A while back, I read an article about high much higher the alcohol content in wines had become compared to wines from several decades ago. How wines used to be about 12.5% to 13%, but now are more likely to be 13.5% to 14.5%.
I had forgotten about this, but remembered it when I tried a Pinot Noir that I bought in France. I wanted to try a French Pinot Noir to compare it to one that I had bought (but not yet tasted) in the UK. A friend had said that Pinot Noir was one of their favourite wines. So I thought a good excuse to start exploring this grape. I will look in more detail about Pinot Noir and what some of my wine books say about this grape in future posts, but here are a couple of quotes.
First from Oz Clarke in his book ‘Red & White’ (read book review here). “Pinot Noir is a delicate grape, a moody grape, a transparent grape, an emotional grape“. Intriguing, make me want to learn more, but no time this month.
And from another book that I have not yet reviewed, it is ‘French Wines’ by Robert Joseph.
“Pinot Noir: Some people consider this the greatest red grape of all. It is single-handedly responsible for all great red Burgundy, as well as some enjoyable reds and roses that are produced in the Loire valley. Expect to find raspberry and cherry fruit backed up by gentle tannins.“
This looks like a very good book that I will review in a future post.
- Pinot Noir 2019
- €5.69 from Auchan
Aroma: Fruity. Definitely sweeter and fruitier than most of the other reds. Very pleasant, I was worried that I would find it too sweet when I tasted it
Taste: Not too sweet at all. Very nice. Meaty full bodied, maybe slightly sour. It had a real kick, but with a delicate flavour. It went well with the rice, vegetable and meat stew.Me
Even before I took a whiff of this, I noticed the colour of this wine compared to most reds that I buy. It was lighter. So I looked in more detail at the bottle and saw the alcohol % was 13%. Less than most. Not by much but it did remind me of the article that I vaguely remembered. So I type ‘wine alcohol percentage getting higher’ into my search engine and see what crops up.
Wine alcohol strengths
Firstly, are wines getting stronger? Yes they have as this article from Hopeful Valley wines details.
“Bordeaux wines in the 1840’s have been shown to have had an alcohol level around only 10%. Since then, with the use of chaptalization, and other means, Bordeaux wines have inched up from their humble 10 percent to 12 percent, then 12.5 percent, 13 percent and today they hover around 14 or even 15 percent.“
Why? And yes global warming is a factor, but not the only one. This from Forbes.
“There are two principal reasons why this is happening, one natural, one engineered by winemakers. Of the former, climate change and, in particular, global warming are heating up the vineyards, causing the grapes to build up more sugar, which, when crushed at the winery, ferments into alcohol“
But it is also trend, more common in new world wines. From the Hopeful Valley wines article.
“What’s pushing the alcohol up and up?
Simple: a global wine trend for strong-character wines that are made from ripe to overly-ripe grape fruit, which of course offers up more sugar content during the fermentation process, which then turns to alcohol.
But to keep these bold reds from staying too sweet from their over-ripe fruit, the fermentation process has to be left to continue until more of the sugar is consumer, but as a by-product, more alcohol is present in the wines.
Oftentimes high-alcohol wines yield powerful, bold wines. Something that most red wine drinkers today praise and love about New World wines, and wouldn’t be willing to give up to fast.“
Is it a problem? Yes it can be as too much alcohol is harmful, but it can also block out some of the more delicate flavours and nuances in some wines. From this Guardian article (which I think is the one I first saw).
“Many winemakers tell me they’ve drawn an imaginary line over which no wine should cross. Get much above 14%, they say, and a wine can never be truly fine. Some put the level even lower: I know of several independent retailers and sommeliers that avoid anything over 13.5%.”
So trying another Pinot Noir. This one bought in the UK. Looking at the alcohol % it is at 13.5%. This is only 0.5% higher than the one from Alsace. But as the Guardian article implies, every half a percent makes a different. I can see immediately that the colour of this is darker.
- Pinot Noir
- £11 from Sainsbury’s
Aroma: Musky, rich, not fruity, oaky
Taste: Nice taste, good bite, full flavour without being too rich. Very good with stilton cheese. (Or maybe it was the cheese that was so good).Me
I was a bit disappointed with the Oyster Bay Pinot Noir from New Zealand. It was a nice wine, but for £11, I don’t think a great deal. Even in the UK, I have bought better wines for less. Thinking of the Malbec wines. (See earlier posts on the ones from Argentina and France). Was this wine more expensive because it had to be imported all the way from New Zealand?
I did enjoy the Pierre Chanau Pinot Noir (remember, Pierre Chanau is Auchan’s own brand). It was a nice fresh wine. But did I enjoy it because it was a particularly good value wine, or because it was a slightly lower alcohol content than others. Maybe it was lighter and fresher because it was from the Alsace region, more known for its white wines. Something to look at in more detail in future posts
When I look at the bottle again, I see that the recommended temperature to serve this wine is 9⁰C – 11⁰C. This is slightly chilled, and quite a few people do like some reds slightly chilled. (And if you check my post about wine temperatures, it shows that several reds should ideally be served around 14⁰C). It did have a lighter fresher colour, aroma and taste. Maybe not what I would choose on a wet and wintery evening to accompany a beef and vegetable stew, but perfect when you do want a red wine, but nothing too strong or heavy. I will definitely get more of this wine when I am back in France. And I will also look more closely at alcohol percentages on the label and consider other slightly lower alcohol wines.