Thursday, September 9, 2010

No Jesus Juice Here

One of the featured wines in a recent vintages release is the South Australian Shiraz, The Formula, 2005 by Small Gully Wines. If you can snag a bottle of this stuff, I recommend trying it. I'm going to warn you, though, it's a *tad* stronger than some of the other wines you may have tried lately. At 16.7 percent alcohol by volume, one of the first aromas that hits you is... well.... alcohol. Once you get past the initial memory of Jack Daniels, aromas of dark chocolate, black cherries, and sweet spices start to emerge… almost Christmas Cake-like.

There has been a rising trend towards wines being created with higher and higher levels of alcohol. This might be due to the fact that more wine makers are giving in to the trend of producing much more fruit-forward wines, using very ripe grapes. The riper the grapes, the higher the sugar levels, and the higher the resulting alcohol. Alcohol is created when sugar and yeast ferment... so the more sugar you have in the juice (called must), the greater the potential for higher alcohol levels.

One theory for the demand for fruitier wines is that this "new generation" of wine drinkers tends to drink wine both with and without food. For centuries before this one (and possibly up until more recently), people drank wine as part of their meals. Folks living in the new world wine regions are now adopting more of a "drink when I want, where I want" culture (my peeps!). If you aren't pairing your wine with your food, your palate will start to demand more flavours to compensate for that lack of "mouth harmony" (yeah, I just made up that term).

That said, if you are someone who needs to watch their alcohol intake, for various reasons, you need to read the labels and purchase accordingly. Rod Phillips, a wine writer for the Ottawa Citizen stated in a recent article: " the big picture, if people drank 12.5 per cent wine, rather than 14 per cent wine, they would reduce their annual alcohol consumption by about an eighth. If you drink a couple glasses of wine a day, it would be like taking six weeks off."

Winemakers are also taking heed. The job of the winemaker is to produce an end wine that is balanced across levels of sugar, acidity, tannins and alcohol. Winemakers today have more choices in how they can affect the grape must. Some winemakers, where it's legal will add sugar to the grape must in order to increase the resulting alcohol levels. Conversely, they can also employ reverse osmosis techniques to remove alcohol, or simply add water to dilute the sugar content, resulting in a lower alcohol wine. Many Californians refer to this water as "Jesus Juice"... referencing Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine.

If you're hung up on finding fruitier, full-bodied wines with moderate alcohol levels, there are plenty of wines out there that fit the bill... you just have to look for them. Keep in mind that wines from warmer climates tend to produce riper grapes & fruitier wines, so if you like that style of wine, you can migrate over to the Chilean, Californian and Australian wine sections and compare booze labels.

For the rest of us, I say, "Drink... and be merry!"

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