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Why do California Wines have so much more alcohol today, than they did 30 years ago?
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i dunno about dunn personally,

some of his wines are just so damn tight even at 20 years at age, it's like what's the point.

and I'm really patient with my ports!

on top of that instead of coming into balance after the age, some of the less riper vintages show off an even more bell pepper characteristic.


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Posts: 11835 | Location: NYC | Registered: Feb 16, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Why higher alcohol?

1.Climate- but not climate change. California has always had the conditions that lead to high sugar at grape maturity.

2. Public preference- Americans like sweet, low acid wines. No pyrazines, please. What sells, the wine makers make.

3. Lack of tradition.- No one ever defined what California wines should taste like, giving plenty of freedom for expression and variation.
In the time I have been drinking California wine the pendulum has swung from austere to ripe to austere and back several times.

4. Vineyard practices and root stocks- Winemakers don't have to contend with "unripe" grapes in nearly any vintage.

5. Maybe the critics a bit- but not much. You can't push a rope.
 
Posts: 2285 | Registered: Jul 12, 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by LBJ2012FinalsMVPisclutch:
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.


I dont know if extended hangtime makes any sense. Each variety needs a certain amount of hangtime to reach physiological ripeness. That hangtime is rather independent from temperature. If during that hangtime the temperature is very high, the resulting grapes will have very high amounts oft sugar. If one tries to avoid high sugars by reducing hangtime, the result is vegetable wines, as described before, because the grapes lack physiological ripeness.


There is nothing in our intelligence that has not passed by the senses. (Aristoteles)
 
Posts: 1869 | Location: Luxemburg | Registered: Nov 15, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Shane T.:
quote:
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

I believe that Diamond Creek is regularly in the 12.5% zone. Always was and still is.
 
Posts: 15417 | Location: Montreal, QC | Registered: Feb 17, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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good read... what I'm gathering is that it's mostly a matter of winemaking style. i'm still hoping a winemaker will chime in, though.
 
Posts: 4865 | Location: Miami | Registered: Mar 30, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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That may have been true for their older stuff, but Diamond Creek's newer vintages regularly float around 14.5% ABV. I still love the wine.
 
Posts: 1467 | Location: Murrieta, CA | Registered: Mar 14, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Global warming plus vineyard intervention and catering to the Parkerization of the modern palate.

While it's true that California has always had the climate to support the longer hang time with riper, higher sugar content grapes, the bigger riper high alcohol wines seem to be coming from other places too: CDP comes to mind as one example.

The combination of changing climate as well as vineyard & vinification techniques and catering to the point score criteria appear to be converging to the effect of these big ripe, higher alcohol wines in many places.
 
Posts: 1817 | Location: Etobicoke (Toronto burb) | Registered: Apr 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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A paper from three researchers at UC-Davis written in 2011 concludes it is not due to global warming, but likely due to changes in vineyard management practices (trellising, green harvests, canopy pruning) that cause grapes to create more sugar earlier in the season allowing for longer hang times. This has resulted in average brix rising from 21.4 in 1980 to 23.3 in 2008, which translates into higher alcohol.

Clicky here for summary article


Geeks click here for research article
 
Posts: 3042 | Location: Boca Raton, FL | Registered: Dec 29, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I think they're right - it's almost all due to stylistic changes.

Just went down to the cellar and looked at a few randomly pulled bottles of Monte Bello - 1995 = 13.3; 2008 = 13.5; 2009 = 13.5. Zins are higher but one made me look twice - 1983 at 12%.

Looked at some random Dunns too, from 1987 thru 199 and they're consistently 13%.

There are many more wineries now than there were 20 years ago, and if people have a preference for riper wines, that's one reason for the average alcohol level to be higher. But more importantly, I think the style has become far more oriented towards ripe and lush wines.

Grgich changed right around 1994 - look at the bottles from the early 1990s vs those from mid 1990s. B.V. has changed w/in the past few years and when they engaged Rolland in 2007, Parker announced that they were "back" as a top notch producer.

I don't think it's "catering to the Parkerization of the modern palate" at all though. I think he likes what many people like, it's not like people "naturally" would like thin, green, weedy wines if it weren't for his nefarious influence. I think winemakers finally figured out how to make lusher and riper wines and the critics and public have responded positively.

