Do you want alcohol levels in reviews? [poll] & a comment from Joly

Last week’s New York Times reviewed some wines from Savennières, the Loire appellation that makes often-stunning, always dry versions of chenin blanc. The article noted the alcohol levels from the label of each wine alongside the newspaper’s ratings, comments and prices.

Would you like to see more reviewers noting alcohol levels? Although what’s written on the label is what we have to go on as consumers, it’s not always accurate given that federal regulations allow one to one-and-a-half percent wiggle room from what’s stated on the label. Have your say in the latest poll!

Also, just how did the NYT panel’s favorite wine, Nicolas Joly’s Les Clos Sacrés from the damp 2007 vintage, reach 15 percent alcohol? This is the Loire, not Lodi, after all. For perspective, I asked Nicolas Joly for a comment, which follows after the poll.

Should wine reviews include the alcohol level?

View Results

loading  Loading ...

Since several years the profile of most years here lead to a year dominated by light more than by heat which may be there for 2 or 3 weeks in July mainly. O7 is a year of light as O8 and O9 (where most nights were 1O°Celsius lower than day) the same. And 2OIO is on the same way. Global warming is in my mind for here incomplete Some magnetism of the earth is changing. Spring is less pronounced, very slow to come with not much force up to May. Surprising and worrying indeed. But people are lost in their heads and prisoners of too much intellectuality. What comes is not what is expected.

Why 15° of alcohol then? Because if you wait for the “right” maturity (yellow leaves which tells you “my job is over” , right taste etc ) the beginning of some concentration have happened although we do not reach at all the so called late harvest. Why not increasing the yields then by pruning longer? Because beyond the yield of 2O max 25 hectoliters by hectare you loose “something ” precious …I remember Lalou [Bize-Leroy] saying beyond 15 hecto / hectare you cannot make a great wine. This is probably what she meant. But with vines of 3O to 7O years old as here 2O to 25 works.

You do not get a painting away from a painter unless its work is achieved. When has the chenin completed its work is then the question? Fairly late is my answer although not at the stage of vendange tardive . Keep in mind first that chenin is a very difficult child to raise ; poorly handled it becomes a disaster, well handled it is a miracle . The basic is that you cant put it almost anywhere like a sauvignon or even a chardonnay ; a chenin will not forgive any mistake from your side. Second it does not support high yields ( like french fonctionnaire but this time for the benefit of consumers !!!); the best chenin here comes from October harvest where the cool nights and the indispensable end of the maturity permits much more subtleties and complexities to fully come out. the excess of one half of a degree to one degree does not mater you do not taste it as such!

Then last as always the simplest terroir comes out first as always .you have to move into the complexity of the wine to see the huge difference If you compare on a 8 days tasting a Coulée O7 and a Clos Sacré O7 (one glass a day just recorked no fridge ) you will see a Van Gogh beside an impressionist after 8 days !If you have been tasting a great Bordeaux of the fifties 2 years after its harvest you would not have bought it .I mean that if you just want a pleasant evening with a wine full of originality take a Clos Sacré ( sold as Vieux Clos in France ) it is great .If you have something very special wil reall friends devoted to a real thrue food take certainly a Coulée it is not the same trip This will be even clearer in one year or 2, but is certainly visible now. Make the experiment.

you can publish this on your blog of course!

pixel

43 Responses to “Do you want alcohol levels in reviews? [poll] & a comment from Joly”


  1. Much preferable to have the reviewer have an ABV assay performed for the review. Then they are adding value.

    It’s what I do, and I’m not even supposed to review wine. :-p


  2. That seems to me a silly suggestion. A review is not a contents declaration. It’s an opinion. So, if there is a ‘review reason’ to talk about the ABV, yes, but to say that a review “should” contain that info is not a good idea.

    You can always say, “well, it’s a useful piece of info”, but so are many other things.

    And in any case ABV has limited use as a consumer info. A 15% can be excellently balanced without being “alcoholic”.


  3. Josh-

    How much does an alcohol assay cost? And can it be done outside of a lab, by a reviewer or consumer?


  4. BK,

    I just think that’s a myopic view of the type of information a wine review *could* provide. There are pieces of information about a wine that are objective. Here are a couple examples:

    http://www.pinotblogger.com/wine-reviews/spain/2008-condes-de-albarei-rias-baixas-albarino/

    http://www.pinotblogger.com/wine-reviews/france/2005-charles-joguet-le-chene-vert-chinon/

    @drvino,

    $30 bucks for a single test, with volume discounts at ETS.

    http://www.etslabs.com/analysis.aspx?id=ETD

    But you could also save a bunch by buying an ebulliometer or the Hanna HI 83540.

