I know, I know… this opens up a can of worms.
That said, I just had a glass of wine in Napa Valley at Rutherford Grill last week, and it was so hot it nearly burned my throat. It was a Viognier; it lacked all varietal character, and I thought to myself, “This wine is oxidized… or something.”
So I called over my server. I said, “This wine is hot. I’m wondering how long the bottle’s been opened?”
She asked, “Hot?”
I knew that she was thinking that I meant the temperature of the wine, which was probably 55 degrees.
If that was the case, I’d be a really classic story for her to tell her friends. One that falls into the “You wouldn’t believe” category.
I went on, “By hot I mean alcohol. As it hits the back of my palate, it’s burning. Do you know how long this bottle’s been open? I’m just wondering if the wine is oxidized, or if it’s a high alcohol wine.”
She didn’t know, but said she’d find out. To her credit, she didn’t dillydally. She went right to the bar, as Jose and I watched her speaking with another person. The bottle was just opened, as it turned out. They both tasted a little bit of the wine, so they’d know what I was talking about, which is great…a great learning moment for them. Meanwhile, they checked the alcohol, and Ashley returned to tell me it was 14.7 percent alcohol.
Eeee gads… Do you know that this makes me want to just order white wines from Oregon from now on? Because from Oregon, I know – with their characteristic weather – their whites are low alcohol. It takes so long for their grapes to ripen, that it forces a higher acidity, which equals lower pH and alcohol (typically, 13 to 13.7 percent alcohol range).
Working with Oak Knoll Winery over the years has taught me this important lesson; as well as my Oregon Pinot Gris Group, and the Oak Knoll Winery Pinot Gris Symposiums. All have contributed to me understanding their whites and why they’re lower alcohol and very food-friendly wines.
So, back to my question. What if restaurants listed the alcohol percentage of the wine?
I know it sounds so nit-picky. But, I’m here to tell you that I – along with many people I know – would make much different choices.
- I don’t have the bottle and technical data sheets in front of me in a restaurant.
- If I have a wine arrive for tasting, I can see right on the bottle and on the sheet what I’m going to be tasting. So, if it’s a 14.7 percent alcohol wine, I know that in advance and won’t be questioning “why” it’s hot. Hot is hot, and it’s not an old wine that’s lost its character. Some of its character will just be gone, because the heat of the alcohol has taken away some delicate nuance we get from lower alcohol wines.
- Lower alcohol wines are more food friendly.
- If I’m at the bar with friends, and were going to be hanging out for a while, maybe I don’t want a wine with such gentle nuance… Maybe I want something more brawny; although that’s not happened lately for me, but I’m betting that it has for others.
How about you?
How do you feel about this? Would it help you to make better choices?
And, no I didn’t send the wine back, because I had made the (uniformed) choice of what I was going to be drinking. I do have to share that after a while, some of the alcohol blew off, but that wasn’t the experience I was looking for in the first place.