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Why do California Wines have so much more alcohol today, than they did 30 years ago?
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So reading through the comments many of you made on the thread about Kramer's article regarding ageing wine, it sparked my curiosity about alcohol levels in wine.

I know this has been addressed before on the forum, but I can't find it (I know Paul gave a very thorough response, maybe you remember which thread it was on and re-post?).

Why are California wines so high in alcohol these days?

I don't buy that it's climate change, so is it purely a winemaking / farming decision? That can't be it either, though, because you figure at least someone would be making some low-alcohol stuff.

W+A mentioned a 25-year-old Pinot with 11.2%abv. Why don't these exist in California anymore?

I've had a number of 70's Cali Cabs with alcohol level in the 12% range and again, these don't exist anymore.

School me, masters.
 
Posts: 4377 | Location: Miami | Registered: Mar 30, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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good thing port was still in the ~20% abv back in the 1800s .


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Posts: 11021 | Location: NYC | Registered: Feb 16, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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1) Robert Parker Jr. liking riper, bigger, more alcoholic wines
2) Consumers doing the same
3) Winemakers wanting to make more money
 
Posts: 1246 | Location: San Francisco | Registered: Jun 18, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Danyull:
1) Robert Parker Jr. liking riper, bigger, more alcoholic wines
2) Consumers doing the same
3) Winemakers wanting to make more money


I could see that being the case if most Cali wines had higher levels of alcohol, but I literally don't know of a single Pinot Noir with 11-12% abv, or a cab in the 12% range.

It can't be as simple as "that's what people like", because you'd have at least a few contrarians.... right?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by jorgerunfrombulls:
quote:
Originally posted by Danyull:
1) Robert Parker Jr. liking riper, bigger, more alcoholic wines
2) Consumers doing the same
3) Winemakers wanting to make more money


I could see that being the case if most Cali wines had higher levels of alcohol, but I literally don't know of a single Pinot Noir with 11-12% abv, or a cab in the 12% range.

It can't be as simple as "that's what people like", because you'd have at least a few contrarians.... right?


I'm confused... your statement seems to support my 1 and 2 points, but the "but" makes me think you disagree?

There are of course, people who don't like the style, myself included, but I feel like it makes up a negligible portion of the general wine market in America. There are a few stalwarts of the old guard, but these days point-chasing is the quickest and easiest way to make your wine profitable from a producer standpoint so that's the direction most of them head.
 
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There are a few stalwarts of the old guard, but these days point-chasing is the quickest and easiest way to make your wine profitable from a producer standpoint so that's the direction most of them head.


But this is my question... can you name a single one? That's why I'm wondering if it's more than just winemaking / farming practices. If it were a question of mass market, there would be, at least, a handful of people making low alcohol, classically styled wines. I know of wineries that we consider "classically styled", (Dominus, for example), but they're still 14% abv.
 
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Ahhh sorry, now I understand your point.

My guess is a combination of modern viticultural techniques that weren't common back then (green harvesting, various pruning) and global warming. Mostly the former.
 
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Extended hang-times to subdue "green" flavors also produces a lot of sugar. All that sugar when fully fermented turns into a lot of alcohol.



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Posts: 1430 | Location: Redstate USA | Registered: Mar 01, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Based on my reading, I agree with Danyull. It is due to decisions in the vineyard. I don't buy climate change either. Doesn't make sense that abv would rise so dramatically in such a short period of time.

  • Green harvesting forces the vine to concentrate it's efforts on fewer grapes driving sugar levels higher. Similarly, dropping bunches during veraison that are lagging behind is common practise today. Those bunches would have been destined for lower sugar levels at picking, which would have caused the wine overall to contain a lower abv.
  • Pruning leads to more direct sunlight to the bunches, thus concentrating sugars.
  • I believe winemakers are tempted to push ripeness at least a bit higher today than in years past to achieve higher barrel/release scores, yielding better sales
  • Selection processes cause winemakers to ditch the slightly under ripe grapes they may have included in years past, which again would have kept abv in the final wine lower.


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Posts: 617 | Location: Toronto, Ontario (Etobicoke) | Registered: Oct 27, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Purple Teeth:
Extended hang-times to subdue "green" flavors also produces a lot of sugar. All that sugar when fully fermented turns into a lot of alcohol.


or global warming


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Posts: 11021 | Location: NYC | Registered: Feb 16, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Some of them have kept fairly low I think. (OK, I can think of one anyway) Isn't Monte Bello around 13% pretty consistently? Did it use to be a lot lower?