    Look, I’m under no illusions that anyone will ever take the time and effort to actually work to inform customers about the wines they review. It reeks of effort, requires some technical knowledge, and costs money.

    But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a much better system than what we currently have.


  5. I think knowing the alcohol level tells you a great deal not only about the wine that is in the bottle, but also about a reviewer’s taste. And if all the wines that seem to get high marks from a reviewer are generally those that have higher alcohol, it lets you know his/her preferred style and whether it is yours. Think of it as the Janet Maslin test. She used to cover films for the NYTimes and invariably, if she panned a flick, I usually liked it. You don’t have to agree with critics, you just have to know how best to use them.


  6. RE: testing alcohol levels outside a lab – yes, one could purchase an ebulliometer. This tool estimates alcohol content based on boiling point depression. First the boiling point of water is measured (it changes day to day due to changes in atmospheric pressure and humidity). Then the boiling point of the wine is measured. It will be lower than that of water by an amount that is primarily dependent on how much alcohol is present. The ebulliometer comes with a special slide rule which returns the alcohol content from the two boiling points.

    The test takes about 10 minutes per sample, and ideally one would make two assays of each wine and take an average. With enough wines in a flight one could spend an hour tasting and the rest of the day measuring alcohols.


  7. I think reviewers should note alcohol levels, as should online retailers and winery websites. The Wine Spectator in particular drives me crazy by not listing. Yes, the number on the bottle may not be entirely accurate. And, yes, the debate over alcohol levels in wine continues to rage. But it’s still a piece of information consumers shouldn’t have to go digging for.


  8. I write down the alcohol content on every wine I taste and I think if there is one thing you should know about a wine, above all, is the amount of alcohol it contains. If you are stopped by a cop, he is not going to analyze your breath for “gobs and gobs of fruit” content, it is going to be for alcohol. As to the suggestion that alcohol content has no place in a review, like is like reviewing camera lenses and not putting the f stop range in the article.


  9. Ugh! Can we be done with this already? Wine reviews should have good writing.


  10. As says Chuck, a wine review is about good writing and about the writer being able to express and convey his *opinions* about a wine.

    If you think wine reviews are there to give the consumer all potentially useful technical info about a wine, then we don’t agree on what a wine review is. There is a big difference between a wine review and, say, a test of chain saws (or photo lenses).

    Why not also ask for the acid levels (making sure what type of measure it is), tannin contents, dry extracts and all sorts of other chemical analysis things?

    @Gerry –

    The f-stop is an important characteristic of a lens. Alcohol % in wine does not tell you much about the important characteristics about wine.

    If you read reviews to be able to judge how much you can drink without being caught DUI, then, again, we don’t value the same things in reviews.


  11. BK

    I’ll try again:

    Read the links I posted above. Using your critera, do they qualify a reviews? Is the writing good? Are opinions expressed? I’ll put humility aside and submit the writing is excellent. I express opinions. But, importantly, I back up my opinions, where relevant, with objective data.

    Why must a review be only one thing and and not the other? Why not both? Why not better?


  12. Of course, wine reviews should be well-written. In addition, if they’re written for a consumer audience, they also should include information that helps make buying decisions. Grape(s), producer, region and price are standard parts of consumer wine reviews. There’s no reason alcohol levels shouldn’t be too. The implication in some of these comments is that this information should be hidden from consumers as much as possible in case they want to use it.


  13. Why not also ask for the acid levels (making sure what type of measure it is), tannin contents, dry extracts and all sorts of other chemical analysis things?

    You got me, officer, I have too much dry extract in my system, not to mention tannin content and dry extract. ;-)

    It appears to me that alcohol is the drug in question here,not acid, tannin and extract.


  14. Should have been tanning content and acid levels, especially acid levels. Sorry.


  15. It’s not a big hardship–we’re talking 3 characters, 5 if there’s a decimal point and a digit after it.

    I got into the habit of doing it on every wine I write about a couple of years ago, usually just putting it after the price. (Which is, if anything, a more contentious issue–prices vary quite a bit from state to state and country to country, as well as winery/online/store/restaurant.)

