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Alcohol: Creeping upward?
Mas de Guiot 2000 Vin de Pays du Gard
Brentwood Wine Company - The Best Wines, Online
50 ways to love your Porto
Emeril's Missing Ingredient Sweepstake

Alcohol: Creeping upward?

Almost a year ago, I took on the topic of alcohol in wine, observing that wine, as an "adult beverage," indisputably contains alcohol, noting that this can be both a blessing and a curse. Moderate consumption is harmless, even beneficial for most of us, while excess is a bad idea. period.

But one thing's certain: Wine without alcohol isn't wine, and for me at least, based on the dismal quality of the small niche of commercial non-alcoholic wine, I would rather turn to fruit juices, coffee or tea or sparkling water when mood or circumstances suggest avoiding alcohol.

Today, let's take a look at a related issue. In an E-mail note, a Texas reader says, "Not that I am against alcohol in reasonable doses, but a high-alcohol wine tends - to my palate at least - to overwhelm, to detract from whatever subtle qualities it may otherwise possess. Am I wrong in suspecting that there is an emerging pattern of alcohol creep, notably in reds?"

I think he's right. While the trend isn't universal, many wines are creeping upward in alcohol content. As recently as the 1980s, it was unusual to see a red wine much over 13 percent alcohol, with whites lagging a percentage point or so behind. Within this range, a percentage point is considered insignificant enough that regulatory authorities in the U.S. permit a margin of error of 1.5 percent: A wine labeled 12.5 percent may actually contain anything from 11 to 14 percent.

But some wines nowadays seem to start at 14 percent and go up from there. This seems particularly true of Zinfandel, but I see it in other New World reds and even bigger Chardonnays; and the phenomenon is not entirely unknown in Europe, where the Gourt de Mautens Rasteau (to pick a random example) is made so big and strong that it could pass for a blockbuster Australian Shiraz.

In fairness, I don't believe this evolution is based on marketing or aimed at attracting customers by providing a wine with more "punch." Rather, it's an inescapable result of wine chemistry: If wine is vinified to dryness, then very ripe grapes, having a higher sugar content, will ferment until their alcohol content reaches a surprisingly high level. Riper fruit, higher alcohol: The equation is simple and direct.

The growth of the wine industry in wine regions with long growing seasons and rare frost has made ripe or even overripe fruit easy to attain in California and Australia; and modern vineyard technology also helps ensure ripening even in more moderate Old World climates.

Should this concern consumers? Maybe. If a high-alcohol wine is well made, a high level of fruit extract and body seems to offset the high alcohol. I've tasted Turley Zinfandels at 17 percent that simply did not taste like they contained that much alcohol, although no one would ever mistake them for a classic-style Bordeaux! But there's no dispute that high alcohol can manifest itself as an imbalance that detracts from the finesse and subtlety of the wine.

Mas de Guiot Mas de Guiot 2000 Vin de Pays du Gard ($14.99)

In Australia, wine makers have been mixing Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon for generations, knowing that these disparate partners can enjoy a happy marriage that takes advantage of each participant's strengths. But it's a little less common in France, making this modest item from Provence an unusual treat.

Very dark ruby, almost black. Black fruit aromas and a whiff of leather, pleasant if a bit austere. Ripe black-cherry flavors follow the nose, with a lemon squirt of acidity and perceptible tannins. Good, balanced wine, a blend of 60% Cabernet and 40% Syrah. U.S. importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, D.C. (Feb. 16, 2002)

FOOD MATCH: As you would expect from its components, it would be a natural with red meat. We fashioned a meatless match and found it paired well with "gumbo risotto," a cross-ethnic vegetarian mix of Indian-style okra curry with rice in a risotto technique.

VALUE: At $15 retail, this wine is a few dollars above the "everyday" range for most consumers, but the price seems fair for its quality.

WEB LINK: I was unable to track down a Website for the producer or importer.

Brentwood Wine Company - The Best Wines, Online

The first continuous online wine auction website, Brentwood Wine Company has been bringing the finest in rare and collectible wines to consumers and professionals since 1998. Our selection and service is unmatched, our hammer prices and buyers premiums are some of the lowest in the industry, and our current offerings have never been better! With starting bids from as little as $8 to over $52,000 (a 1921 Chateau Petrus 4.5L!), there's something for everyone. Discover why the world's top collectors and restaurants already buy from us.

Our current "Two Million Dollar Auction" is our biggest ever, loaded with the most highly rated Bordeaux, Burgundy, Port, Sauternes, and Italian wines in the world. Half-bottle to 6-liter bottles are available, many in case quantities, including the finest vintages (1921, 1945, 1947, 1961, 1982, and others) of First-growths and more. Unlike the other live or online auctions, all lots are single bottles - bid only on the wines you want, not the "filler wines" other auctions include in their lots to move less popular bottles. To view this auction and two others running currently - over 1200 different wines to choose from - click below:


We also buy collectible, well-stored private collections at competitive prices and pay within days - not weeks or months - and will appraise your collections for free. To learn more:


We look forward to your visit!
The Brentwood Wine Team

50 ways to love your Porto

The Portuguese Trade Commission recently came to the U.S. Pacific Northwest with major tastings of Port in Seattle and, um, PORTland; and Port expert and aficionado Roy Hersh was there. You'll find his report on 50 wines from the Portland session, along with a little background on Tawny, Colheita, LBV and Roy's special passion, Vintage Port, at http://www.wineloverspage.com/port/hersh021502.phtml.

Emeril's Missing Ingredient Sweepstake

WineLoversPage.com has joined with Emerils.com to bring the fun of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and his cooking to wine lovers on the World Wide Web!

"Emeril's Missing Ingredient Sweepstake" will present a new recipe each week for a good wine-pairing dish from Lagasse's latest book, "Prime Time Emeril" ... with one essential ingredient missing. Your challenge is to study the recipe (or, if you prefer, search for the complete original on Emerils.com) and figure out what key ingredient has been left out.

Each Friday throughout the four-week contest we'll choose a winner from those who correctly identify the missing ingredient. Winners will get a free, autographed copy of Lagasse's latest book, "Prime Time Emeril," and a Grand Prize winner will win an entire Emeril Cookbook collection.

We'll also award a few bonus prizes - Emeril's spices and sauces - to the comments we judge most creative and imaginative among those who fill in the optional block inviting you to tell us why you chose a specific missing ingredient.

For this, the fourth and final week, the "Missing Ingredient" recipe is CHERRY AND WHITE CHOCOLATE BREAD PUDDING. For details, the recipe and entry form, see http://www.wineloverspage.com/emeril/index.phtml.


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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

Monday, Feb. 18, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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