More importantly, I think Pape du Neuf is right on the money -

quote:
Lack of tradition.- No one ever defined what California wines should taste like, giving plenty of freedom for expression and variation.
In the time I have been drinking California wine the pendulum has swung from austere to ripe to austere and back several times.


People are still figuring out what's "best". I hope nobody ever does define what CA wines "should" taste like so that the pendulum can keep swinging.

Personally I don't like hot, sweet wines, but sometimes you just don't notice the alcohol at all. Shafer HSS is an example.


"The best part is how he said the ENGLISH language. Fine irony. Use American next time."
 
Posts: 2589 | Location: NY | Registered: Dec 09, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by vinole:
A paper from three researchers at UC-Davis written in 2011 concludes it is not due to global warming, but likely due to changes in vineyard management practices (trellising, green harvests, canopy pruning) that cause grapes to create more sugar earlier in the season allowing for longer hang times. This has resulted in average brix rising from 21.4 in 1980 to 23.3 in 2008, which translates into higher alcohol.

Clicky here for summary article


Geeks click here for research article


they missed the very important past 4-5 years of climate changes!@


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Posts: 11835 | Location: NYC | Registered: Feb 16, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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There was a thread similar to this a couple of years ago on ebob. One guy linked to a story where they tested a good amount of CA wines from the 60-70's and a large % of the wines had alcohol levels 2-3 points higher than what was stated on the bottle. Guess the same could be said for today as well. I know there are rules about that now but I wonder how strictly they are followed.
 
Posts: 6440 | Location: OC, CA  | Registered: Aug 01, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Originally posted by GlennK:
There was a thread similar to this a couple of years ago on ebob. One guy linked to a story where they tested a good amount of CA wines from the 60-70's and a large % of the wines had alcohol levels 2-3 points higher than what was stated on the bottle. Guess the same could be said for today as well. I know there are rules about that now but I wonder how strictly they are followed.


esp witht eh 14% ABV tax.

a budding industry, money wasn't as free, might have played an important point of posting low ABVs


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Posts: 11835 | Location: NYC | Registered: Feb 16, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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It is an interesting query as to why pretty much no one in CA makes reds in the 12s, and on the other side why no one a couple decades ago made them in the 15s.

Vyd practices have definitely changed. People now are just fine with adding acid, watering down the grapes, or reverse osmosis. The last two are fairly recent developments.

I can trace at least some of this back to 1997. A hot year, ripe fruit, and Parker loved the wines. This seemed to be a turning point.

For me, I now look at the alc on the label before buying. I've been "fooled" by my own palate a few times with high alc wines (mostly zins) that don't age even a year and don't match with food. They're usually okay for a cocktail wine, but that's usually not what I'm buying.


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Oh no, another wine blog! wineinsonoma.blogspot.com
 
Posts: 687 | Location: Santa Rosa, CA | Registered: Oct 29, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Bob H:
It is an interesting query as to why pretty much no one in CA makes reds in the 12s, and on the other side why no one a couple decades ago made them in the 15s.

Vyd practices have definitely changed. People now are just fine with adding acid, watering down the grapes, or reverse osmosis. The last two are fairly recent developments.

I can trace at least some of this back to 1997. A hot year, ripe fruit, and Parker loved the wines. This seemed to be a turning point.

For me, I now look at the alc on the label before buying. I've been "fooled" by my own palate a few times with high alc wines (mostly zins) that don't age even a year and don't match with food. They're usually okay for a cocktail wine, but that's usually not what I'm buying.


You're doing it wrong, man! You have to do the "Mollydooker Shake!"

Hah! I kid...good post.
 
Posts: 1467 | Location: Murrieta, CA | Registered: Mar 14, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by gigabit:
At what percentage does a red wine become "high alcohol?" 14%? 15%? Is it completely subjective?


Probably not the first to comment on this but I thought I'd make a note that "High Alcohol" is actually not completely subjective, and is defined by the federal and state governments. High Alcohol refers to any wine that it is 14.1% and more ABV, and Low Alcohol refers to wine 14% and below. They are taxed at two different rates.


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Posts: 289 | Location: New Orleans, LA | Registered: Dec 14, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Shane T.:
quote:
Originally posted by Bob H:
It is an interesting query as to why pretty much no one in CA makes reds in the 12s, and on the other side why no one a couple decades ago made them in the 15s.