    The only time I comment further than the percentage is when it’s a particularly well-balanced big alcohol wine, or it’s a low-alcohol wine from an area that’s getting a reputation for high numbers (Australia/California). Also, just on a personal note I think those wines hitting 16%+ are getting kind of ridiculous and are crossing over into Port territory, and don’t mind pointing that out.


  16. Check out http://www.brixage.com . All the reviews contain alcohol % with winemaker notes and other characteristics that go way beyond the other review websites.


  17. I’m on the side of those who want more information and opposed to those who would deny me information. For better or for worse, I’ll decide how to use it. But just to give a simple example, many people think Riesling is sweet or sweetish (German: halb-trocken), but times have changed, and today most of the Rieslings I’ve run across, including many from Germany, are 13%, 14% alcohol or more and DRY.
    Knowing the alcohol level gives me an idea of whether a wine is for drinking or for sipping, whether it will go well at the table or should be sipped by a log fire with a break-skin run and a bare-skinned woman.

    It’s important to distinguish between ‘percentage’ and ‘percentage points.’ Assumiong the labeled percentage is correct, a wine of 14% doesn’t have “four percent more alcohol” than a 10%-er but 40 percent more.


  18. billmarsano wrote: “It’s important to distinguish between ‘percentage’ and ‘percentage points.’ Assumiong the labeled percentage is correct, a wine of 14% doesn’t have “four percent more alcohol” than a 10%-er but 40 percent more.”

    Exactly, Bill, it’s like drinking more than a liter of wine, instead of a normal .750 bottle. That’s why I am suggesting that if wineries are going to insist on making these monster wines, which hardly existed a decade ago, they should consider putting such “reviewer’s one taste and POW!” wines in 500ml. bottles. Many of them are also putting the alcohol levels in hard-to-find places and often in small print on the labels.

    If people want high alcohol for “flavor” in their wines, let them have it, just don’t use the monster wine model as the model for what is really good, because many of us don’t agree with nor want to drink such wines.


  19. The alcohol level is one piece of information that may or may not be relevant. The pieces Josh linked to were interesting in and of themselves and since some chemical analysis of the wine was the point, they’re in a different category of review.

    Most important is that the reviewer write something interesting about the wine. If alc levels are somehow significant to the writer, OK but I don’t expect most people to indicate those.

    I’m certainly not going to make a purchase decision based on the fact that someone wrote down a number that exceeded my threshold. And since I don’t check the alc level before opening a bottle, I’ve been surprised MANY times when I checked it after tasting the wine. If I’d been swayed by some predetermined notion of correctness, I wouldn’t even have tried the wine.

    Since nobody mentioned using “the monster wine model as the model for what is really good” I wonder how that was brought up.

    And having had Mr. Joly’s wines, I think they’re just right. He’s getting an alcohol level of 15% while also serving as the pre-eminent practitioner of biodynamics in the world. At 15% stated, his wines have to be monster wines, but they’re also pretty unique and in a few cases, really good. Alc levels in and of themselves don’t make the difference in wine quality – I don’t know why it’s hard to enjoy Joly’s wines as much as the 11% muscadet that I’ve just opened. Both from the Loire, both good.

    Of course, if I were pulled over and asked to take a breath test because of my driving, I don’t think the alcohol stated on the bottle is relevant any more. One can get pretty drunk on lite beer if you drink enough of it! For that reason, one shouldn’t be driving after drinking. Why is ANY impairment acceptable?


  20. A wine with 16% alcohol by volume does indeed have 4% more alcohol by volume than a wine with 12% alcohol by volume.

    And it would surprise me no end to find that anyone here is walking around with a BAC chart and calculating how drunk they are based on exactly how much they have consumed of wine with any particular percentage alcohol by volume (and don’t lie about your weight) – though I’m old enough to have seen stranger. How about you buy your own pocket Breathalyzer? Just don’t use it in the restaurant next to my table.

    If you want to know the pH, T.A., V.A., free and total SO2, residual malic or glucose+fructose on any of my wines, drop me an email. If I ever get enough emails to be a burden I will put the info on the website. Since I don’t filter my wines I even have turbidity numbers for some of them – I’m sure you all know the visual difference between 1 NTU and 6 NTU, right? But if you want to know the dry extract or “tannin level” (measured how? GAE by the Folin-Ciocalteau method?) you will have to run those tests yourself because I could not care less what those numbers are.