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Global warming produces those long warm summers and falls which allow for extended hangtime which in turn produces more sugar which makes more alcohol. Its not solely Global Warming's fault but it does play a role.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by aphilla:
Some of them have kept fairly low I think. (OK, I can think of one anyway) Isn't Monte Bello around 13% pretty consistently? Did it use to be a lot lower?


Well done, sir. The 2007 is only 13.1% abv. The highest it's been seems to be 13.5%, and it's a bit of an outlier.

So what's Ridge doing that others aren't?

Can anyone else think of any examples in the lower abv range?
 
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I've had a number of 70's Cali Cabs with alcohol level in the 12% range and again, these don't exist anymore.


There are some producers who fit this mold, even going out of their way to preach against high ABV (Randy Dunn). Here's a few:

- Dunn Vineyards
- Ridge MB
- Corliss
 
Posts: 1293 | Location: Murrieta, CA | Registered: Mar 14, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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At what percentage does a red wine become "high alcohol?" 14%? 15%? Is it completely subjective?


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Posts: 5977 | Location: Utah | Registered: Jan 15, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sure, it's subjective. And I'm not saying "today's wines are high alcohol", or that there's anything wrong with today's wines.

My question is simply, why do they have so much more alcohol today than they did in the 60's, 70's, and some of the 80's?
 
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quote:
Originally posted by jorgerunfrombulls:
Sure, it's subjective. And I'm not saying "today's wines are high alcohol", or that there's anything wrong with today's wines.

My question is simply, why do they have so much more alcohol today than they did in the 60's, 70's, and some of the 80's?

I understand your query; I was simply trying to highjack your thread with my own question. Big Grin


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Posts: 5977 | Location: Utah | Registered: Jan 15, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
My question is simply, why do they have so much more alcohol today than they did in the 60's, 70's, and some of the 80's?


...because that's what is selling.

At, gigabit, I think most producers consider their wines low alcohol < 14%, though some shoot for much lower.
 
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Most of Rhys' wines are 12-13%


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Posts: 1351 | Location: SF Bay Area | Registered: Nov 07, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Silver Oak is 13.5.

Most of the Copain Pinot Noirs and Syrahs are under 14, some under 13.

Corrison is regularly under 14.


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Alcohol levels are also relative to the grape.

Left Bank cabs are usually under 13.5% except for exceptional years. So a 14-15% Cab would be considered high. Grenache is usually at least 14.5% in the Rhone and most other places where it's grown so the thresh hold for what's considered "high" is different.

Monte Bello is a very cool climate site in the SC mountains with the coastal fog cooling the grapes quite a bit at night. This would slow down sugar formation and lower end alcohol levels.
 
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http://www.closduval.com/asset...rnet%20Sauvignon.pdf

clos du val 13.5

i acutally quite enjoy all my clos du vals.


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What i hate is when a wine is over 14% yet somehow still vegetal.
 
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Drinking a 2009 Outpost Zin now that's 15.9%!
 
Posts: 817 | Location: Chicago | Registered: Aug 04, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by spo:
What i hate is when a wine is over 14% yet somehow still vegetal.


Yeah, that sounds pretty gross.

I don't subscribe to the idea that low alcohol wines are somehow "better." Balance is everything. If the producer can make a wine north of 15% and I don't feel the heat melting my throat, I'm fine with it. In fact, quite a few producers make stuff with some heat that really appeals to my palate. A couple that come to mind:

- Alban "Reva" (...or anything from Alban)

- Shafer HSS (the newer vintages are above 15.5%, and still rocking)

- McPrice Meyers "Les Galets" (somewhere approaching 16%, and IMO, perhaps the best Syrah for the money).

I guess my point is that of course we can all see the evolution in the market in respect to ABV. If that's something that doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of producers that go to great lengths to keep it down. A prime example is Randy Dunn openly admitting to using reverse osmosis. Javachip and I had an interesting conversation about this very issue not too long ago Wink

Anyways, here's a good read:

http://www.sfgate.com/wine/thi...e-3813953.php#page-1
 
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