Category Archives: Wine Tasting

Wine Follow Up

I know I know, everyone is tired of reading repetitive articles on wine. But since I’m not trying to promote myself or sell cars, I figure who cares if this is redundant? After all I am trying to systematically synthesize winemaking and viticulture information and find true enological knowledge. I’m looking for winemaking and winegrowing truth if it exists. However since this is old news I’ll try to be brief. There are two topics I would like to comment on.

1) The well-known Sacramento importer Corti Brothers took a misguided stance on alcohol in wine. From the article in the San Francisco Chronicle: High-alcohol wines above 14.5 percent would no longer grace the shelves of Corti Brothers

Way to really take a stand. Wow, what a declaration! Except one thing. Legally wineries that make wine above 14.05% are only obligated to print the labeled alcohol within 1% of the actual alcohol. Since above or below 14.05% requires different taxation, a wine at 14.6% cannot be labeled 13.6%, but it could be labeled 15.5%. More likely, a wine labeled 14.2% may actually be 15.2% and the consumer would not know. So if you really wanted to make a statement regarding wines sales at a certain alcohol level, then it seems you would choose wine in the < 14.05% tax category because these legally must be labeled below 14.05% (as opposed to a wine at 14.4% – within the Corti acceptable range – actually being above 14.5% – supposedly outside their acceptable range). I assume the reason they choose 14.5% is because this way many of the Italian wines they import would not be eliminated. Buyer beware: many stated alcohols on labels above 14% are nefarious. I know of many highly sought after and delicious wines labeled at 14.6% that are 15.5% and no one knows or cares because of the wine’s delectability.

2) Tom Wark (whose work I usually appreciate) jumped on the now infamous comments of Randy Dunn regarding alcohol and added his own two cents: “Those who disagree with Dunn and who defend the high alcohol wines, particularly those in the 15%+ range are simply wrong. Unless it’s Zinfandel or Port, a 15.5% alcohol wine is not good. It may not be bad. But it’s not good.” Wow, that’s quite a statement. Especially in light of my comments above. I wonder how many wines Tom has had that have been labeled 14.5, 14.6, or 14.7% that we’re actually above 15% alcohol? I bet more than one that he considered great. Of course I can never prove it, but neither can he. Such statements are – in my opinion – borderline hubris and dismissive of the facts regarding our perception of alcohol in wine; as I noted in a recent post summarizing such perception. I don’t defend these wines per se, but much of the evidence speaks for itself.

2007 Vintage Musings II: the numbers game

So on the one hand there seemed to be a general consensus of flavors appearing earlier, but on the other hand there seemed no change in the picking habits/timing of certain winemakers who pick by flavors. How to reconcile?

1) I am wrong, flavors were not any earlier thus destroying the whole premise of the post.

– I find this one difficult since we were able to pick earlier and it looks to be one of the best vintages to date since I have been here. Certainly the wines are not under ripe. But in the event that #1 is true, my apologies. At least I was able to work this through in my head. I am after all just a young lackey winemaker.

2) Flavors did arrive earlier, as many suspected; but as with all of us and with many things (especially things involving risks) it is difficult to depart from what we are used to (e.g. I always get the Mini Super Pollo Verde burrito at Villa Corona, its so good I’m afraid of being disappointed by something else). If you are accustomed to picking your Pinot noir at 29 Brix devoid of any acid, when flavors arrive at 24.5 with traces of acid you might feel uncomfortable picking. With our ability to add acid in this country, and with the conventionally accepted practice of adding water, erring with over ripeness is certainly safer not to mention generally more popular with critics. Fair enough.

If #2 is true I have begun to wonder if some people do not mistake a little tartness for greenness (and let’s not get started on this term). I’ve walked similar blocks with people where I could have sworn the block was delicious and ready but the winemaker still thought it was green. Huh? We need acid for the wine, no? And maybe this year producers can get it without calling American Tartaric? The longer I work at HdV, the more I am convinced of this. We are always the first to pick after the sparkling producers and I don’t believe (nor have I heard the criticism) that our wines are green or under ripe.

Many colleagues would argue it’s simply a matter of style. Fair enough. I’m not disparaging picking later rather than earlier, I’m simply asking the question that if #2 is correct then are we really picking by flavor, or simply by what we are comfortable with? And if we are picking by the numbers, great! But can’t we just say that? I like to pick my Pinot noir at 28.5 Brix, 4.1 pH, and no acid. How bout you?

But T-licious, you might say, it’s not delicious until 28.5. Please don’t tell me this is all semantics? Maybe not semantics, but marketing. It certainly is a better story to say you pick only by flavor, when in fact a number of factors – including the numbers – go into the decision.