    And speaking of running your own tests, if I was writing wine reviews and including the alcohol content, I would stick with publishing the label alcohol. I’d be concerned about the potential liability of publishing an erroneous test result or a printer error resulting in the TTB conducting an ultimately fruitless audit of some winery.


  21. I can see that there are camps here who ultimately will not agree, but math is math. A wine with 16% alcohol has a 4 percentage point difference from a 12% bottle, but a 33 percent higher alcohol level. A 4 percent higher level would put the 12 percent bottle at 12.48 percent.

    The bottom line for me, though, is this: There are a significant number of consumers who would like for it to be easier to know about alcohol levels in wine. Providing them helps us, and doesn’t in any way damage those who don’t care about that info. The argument against providing them seems to boil down to a presumption that buyers aren’t qualified to decide what to value in wine. That’s condescending and startling if the audience for the reviews is a consumer audience. The reviewer still has the option to note that the wine is well-balanced and worthy. There’s a lot of wine in the world and no one can drink it all. Buyers are entitled to choose the way in which they want to make their selections. Reviewers serve an important role in helping make those decisions, but withholding information buyers want based on what kind of wine the reviewer thinks buyers “should” want is disrespectful.


  22. Bravo, Tyler. THis topic is compelling and important. I really like Leslie’s comment above; knowing alcohol level IN a particular critic’s review can help a reader gauge whether one’s own thresholds/preferences are in synch with that reviewer.

    Two points I’d like to add, which I made in greater length in a post on my blog ( http://www.wineforall.com/blog/?p=404 ):

    1) Knowing the alcohol by volume (ABV) % in a wine can often be a good indicator of its relative body. Riesling is the best example. And in reds, if you are considering a 15% ABV Zin and a 13.5% one, it is safe to predict that the 13.5 onw will be less full-bodied.

    2) Wine reviews — particularly when couched in so-called “buying guides” are supposed to be consumer aids. THe ABV% is a piece of legal data that can indeed be helpful information. So why do so many (especially traditional) media omit this info? The argument about ABV being imprecise is a canard; it is legal data, on every bottle. My hunch is that mags like WS and RP are not exactly thrilled with the idea of exposing the high correlation of high scores to high-octane wines.

    Quietly over the past two decades we have all seen alcohol levels rising. Now is the time to step back and be AWARE of the diverse range of ABV in various wines. And part of that awareness should include realization that, based on recent history of WS and RP, those higher levels are also being equated in many cases with higher quality (as expressed in higher ratings.


  23. Excellent post, Tish. Thanks.


  24. The way I see it, good reviews should include all pertinent information for a consumer to make an informed buying decision, no? If ABV doesn’t matter to you then skip over it — who cares, right? But for those who want to know, at least the information is there.

    Think of it this way – it’s sort of like buying a sport shirt and the description says Dri-FIT 95% polyester/5%spandex. Some of you might care about the blend but others might only want to know it’s a shirt that will keep you dry.


  25. Was a sommelier at a restaurant in NYC and we posted alcohol levels on all of our wines & beers. I think this tells the consumer more information before he or she pulls the trigger. Some people will talk to a sommelier, some people won’t. Those that know an 8% ABV German Spatlese means there’s probably a fair amount of residual sugar should be told that before they see the bottle. Likewise, seeing the difference between a 13% Cali Cab and 15% one before one purchases could make or break a meal. The more info the better.


  26. I feel that the ABV is sometimes pertinent info and sometimes is not.

    If the wine is off-balance or flawed it may have something to do with the alcohol.

    If a wine is balanced and seamless I don’t usually care how much alcohol is in it.


  27. I am an average consumer of wine. By this I mean I buy wine to drink at home frequently, and it is my drink of choice when I go out to eat. I wonder if the average consumer would really understand the full meaning of alcohol levels if posted to a wine label or on a menu. Those that champion this concept keep mentioning how it will help the consumer gauge their tolerance level as well as preference to a wine with this additional statistic added. I am not so sure it is something the majority of consumers would pay any attention to or even understand its importance. So although these may be good and truthful arguments I do not believe simply posting this content would be effective.


  28. That’s a great point. The person who is going to read a review and buy based on that is most likely not someone who spends all day thinking and reading about wine. For the latter person, all that info is of some relevance. But for the average customer, meaning most customers, it’s not. Anyone who works in retail for a minute realizes that the people who make up the biggest part of the market aren’t searching for esoteric information so much as trying to remember the name of the wine they liked a couple weeks ago.

