This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Friday, May. 25, 2012 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20120525.php.
High-octane wines getting pushback?
For the past year or so, I've taken to routinely mentioning the alcohol level of most of the wines I review, figuring that this might be useful information in a world of rising wine-alcohol content. To my interest, far more of you say you appreciate this as a guide to gentler wines than to the high-octane stuff.
It has been about a year since I last discussed this evergreen topic in "More alcohol, less pleasure?" in The 30 Second Wine Advisor, June 10, 2011. Then, the other night, thoughts of the pleasures of rational alcohol levels crossed my mind as we enjoyed a simple Burgundy table wine at 12.5 percent: Chevillon 2008 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain.
This morning, following a link posted on Facebook by the estimable wine maker and über wine geek Randall Grahm, I found "The Gray Report," a new-to-me wine blog by a guy named W. Blake Gray, whose Wednesday entry titled "Low-alcohol lovers have high-alcohol winemakers worried," covered the low-alcohol topic in words I thought I could pretty much have written myself.
"The battle over alcohol levels has been going on ever since California winemakers discovered in the '90s that they could get higher scores from (Wine Spectator writer) James Laube and (big-name wine critic) Robert Parker by letting the grapes hang an extra week or so," wrote Gray, a a former wine writer and editor for The San Francisco Chronicle and author of a Japanese-language guide to California wines.
"The high-alcohol forces have pretty much ruled the battlefield ever since," Gray wrote, later adding, "But the attitude that higher alcohol by itself is not an issue to be addressed, and the corresponding attitude that there is no upper limit for how high alcohol can be in a good wine - these are new philosophies, less than 20 years old for an industry that has been around for centuries.
"A decade ago, people who disagreed with these ideas were definitely on the outside. ... [But] The 'balance backlash' has gathered steam over the last five years, and without anybody realizing, it may have passed a tipping point. ... the Battle of the Wine Bulge is turning. Listen to the whispering on the Internet, in wine bars, in fine restaurants, at seminars, wherever people talk about wine. You can hear it."
I like this guy! Looking over his other recent blog posts, I've added The Gray Report to my wine subscriptions and recommend that you do, too. Click "Subscribe to this blog" a bit down the right-hand column on his main page.
As for that Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, it's a wine style worth getting to know, the everyday red table wine of Burgundy, in which it's permissible to add the usually banned-in-Bourgogne Gamay grape of Beaujolais to make up to one-third of the otherwise sacrosanct Pinot Noir. You'll find my tasting report below.
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Today's Tasting Report
Chevillon 2008 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain ($15.99)
Ruby, with crimson glints. Good, basic Bourgogne aromas, black cherry and a whiff of "tomato skin," and perhaps a back note of mixed berries too, although it's hard to be certain if that's just my perceptions whispering "There's Gamay in there." In any case, it's pleasant and food-friendly, varietally appropriate fruit structured by firm, tart acidity and soft but present tannins, with a delightfully old-school alcohol level at 12.5 percent. U.S. importer: Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif. (May 19, 2012)
FOOD MATCH: Like both the Pinot Noirs of Burgundy and the Beaujolais of Gamay, this wine makes a versatile match with a wide variety of food from red meat, poultry and salmon to cheese and bean dishes. It was a fine dinner wine with oven-fried Gardein chick'n fillets and a fresh summer garden salad of kale and onions.
WHEN TO DRINK: Pinot Noir is made for aging. Gamay isn't, or at least not much. I wouldn't be afraid to drink Passetoutgrain a few years out from the vintage, but it's really meant for early consumption with food, not for the cellar. Drink up and enjoy!
VALUE: A fine value at this mid-teens price. Somewhat to my surprise, given that Louisville retail prices tend to run a few dollars above the national median, Wine-Searcher.com reports an average retail price of $25 from U.S. vendors. At that point I might start looking at comparably priced Bourgogne Pinot Noir or even Villages Burgundies.
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