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Friday Fishwrap
How To Tell The Difference Between The Flu and A Hangover—And Other Important Matters

By Charles Olken

I don’t know if we should be proud of this fact, but I have found a place where alcohol level is not a determining factor in wine appreciation. I suppose I have been to this place before with the same results, but this time, the potential contrast could not have been more stark and the results so wonderfully tame and dictacted by how the wines smelled and tasted and not by their respective alcohol levels.

It turned out, more or less by random chance because I don’t plan these things, that a recent CGCW tasting of Pinot Noirs had a bunch of low to moderate alcohol versions and one way out there in 15.6% ABV land. Four of the eight wines in the flight had ABVs under 14% and three more were just over 14%. Surely, the outlier would stand out like the very sorest of thumbs. That is certainly the message we have been hearing for a decade and more now—so much so that it has become a source of amusement to us when so many lower alcohol wines turn out to be thin and underfilled.

Yet, in this tasting, in which all the wines were from cool to cold growing sites, the single most pleasing among them was the wine with 13.5%. That, in itself was not so surprising given the preponderance of wines with mannerly ripeness. But, here is the kicker. The second placing wine was the outlier, the full-bodied wine with 15.6% ABV.

Admittedly, there was a distinct organoleptic difference. Ripeness is, after all, ripeness, and despite the wine’s having more or less identical acid and pH measurements, the high alcohol wine was easily the more concentrated and direct of the two. So, in one sense, alcohol level did matter because it changed the character of the wine. But, when it came to the preferences of a panel of experienced wine professionals, it was not alcohol level but the rewards to be had from each wine that called the tune.

It might be a small thing, and but one anecdote in a sea full of experiences, but it happily reinforced the notion that wines are to be judged by the character, not by their labels.


It may have been a facetious question, but it is one that we found interesting: How do you tell the difference between the flu and a hangover.

Thank about it. With both, you feel like you have been run over by a steamroller. With both, your eyes hurt, you stomach has left town, even your hair hurts. With both, you promise that if tomorrow will just hurry up and come early, you will change your evil ways.

Yes, it is often hard to tell the difference between the flu and a hangover. And even now, having had a few days to think about a better answer than we gave that hall full of drinkers, we have not come up with a better answer.

You know it is a hangover if your teeth are red and the parade of empty bottles starts on the dining room table and reaches the recycling bucket out the back door.

See, that was easy. Send me my consulting nickel just as soon as you feel better.


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