Saturday, April 17, 2010

Alcohol in Wine

So here's a really fucking stupid article in the Wall Street Journal:

Wines That Pack A Little Extra Kick

First of all, the Wall Street Journal is about as progressive on wine matters as Michelle Bachman on a backwards running train into the Spanish Inquisition. Anybody looking at the Wall Street Journal, Wine Spectator, Robert M. Parker Jr., or, well, I could go on, for any kind of taste-making wine journalism could be more productive by hand trimming their front lawn with rubber scissors. Seriously, these guys wouldn't know what's actually going on in the cutting edge wine world if the cutting edge wine world sodomized them with a broken beer bottle. Second of all, the article conflates several points.

1. It conflates the belief that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir shouldn't be over 14% alcohol with the contention that no wine should be over 14% alcohol. I know the author really wants to defend the wines that he loves but one should not induce a journalistic article based on an opinion that is contrary to the facts presented. Objecting to a 14.5% pinot noir is not the same as objecting to a 14.5% zinfandel. 14.5% zinfandel is standard, 14.5% pinot noir is an abomination unto god and your children.

2. It suggests that such dogmatic opposition to wines based upon a specific alcohol percentage is widespread. It's not. Like all blanket disqualifications it's the rhetorical tool of the desperate poseurs, faded authorities attempting to reclaim lost glory, or an arbitrary distinguishing marker for those chronically desperate for attention. Most sane wine folks have tastes and preferences but fully acknowledge that there are blurred borders, not hard and fast thresholds. And it neglects the fact that there is a grey area in terms of the TTB that can be as much as 0.5% each way so really a 14% (reported) alcohol wine could be 13.5% to 14.5%. And so if you set a specific alcohol threshold, well, the arbitrary closed mindedness of that is self-evident.

3. And the selling point of the article, that "alcohol delivers flavor," is asinine. Alcohol is a by-product of ripeness. Ripeness produces immediately pleasurable sweet, full-fruited flavors. Alcohol has nothing to do with it. If anything, alcohol deadens or interferes with the other flavors of wine--alcohol's a necessary byproduct of quality wine production and all wines have plenty of alcohol, but it has nothing to do with actual quality of the wine.

4. It references this dubious idea that wine over 14% is classified as "dessert wine." It's not. It might sound good, but so do the Rolling Stones and the Rolling Stones suck buffalo cock. I know it's fun to think that we have these magical outdated alcohol rules that classify things in comically outdated ways, but the real world is actually (usually) more logical than we hope. Wine is taxed the same way from 0.5%-14% and then it's taxed 50 cents/gallon higher from 14.1%-21%. It's not called "dessert wine" it's just a higher percentage wine and taxed accordingly. Plus, lest we get too excited about such a HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE increase in taxes, that equals all of an additional 10 cents a bottle in taxes. It's really not particularly significant to wine pricing on any wine more than, well, two bucks.

Wine grapes are different. Some get riper than others, some ripen earlier than others. There's a huge range of styles of wine. Some wines can be 12% alcohol and suck, but some wines at 16% can be really good (you heard me!). What it comes down to is appropriateness for the varietal and quality of the wine-making. That's it. I've had 16% wines that taste like 13% wines and I've had shitty 13% wines that taste like equal parts Concord grape juice and rubbing alcohol.

Like the wine that you like and don't make apologies for it. But also don't attack the haters of your wine style with dubious statistics and misinformation. While that has become the American way, it shouldn't be. It's not adversarial, it's a matter of taste. Have enough balls to like what you like and not feel assaulted by provincial douche bags who need to add significance to their lives by ensconcing them in arbitrary rules. What they don't know is that it won't fix their impotency, but it will let them pretend they aren't impotent for another year or so.

But, in the end, please don't overly manipulate wine in pursuit of scores or the bullshit mainstream wine zeitgeist. Good honest wine will prevail over all pretenders. If we just drink the wine that is appropriate--i.e. the wine that produces naturally from a region's grapes, soil, climate, and tradition--then we'll have a world of unique, distinctive wine and not a world of dark, inky, high-alcohol bullshit that all tastes the fucking same: like butter and candied Grenache.

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