    And many really want to learn. But I’d never steer them to


  29. Over the past 3-4 years, I’ve watched how I make wine-buying decisions change. On a wine list, I used to simply choose an undiscovered grape or region (or a favorite brand I knew I could trust). Or sometimes I’d roll the dice on a California wine in my pricing sweet spot. After being poured too many unbalanced, flabby wines that did not enhance the meal, I now ask about alcohol % on any wine I’m considering to purchase off a wine list. As soon as I pull a wine off a retail shelf, I look at the alcohol first. At wine tastings, I ask the pourer what the alcohol % is. I don’t buy anything over 13.9%. I hate it that it’s gotten to that point, but for me, it’s simply not an enjoyable experience to taste something that is has too much alcohol, and usually not enough acid. If someone can find me a young 15%Napa Cab I will enjoy over a meal, you have an open invitation to dinner.

    Reviewers, restaurants and online retailers — those parties recommending or selling a wine without the bottle present — should include alcohol levels. There are a lot of consumers out there who don’t like to drink 15% alcohol wines with 93-point ratings, and it’s just basic customer service to provide us information we need to make a buying decision.

    With all the negative publicity high-alc wines have begun to receive, I think more consumers will begin asking for this information.


  30. @ Lisa

    “As soon as I pull a wine off a retail shelf, I look at the alcohol first. At wine tastings, I ask the pourer what the alcohol % is. I don’t buy anything over 13.9%. I hate it that it’s gotten to that point, but for me, it’s simply not an enjoyable experience”

    That’s a curious way of tasting wine. You decide from what is written on the label if you are going to enjoy the wine or not.

    You don’t give the wine a chance to show what it smells and tastes, but rather you look at the label and say “if it’s above 13.9% it is not enjoyable”, not even bothering to smell or taste it.

    Curious indeed.

    Personally, I would rather taste the wine and see if I think it has a dominant alcohol (which can happen at 12.5%) and therefore is unbalanced, or if I think it is balanced, refreshing and enjoyable (which can be the case even for 15% wines).

    You should try blind tastings. It’s a humbling, and surprising experience.


  31. I think Lisa is entitled to choose wine any way she wants. The only thing the low-alcohol preference posters on this entry have asked for is more access to information. I just don’t think that’s unreasonable.


  32. @Per

    I feel much the way Lisa does. In my own experience, certain wines fit my palate best at certain alcohol levels. Old World Syrah/Grenache wines for me can be fine over 14% ABV, but New World ones too often have hit me like a brick to the palate. And when it comes to Zinfandel, while I do occasionally find a 15% one I kind of like, when it comes to drinking, I simply do better with 13.5% ones.

    It seems entirely normal to me that certain people develop personal preferences regarding ABV levels in wine, and choose to keep those prefs in mind when choosing wines to drink.

    Again, as Cassandra points out as well, this is more about information than about the alcohol itself. Wine media that as policy omit ABV data while including other facts (grapes, origin, price…) are not serving wine lovers as best they could.


  33. @Cassandra. Of course Lisa (and anyone else) should choose the wines any way that suits her (them). If that is what she/you wants, that’s OK.

    What I am saying is that the number on the bottle is not necessarily a good indication of the taste and quality of the wine in the bottle, so, in my opinion, putting too much emphasis on the % a mistake. Nevertheless, everyone is of course entitled to do it. It’s a bit like saying if it doesn’t say Cabernet Sauvignon on the label I won’t like it. It’s a way to choose a wine, but not necessarily a good one.

    To come back to the original question: it seems to me more important if the taster in a review says if he thinks the wine is balanced, has freshness, fruit, minerality etc. If, in the tasters opinion it has, say, good balance, fresh fruit, refreshing minerality, then what difference does it make if the wine is 14.5%? Of course, it never hurts to say it, but it is really more meaningful to get a persons evaluation of the wine rather than a chemical analysis.


  34. “If, in the tasters opinion it has, say, good balance, fresh fruit, refreshing minerality, then what difference does it make if the wine is 14.5%?”

    As a wine writer who tastes wines then continues sampling them, and adding to the notes, over a meal, I can tell you that from my humble experience, most wines that hit 14.5% (even 14%) and above do not have “good balance, fresh fruit, refreshing minerality” and that makes a lot of difference to me.

