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Stop Obsessing About the Alcohol in Wine

And start thinking about balance—it's way more important.

The BC Wine Institute had one one of their amazing blind tastings last week, where Rhys Pender MW conducts a blind tasting of the same varietals with some of the wines from BC and some from other great wine producing regions. It always produces some wonderful surprises (this year in a blind tasting of 6 Chardonnays, not a single person—myself included—picked a 1er cru Chablis as their favourite wine) and really does show how competitive BC wine is when placed in a comparable pool of international wines.

But this year it was also illustrative one of a creeping prejudices in the wine world. It’s one that I’m frequently guilty and a lot of the time it’s hogwash. I’m talking about judging a wine by it’s alcohol content, with the underlying prejudice that more alcohol is a sin, and less, a virtue, when it comes to assessing the deftness of a winemaker. This year alone I’ve gushed about both Summerhill and CedarCreek’s rieslings and noted how impressed I was at their sub 9% alcohol levels. I conversely don’t think I’ve reviewed an Aussie Shiraz that’s over 15% alcohol. These are my preferences, but it’s funny how a blind tasting can cause you to re-evalaute.

For the Pinot Noir tasting Rhys had chosen four BC Pinots, one French and one from New Zealand. I (oddly for me) chose the wine from NZ, which had a healthy 14%. A few people chose wine #1 and a few chose #3 and in no instances did anyone comment that any of the wines were “hot” (code word for too much alcohol) or boozy or over-extracted. I thought they were all great—but when the labels were revealed #1 turned out to be the Oldfield Series from Tinhorn Creek, which clocked in at a hefty 14.6% and wine #3 was the Gentleman Farmer Pinot from Spierhead which arrived at a minimalist 12.8% and if you you told people that there was almost 2% of alcohol difference in these wines they wouldn’t believe you. Why? Because both were balanced. That isn’t to say they were the same —they weren’t, but their defining characteristic wasn’t the alcohol. It was nice to have a reminder of that next time I reach for a bottle.

 

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