Vyd practices have definitely changed. People now are just fine with adding acid, watering down the grapes, or reverse osmosis. The last two are fairly recent developments.

I can trace at least some of this back to 1997. A hot year, ripe fruit, and Parker loved the wines. This seemed to be a turning point.

For me, I now look at the alc on the label before buying. I've been "fooled" by my own palate a few times with high alc wines (mostly zins) that don't age even a year and don't match with food. They're usually okay for a cocktail wine, but that's usually not what I'm buying.


You're doing it wrong, man! You have to do the "Mollydooker Shake!"

Hah! I kid...good post.


Coming soon, Mollydooker Biodiesel.
 
Posts: 1539 | Location: San Francisco | Registered: Jun 18, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I haven't really had too much time but have a partial reply here.

First - don't get hung up on 14% like it's some magic line between 'high' and 'low'. The only significant thing about 14% is the US government taxes wine differently at that level. If you think some thought went into this line by the government, you're dead wrong, it is completely random. The previous line was 5% alcohol because the government though beer and wine would have the same alcohol levels. They know nothing.

One reason that long ago wines had lower alcohol was this tax line. Today it's really a non factor, the difference is about 10 cents per bottle. However before the 80's, when bottle prices averaged about $2.20, the 10 cents was a huge factor and wineries tried to avoid bottling anything over 14% to avoid the tax.

The biggest factor in the field is the VSP movable wire trellis system. In 1987 when Jerry Anderson put it in at Chaine d'Or it was a novelty in California. Most places used the 'California Sprawl' two wire catch system or a Lyre system that also creates a sprawl.

Today it's rare to find anything intended for wine that will sell about $10/bottle not planted on a VSP system with movable wires. This system gets the shoots up, improves sugar and flavor ripeness and sun exposure. It also helps with mildew prevention and is just generally superior.

Grapes on a Guyot or cordon and spur training system using a VSP will get riper than any other system and trellis. Other things do factor in but the VSP is the major factor in the field.


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Posts: 7626 | Location: San Jose | Registered: May 24, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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OK, VSP helps getting the shoots up. Does that lead to earlier flowering as well?


There is nothing in our intelligence that has not passed by the senses. (Aristoteles)
 
Posts: 1869 | Location: Luxemburg | Registered: Nov 15, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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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?


Ridge pick for flavor, so the alcohol level varies greatly. Over the years a couple Monte Bellos have been under 12% and one ('01) hit 15.1%. The 2001 brought out the Chicken Littles across the internetses, but in truth the running average has been stable.

Off the top of my head, a couple Rhys Pinots have been under 12% and I had a Broc Cellars Zinfandel recently that was in the 12% range.

There certainly are high quality wines in the reasonable range. My suggestion would be to find those producers, then don't fret so much about the numbers.

Global warming is a BS excuse. In regions such as Napa and RRV that have seen a major shift in style, there are still holdouts who make excellent traditionally ripe wines. (And to my tastes, easily the best wines of those regions.) Napa producers give you schizophrenic responses on the issue. They'll tell you they're making the best wines ever. If you listen, they'll let it slip that they don't like Cabernet's varietal character. If you question anything they suddenly become super defensive, saying they have no choice because of global warming and rootstock. That insecurity doesn't exactly tell me they stand behind their product.

I think we all understand the positive reinforement of high Parker and Laube ratings as encouragement to shift style. The other side of that coin is the low ratings you can get from straying from that style can really hurt. If you make traditionally ripe CA wines, you're better off not letting WS or WA review them, which means you probably lose some major distribution options.

In vineyard management there's been a major trend to uniform ripeness. That's a pendulum that's swung too far, imo. A wider fruit zone lends more complexity. The point was to avoid the extremes of green and raisin.

One preference factor I believe is that these riper wines appeal to people who wouldn't care for traditionally ripe wine. In other words - the increase we've seen in the number of wine consumers relates to the accessibility of these riper wines.
 
Posts: 1771 | Location: Mountain View, CA | Registered: Oct 18, 2001Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Opened a 2010 Ceritas Pinot Noir Escarpa Vineyard last night that said 12.8% on the bottle. The fruit was ripe and the wine showed a great balance of fruit and acidity.
 
Posts: 6440 | Location: OC, CA  | Registered: Aug 01, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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