Ask anyone in the wine business, or any serious wine snob what the top five most salient "issues" are in the world of wine and chances are good that somewhere in those top five will be some variation on rising alcohol levels. That wines are getting more potent worldwide is an unassailable fact. Since the 1970s (a time when alcohol levels remained pretty much unchanged from their historical values for the past century) the average potency of wines has risen several percentage points. That doesn't sound like much, but when you look at it in relative terms for some wines, it can amount to an increase of nearly twenty percent.
To say that this is an "issue" does not really reveal the complexity of the situation, which must acknowledge rising global temperatures (equals riper grapes which lead to higher alcohol levels) as well as an interesting possible correlation between rising alcohol levels and increases in consumption of wine. Are people drinking more wine because it is getting to be stronger stuff? No one knows for sure, but there is a large population of wine drinkers who are now letting the percentage printed on the wine label affect their purchase decisions.
Enter this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday #22. The theme for today's virtual wine tasting event is Low Alcohol Reds. Our host, Tim of Winecast.Net has stipulated that we must all drink and blog about red wines with 12.5% alcohol or less.
I'm not sure he really knew what he was getting into. My prediction is that we will see an awful lot of people come up empty-handed.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy to find a wine at that level (I had only a single red wine in my cellar that met that criteria, and I didn't feel like drinking it), but I didn't know quite how difficult.
The first wine shop I went to (which will remain nameless to protect their innocence) had nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not a single wine in their many hundreds that was under 13% alcohol, let alone at or under 12.5%.
The second wine store I went to had only two wines at that level, and when the salesman wrinkled his nose at one of them, I chose the other. Which is how, to cut to the chase, I ended up with this little bottle of Coteaux du Quercy.
Most people will never have heard of Coteaux du Quercy. I certainly hadn't. Quercy is a a district of Southwest France whose significance from a wine perspective is that it houses the appellation of Cahors, a name which tends to overshadow the region in which it sits (except, I suppose, for those folks who actually live there). Cahors is a relatively ancient winegrowing region in France and one of a certain degree of historical renown. The "black wines of Cahors" were some of the favorites of ancient European sailors and traders.
Despite its history, Cahors only received AOC designation in 1971, and bears the distinction of one of the few regions in France where the appellation rules do not allow the growing of any Cabernet Franc or Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape of choice in this region has always been Malbec, which local producers have always struggled to ripen. This fact is key when it comes to producing wines that don't tip the scales in alcohol.
Any wine that does not fall within the boundaries of the Cahors appellation can be bottled and sold as Coteaux du Quercy, which brings us to this little bottle of Les Hauts Lastour. Produced by the Caves Cooperative Vignerons du Quercy, one of the regions wine cooperatives, it is likely made from fruit gathered from several local winegrowers. Instead of Malbec, it is (defiantly ?) Cabernet Franc, grown on the slopes of the lower Quercy valley (at least that's what my poor translation of the tiny little bit of information I found on the Web about this wine indicates).
The wine was likely tank fermented and may not have seen any oak before bottling. Apart from these basic facts, and the 12.5% alcohol stipulated on the label, I know very little about this wine.
A light to medium ruby color in the glass, this wine has a slightly musty nose of sweet dried nuts, red peppers, leather and redcurrant aromas. In the mouth it is tart and dry, with primary flavors of sour cherry, red apple skin, and hints of leather in the finish. A slightly austere style of wine makes this a bit of an acquired taste for most American palates, but it has a lightness to it that is at least pleasant.
I happened to have some Chinese take-out the night I drank this, and the wine went surprisingly well with pork fried rice. The lower alcohol in the wine also allowed it to pair well with some of the spicier dishes. Not as well as a Riesling might have, but as far as red wines go, it fared pretty well.
Overall Score: 7.5/8
How Much?: $10
This wine will be difficult to find on the Internet. I purchased mine at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco. If you're interested in the appellation I suggest a trip to your local French import shop.
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