    And I think Per-BK Wine’s condescension to Lisa’s checking labels is quite “curious” indeed. I do so myself in restaurants.

    Last night in Arlington, VA at dinner, I first called for a Rose from Napa, saw that it was barrel-fermented, did not mention the variety (or varieties) on the back label. I rejected that at first and then asked for a Pinot Blanc from Oregon that was $34 (on a suburban wine list). That came with a screw-cap, so I rejected that and went back to the rose (also $34), which when opened, I saw was sealed with a plastic stopper, but I didn’t want any more hassles for the person who was inviting me, so I stayed with the rose.

    We drank it, but it did not have the charm and refreshing quality that I want from a rosado and it certainly was not worth $34 (one of the lowest priced wines on the list).

    In my opinion the wine trade is in crisis and will remain in crisis as long as they kept pushing unbalanced, overoaked, high alcohol wines at unreasonable price-quality ratios, keep putting screw caps and plastic stoppers in the bottles and feel compelled to do such things as barrel ferment roses.


  35. @ Per and @ Gerry,

    The alcohol issue per se is, in my estimation, way too complex, loaded and personal to be resolved in any sort of universal way. I have enjoyed wines that are over 14% ABV; and I have not enjoyed wines that are under 13%. That said, I do not encourage anyone to dismiss a wine based on alcohol level alone. That just seems foolish.

    On the other hand, I continue to believe that wine lovers on all sides can agree that KNOWING the alcohol is relevant when reading a review. And the villain here = wine media gorillas who purposely omit ABV from reviews. If WS and RP (and all the rest) truly position themselves as sources of consumer guidance, then given the current wine market, how can they NOT include this data?


  36. My dear friend Tish, with all do respect, I really do not want to ingest any more alcohol than I have to on a daily basis, nor does my companion, who merely stops drinking any wine that tips her alcohol scales too far, thus many, many nights, we leave a third of a bottle undrunk, something that never happens with wines that are 13.5% and under. I happen to be tasting and consuming Garnacha-based wines during the past couple of months. Believe me, I have plenty of wine left over to use it cooking, if it is good, but, more often than not, the rest goes down the drain. But to look a things on the brighter side, the other night one Garnacha I had from Campo de Borja–made by an Austrailian, I believe–with the sub-DO, Monkton, MD unwritten on the label, but stamped all over the wine, was so powerful that we got through only half a bottle, so, if we wanted, we could have made that one last two nights! They should go to 500ml bottles with these overblown wines


  37. @Tish

    Is that really so? That some publications (WS and RP it seems) have a *policy* of *not* publishing %? Very odd indeed.

    I certainly agree that there is nothing wrong with mentioning it (nothing wrong with giving more info rather than less).

    What I do think is wrong is to require categorically that tasting notes should specify %. (Or dismiss a wine just because of its %)

    For many reasons, e.g. as explained above, I think in many cases it is irrelevant. But also – I taste a lot of wine and it would be a waste of time and effort to always require the % being noted. It would deprive our readers of a lot of interesting tasting notes – those we made without really caring a iota about the ABV. Sometimes, when tasting, the character of the wine is such that you wonder what the % is. Then you check it (and mention it in the review). If not, you don’t.

    As a bit of trivia: we have recently tasted quite a few Bordeaux from the 80s and 70s (well, not hundreds but a few) and they have almost invariably been around 11.5% to 12.5%. and almost invariably delicious. An ’81 on Saturday that weighed in at 11.8%. Very nice it was.

    At the same time I’ve had many gorgeous grenaches (for example), both red and white, which have been very, very nice. And if you checked the ABV sometimes they were even above 15… I’m certainly glad I didn’t dismiss them off-hand.


  38. @ Per,

    Is it policy? Perhaps that is not the right word. But I got kicked off WS boards a couple years ago for questioning James Laube’s putdown of Randy Dunn on the alcohol issue. And my last blog post went into detail about my views. (http://www.wineforall.com/blog/?p=404)

    Long story short, my educated hunch is that WS and RP do not and will never include ABV % in reviews because doing so would expose the correlation between their highest ratings and high-octane wines. (Yes, of course, many under 14% wines get 90+, but the top tier is dominated by BIG reds.)

