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words with winemakers Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Winemaker Sally JohnsonMR:  Which itself is ridiculous because you're already so far behind the curve, if you're trying to take advantage of a blip, by the time you get a vineyard either grafted or planted over!  But the whole Syrah question is so confusing to me.  The value that you get out of a bottle of wine at $20, if you compare a Cabernet, a Pinot, and a Syrah — hands down, the value you'll get out of a $20 Syrah will more than likely be head and shoulders above the other two!  And so the irony is that overwhelmingly, so many consumers looking to spend $15-$20 on a bottle of wine for dinner will buy a Cabernet or Pinot, when they could be so much happier with the Syrah!  Not that you can't find a good $20 Cabernet or Pinot, but you've got to really hunt for them.  For whatever reason, Syrah has failed to latch onto the American wine-consuming imagination…

TM:  Except that they buy Australian Shiraz.

MR:  That's not Syrah.

RM:  Fine, but they buy that from about $5 to about $20 a bottle.

MR:  Right, and there are some producers in California who are making wine that fits that profile.  But that's different.

EV:  Australia has done a better job at marketing.

Attitudes about Changes in Wine Styles: Alcohol Levels & Extraction

NM:  Let's talk alcohol.  I'll start with the premise that alcohol levels have been steadily increasing in wines over the last few years.  Though this has been the case worldwide, it seems to be more prevalent in New World production.  There are conflicting opinions on this.  Wolf Blass himself just last year stated in an interview with Decanter Magazine's Catherine Woods, "No table wine over 15% should ever get any medal, anywhere in the world, ever."  Conversely, Kent Rosenblum recently stated to Wine Enthusiast's Steve Heimoff, in response to concerns about a wine at 16% alcohol, "I think it's a wine writer issue. I don't think it's a consumer issue."  So, tell me: what's your own take on increasing levels of alcohol and where do you see this trend going?

EV:  I think wines can be made in balance at all alcohol levels.  Are there trends?  Certainly.  But it's really narrow thinking to look at it from [Blass's] perspective: anything above 15% should never get a medal?  That's absurd.  It's being controversial.

RM:  That's just saying something to say something.

TM:  It got him in Decanter Magazine.  Let's put it that way.  And that's the value of that statement, if nothing else.

RM:  I've tasted wines high in alcohol and have been shocked that they're high in alcohol!

EV:  Exactly!

MR:  You have to call to mind how many times you may have drunk a wine on its own or with a meal and thought how wonderful it is — and during those times, alcohol never entered your mind because the wine was in balance, it was integrated.  Then you might notice it's 15.5% alcohol: "Oh! I would have never guessed!"  Certainly that's happened to all of us.  Of course, it's also happened that I've tasted a wine and instantly felt like I'd taken a shot of whiskey…

Winery CellarTM:  And that at 14%!  I've had white wines at 14% that were grossly out of balance, and I've had red wines that were completely in balance at 16.5%.  I made a Merlot one year when I was at S. Anderson that was at 16.8% natural alcohol, fermented completely dry.  And when I asked [some fellow winemakers], "What do you think of the alcohol level of that wine?"  They said, "Oh, 14.5%, maybe 15%."  And that was because the wine was in balance!  The level of alcohol doesn't make any difference — again, as long as the wine is in balance!  Of course, not every wine can take that.  I'm not saying that the wine was better than the same wine at 15%, but that's how it ended up being, made naturalistically as an expression of that place, that vintage, that year.



wine in the news

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