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Monday Manifestos
The Buck Stops Here—I Accept Full Responsibility For Ruining My Friends’ Palates

By Charles Olken

I confess. I drank a 14.8% alcohol Lewis Cabernet and liked it. And then I liked a 15.5% Tolosa Syrah.

I know I am not supposed to like wines over 14% alcohol. The “inner circle” boys and girls in the wine-pushing biz tell me so. Dan Berger accused me of being part of the conspiracy (my word, not his) that keeps Napa Valley Cabernet so popular. Apparently, we are all supposed to find wines that are deep, rich, full of varietal character bursting from the glass to be “parodies of themselves”, “too hot to drink more than one glass”, “boringly similar”, “indistinguishable as to variety and place”.

I confess. I liked those wines the other night. And I confess to having a bunch of friends who also liked them. The Lewis Cabernet was so popular that its corks just kept popping out of the bottle—or perhaps they were simply being chased away by all that alcohol.

And here is something else to which I confess. I brought most of the wine to this party of friends. Some people bring hors d’ouevres, some bring salads, some bring desserts. I bring wine that I like. It’s my fault that an Alysian Chardonnay, well over the 14% alcohol level and thus verboten at many restaurants in this fair city these days, was slurped down. I did warn folks in advance. Told them flat out that the wine broke the rules of the “new paradigm” for Chardonnay. A funny thing happened. A couple of folks tried it anyhow, and the next thing you know, they were having a second glass.

That is when I revealed myself. Took full blame for their evil ways. I explained that the reasons they could like wines with alcohols that violated the “new trendsetters’ dicta” were several fold. First of all, the wine tasted good to them. They actually drank those wines because they liked them. It was not because I brought the wine—although I take full responsibility. It was because they found them tasty, attractive, satisfying.

Okay, I said, “but aren’t they flat and boring by the second glass?” Nope. And once I again I confessed and explained. It was not just that the wines were full of flavor. It was because they were also in balance. The Lewis, the Tolosa, the Alysian all had perfect pitch. Over the course of a long evening of grazing on everything from bacon-wrapped shrimp hot off the barbie to a variety of sliders on Sunshine Bakery buns and everything in between, the folks at the party drank the wines that they liked and not the labels. Admittedly, they are not part of the “in crowd”. They are ordinary, middle class San Franciscans who drink a lot of wine because that is what they do. They/we like wine here, and we drink it with dinner.

And, we are not bound by New Rules. We are driven to drink what we like. And we still like wines with flavor and balance. If that is my fault, then I accept full responsibility. The buck stops here. I did it. I brought the wine.


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by Kurt Burris
Posted on:12/20/2011 10:49:50 AM

It is poossible for high alcohol wines to be tasty and in balance.  However, especially living in Sacramento, I have been exposed to way too many 15 % Lodi Zins that tasted like bad Amarone.  Also in my experience higher acid, lower alcohol wines are better.  I have had way morre luck with 1984 over 1985 and 2000 over 1999 or 1997.  That being said, the commision checks for higher alcohol or oaky, buttery Chards cash just the same.  There is nothing wrong with making what sells.

by Kurt Burris
Posted on:12/20/2011 10:51:26 AM

I meant to say that higher acid wines AGE better.  Sorry about that

Alc vs. Acid
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:12/20/2011 11:05:45 AM

Kurt, thanks for the comments. One of the things that impresses me these days is that many wines over 14% are bristling with acidity. I imagine some of it is added acid, but the Alysian Chardonnay to which I referred has acidity over 0.70 and a pH near 3.4. That wine, with its 14.5% alc is going to age just fine. We know that because we have plenty of examples already of wines of that style aging well.

So, again, I come back to balance and character, not alc as the measures.

And then there is this consideration. While I have a cellarful of treasures, not every wine I buy or drink has to age for years and years to deliver great pleasure to me and my table mates.

by Kurt Burris
Posted on:12/20/2011 11:30:32 AM

Good acidity does seem to be the key in my book.  As a general rule it seems long hang time equals higher sugar and lower acid.  But, thankfully there is a lot of really good, balanced, varietal wine out there and none of us have to drink anything we don't like.  We might have to taste a bunch to find what we like, but we don't have to drink it.  And you are so right that not every wine has to be ageworthy.  I love Vino Verdhe, but I try to drink every drop I have by fall.  Cheers!

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