    By contrast, it is interesting to see an increasing number of bloggers include ABV % in their reviews routinely, if not by stated policy. Why would bloggers do so? Because it makes sense! It is another piece of potentially useful information to give readers. It is useful in different ways to different people for different wines, but then again, so is vintage. And origin and even grapes, which are also just data about a wine.

    Moving forward, it just seems to me that the wine world now is so complex and vast that including at least an awareness of extreme ABV % is the best appraoch for reviewers who can expect to remain broadly credible.


  39. When I taste, I record the alcohol level, if that information is available, along with the rest of my notes. This is not done in order to judge whether the wine has too much alcohol, but to establish a profile that is useful not only in describing that wine, but in comparing it to others and understanding variations of style, region and vintage. Leaving aside our emotions regarding high-alcohol wines, and acknowledging the factual leeway allowed on the label, we may surprise ourselves by liking something that does not fit our usual pattern. This could prove valuable in understanding our own criteria for evaluating wine. Or we may confirm these patterns to be consistent, which, as Leslie points out, is useful for the reader.
    If, in fact, we aspire to guide people toward being more confident in making their wine-drinking decisions, we should provide information that might help them do so. Trouble is, these facts are accompanied by our opinions! Can we trust consumers to sort this out, sooner or later, and reach their own conclusions?


  40. As a small Rhone producer in Paso Robles, the question of ABV comes up often but generally isn’t the focus for most of our customers and tasters– I keep thinking that all of us reading and writing here aren’t representative of the general wine-drinking-public!

    In our tasting room we interact with all kinds of tasters: the super geeks to the birthday parties. We make it a policy to provide any information at any point. Before selling our first bottle we decided being transparent and being able to provide as much information as a taster may want is a priority: residual sugar levels, acid levels, pick dates, brix levels, vintage notes, oak regimes, filtration decisions, clones, rootstocks, soil profiles, percent ABV etc!

    With that in mind, the percentage of alcohol by volume is only one of many parameters combined in a given wine that determines the overall perceived quality. We feel that providing certain information out of the context of tasting the wine is not a reason to purchase (or not) a bottle of our wine.

    Also with that promise of providing pertinent information in mind, for those of you who are seeking more information, we will be adding technical notes to every wine (both current and older vintages) to our website.

    When it comes to critics it’s out of our hands sadly! We provide more than what they ask for (including % ABV) but they use only the information you see. Personally, I don’t think alcohol needs to be included every time in critics’ reviews. If the alcohol component stands out then it’s worth mentioning, but if it’s a balanced wine then that single piece of data is not always necessary. Also as a producer, we find (within a certain crowd!) there is a negative stigma attached to wines over 14 or 15% ABV. We don’t want to be judged on a digit. If our wines are not to your taste then more power to you!


  41. I made some lab analysis on a botle of 07 clos de la bergerie from roche aux moins that Joly produces, and it was chaptalized my friends… This guy is Just a very good storyteller…

    I invite you to do the same, eanyway then we tested it a sensory analysis to detect chaptalized descriptors mainly caramel, bon bon, and 50% plus one determined it in the round table and further more compared to other roche aux moins the LSD statistic values were significant different from the aother samples…

    I dont know, to much bla bla, he applies good vviticultural techs for sure but in the cellar he should be less interventionist, it is just not following his marketing philosophy, and publications…

    Bisous!


  42. Maria,
    How do you identify chaptalization with a lab analysis? Can you explain a bit more?
    -P


  43. Maria – I sent this a few days ago to the email address you provided but have heard no reply. If you have a lab test, please send it to me. Or please direct us to a link where we can see it. Without seeing it or even knowing your real identity, your claims are significantly devalued.


winepoliticsamz

Wine Maps


Classes

My next NYU wine classes: NYU

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

See my op-eds in the NYT
"Drink Outside the Box"
"Red, White, and Green"

Highlights

Monthly Archives

Categories


Blog posts via email


@drvino








Wine industry jobs

quotes

One of the “fresh voices taking wine journalism in new and important directions.” -World of Fine Wine

“His reporting over the past six months has had seismic consequences, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a blog.” -Forbes.com

"News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate…" The Wall Street Journal

"...well-written, well-researched, calm and, dare we use the word, sober." -Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher, WSJ

jbf07James Beard Foundation awards

Saveur, best drinks blog, finalist 2012.

Winner, Best Wine Blog

One of the "seven best wine blogs." Food & Wine,

One of the three best wine blogs, Fast Company

See more media...

ayow150buy

Wine books on Amazon: