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Alcohol and wine

February 06, 2022 Tags: 0 comments
A few evenings ago, when looking for something to watch on tv, I came across the Gino D’Acampo show, the one with Gordon Ramsay and Fred, while they were tasting Gino’s wine so, I am not one of his fans but because there was wine involved, I decided to watch it.

The wine was, according to the other two, bad and pure alcohol but Gino, possibly because of his lack of wine knowledge, response was that people loved it because “two glasses and you are totally pi**ed off”. Just for the record, this is not the reason people should drink wine. Despite his effort Gino could not convince his friends that the wine was good and worth serving for a dinner they were hosting. After the wine bit, I changed channel and did not see how it ended.

But this episode made me decide to write a post on alcohol and wine. Unfortunately, still too many wine drinkers associate and rely on alcohol content to determine the quality of the wine, the higher the alcohol the better the wine, however, this could not be wronger.

I can’t remember whether I previously wrote about it, I could not find it, I may have touched the subject, but since the program, I decided it is worth dedicating the issue a proper post. Alcohol has nothing to do with the quality of the wine, full stop. If you think that the higher is the alcohol content the better is the wine, you are wrong. Alcohol in wine should be hidden, if the alcohol taste prevails, the wine is not good and never will.

On the other side, and I always emphasise it during my events, alcohol could give you some information about the wine. Alcohol is a consequence of fully ripe grapes, the ripen the grapes the more the sugar, the more the sugar, the higher the alcohol content. This is chemistry.

We are all aware that the climate is changing, the world is getting warmer, and with this, many places that could not grow grapes and make wine now do. A typical example is England. A couple of decades ago thinking of making wine was a heresy. In the last decade, English wineries have started with sparkling wines (grapes need higher acidity, don’t need to be fully ripe: hence the benefits of having cooler temperature), then white wines and now the first red wines are being made, they require the most amount of sun and heat. As we know, every year is warmer than the one before.

Another example is the distinction in the Italian wine appellation system between a normal and “superiore” appellation. If you were to read the legislation, you would find that “superiore” wines must be at least 12.5% alcohol content. At the time, this is another reason why the Italian appellation system is outdated but you heard me plenty of times already, Italian wines had a lot less alcohol of today’s wines and 12.5% abv was considered to be the minimum strength for a good wine. Parentheses, you also read plenty of times that I believe that great wines are made in the vineyards. The “superiore” implied better, healthier grapes. Nowadays, don’t matter where you grow your grapes in Italy, it is impossible to get a wine with a lower content than 12.5%, even in the coolest places, up in the mountains.

So, the alcohol content can give us some information. I few years ago I went to Maine, USA, and on my wandering around, I came across a winery and loving wine, I could not miss the opportunity to knock at the door and taste their wines. As soon as I got in, I noticed that the alcohol content was higher that what I was expecting, temperature in Maine are not or at least were not, that warm to produce such wines, so I had a chat with the winemaker and found out that they were adding sugar to the fermentation to raise the alcohol level, this process is called “chaptalisation” and it is not allowed in Italy, it is in some countries. So, the alcohol content reflects the climate of the country where the wine is made.

For that reason, if you have heard of the proposed UK alcohol duty system where wines will be charged based on their alcohol content, higher abv wines will become more expensive and countries like Australia, and I would add Italy as well, will be penalised through no fault of their own whilst country like England or Germany will benefit from the new system at least for the next decade or so. The new system will become effective from 2023 so all countries penalised are trying to have it changed.
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