect and whether these clones are also in use, say, in Australia, which also has seen massive jumps in alcohol levels.
A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. 2015 Roederer Award Winner.Learn more.
I'll Drink to That: Bob Cabral of Three Sticks Wines Warm Up: Rotgipfler and Beyond I'll Drink to That: Bernhard Stadlmann of Weingut Stadlmann Vinography Images: Last Light I'll Drink to That: Suzanne Mustacich Warm Up: The Douro I'll Drink to That: João Nicolau de Almeida of Ramos-Pinto Book Signing in St. Helena, December 5, 2015 I'll Drink to That: Carole Meredith of Lagier-Meredith Vineyards Napa's New Reference Point
Wine Will Never Smell the Same Again: Luca Turin and the Science of Scent Forlorn Hope: The Remarkable Wines of Matthew Rorick Debating Robert Parker At His Invitation Passopisciaro Winery, Etna, Sicily: Current Releases Should We Care What Winemakers Say? The Sweet Taste of Freedom: Austria's Ruster Ausbruch Wines 2009 Burgundy Vintage According to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Charles Banks: The New Man Behind Mayacamas Wine from the Caldera: The Incredible Viticulture of Santorini Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Chateau Rayas and the 2012 Vintage of Chateauneuf-du-Pape A Life Indomitable: The Wines of Casal Santa Maria, Portugal Bay Area Bordeaux: Tasting Santa Cruz Mountain Cabernets Forgotten Jewels: Reviving Chile's Old Vine Carignane The First-Timer's Guide to Les Trois Glorieuses of Hospices de Beaune