Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feeling The "Burn"?

Going to do something I often avoid here, gonna weigh in on the topic of the moment....the big Pinot Noir scandal/debate.

Not going to climb atop my soapbox, not going to point fingers or even really pick a side. I think we all have the right to like, dislike, drink or not drink whatever we damn well please. The arguments over high alcohol, pruney or hot wines shall never die and I happen to believe that there are wines with super high alcohol levels that are in fact in balance, just as there are wines with lower levels that can give me that same Bourbon like burn. There are no blanket truths and on that I think many of us agree but this little stunt pulled by Mr. Lee is just like when my mother in law "sneaks" veal into her meatballs, just because I might not taste it does NOT mean I want to ingest it! I choose not to eat veal, don't care if others do and I would never, ever give anyone shit for eating it, I just don't want to and it is not a matter of taste....

"You can't even taste it" is not the point when it comes to veal for me and it's not the point when it comes to glugging back a balanced or unbalanced bottle of wine that is over 15%....taste it or not, I don't WANT to. I happen to drink close to or often, a bottle of wine a night and I find that those few percentage points do in fact make a difference for me. Not looking to get looped or feel sluggish in the morning so I favor and choose to drinks wines closer to the 12-14% range 99% of the time. Just like veal it's a personal preference and not one I want people fucking with in order to prove a point that makes no real point at all.

I guess I do kind of have to admit that I come down on one side of this debate and that happens to be on the side that feels this little stunt did more harm than good when it comes to closing the gap of disagreement and the whole thing takes me right back to the in laws and where I stand on those meatballs, "Pass. Thanks" Point taken but not much proved....are those wines the exception or the rule?!


Wayne said...

12-14% is ok, but one tic up and you feel sluggish the next day? Cmon.
I agree, drink what you want, but dismiss a whole category of wines just for that number 15 is, for me, drastic and too arbitrary.
If you poured out a half a glass of 15% wine and dumped it down the drain, you'd consume the same amount if alcohol as if you were drinking 13%, which is acceptable.

Samantha Dugan said...

Now why the hell would I want to pour out any wine?! Oh and I don't dismiss any wine, I choose not to drink them often but I do not, would NOT dismiss them. And let's not forget that for some palates, (mine happens to fall into this category) when we do in fact tic up I get that burn that I find truly unpleasant. Knocking back shots of grappa with fantastic men on the balcony is one thing but when I am sipping on wine I prefer not to feel that burn....

Joe said...

Lee was right on in believing that high alcohol does not necessarily send a wine out of balance. I've had Pinot Noirs from Bien Nacido in Santa Barbara that were labeled 16%, meaning they could be 17%. But, they were delicious. And you get drunk for less money, so I disagree with your philosophy (kidding).

Lee could've found a more tactful way to make his point, though. No one with any shred of ego likes to be called out/bamboozled publicly.

Then again, it was a spectacular publicity stunt, and I wouldn't be surprised if sales of those two bottlings increase.

Samantha Dugan said...

And I happen to agree with Mr. Lee on that point just as I have with Charlie and many others. High alcohol does not always mean wines that are out of balance but I think ignoring the simple fact that many of us do not want to consume a bottle of almost Port like amounts of alcohol every night is also missing a very valid point.

I agree that there may have been a better way to prove this point, in fact I thought it was kind of tacky but it goes to show the lengths people will go to in order to prove one. But what did he prove really? Is he the exception or the rule???

Lisa said...

Well, I think there's an important ethical distinction between the two, presuming you don't eat veal for ethical reasons and Mr. Parr and the tasting panel don't morally object to 15%+ wines... From that perspective, I really do think that if you can't taste it, so what? (In this setting, I should say. The difference is negligible when you're talking about a tasting, right? Nobody's getting in a drunk driving accident from the extra 1.5% in their tasting glass?)

If you don't like, say, cauliflower, but somebody sneaks it into mashed potatoes or something and you can't taste it, who cares? No harm done.

Don't get me wrong, I think it was a kinda assy move (and so would be the cauliflower situation), and it did more harm than good, but it's not like they were sneaked something they were morally opposed to.

If they WERE morally opposed, well then... I'd be at a loss.

Benito said...

I always hate it when this stuff gets publicity. It tends to reinforce the worst--and most ignorant--outsider opinions towards the world of wine. Blind tasting is a very difficult skill to master, and even then the best are going to be restricted to a narrow region.

I'm not great at blind tasting, but when I was doing it a lot I eventually got to the point where I was hitting the grape and region most of the time, and the specific bottle a few times. But I've known people far more skilled than me to get flummoxed by an oddball or a weird vintage.

Sadly, the world looks at this and screams out of drooling mouths, "They don't know anything! You can fool them with two buck chuck or with some food coloring in vodka! Wine tasters can't even tell the difference between red and white if they can't see it! Blaghghghghgh!"

John M. Kelly said...

Well hell. I put up a huge response and Blogger just told me "sorry but your request cannot be completed." An hour wasted.

Anyway, the gist of it was that I applaud Adam for his "stunt" - a long overdue GFY to the "everything over 14% is crap" crowd.

Samantha Dugan said...

Know what kills me here....why are any of us wanting or looking for a way to give each other a Giant Fuck You? Kind of breaks my heart that.

Thomas said...

Stunts are stunts--they don't make points for anyone other than those who THINK they made a point. Plus, stunts are usually tricks, and because of that, they aren't exactly valid experiments.

Having said that, I agree with both Sam's and Benito's viewpoint concerning this particular stunt, but I also understand Lee's motivation. Yet, if a winemaker would spend time simply making the best wine that he or she can, and dismiss the loud mouths of critics, focusing instead on selling and marketing to the consumer, the winemaker would have a diminished reason for having to play stunts.

Maybe having my testosterone turned off for a few months was a good thing! ;)

John M. Kelly said...

Um... don't want to ruffle friends feathers here. I know where Sam comes down on the high alcohol issue (as well as Charlie) and I think I know where Benito and Thomas are coming from. Nobody here is trying to sell wine or words by telling the easily-swayed public that everything over 14% is crap.

As I have said before, "heat" can be perceived in wines across a range of alcohol levels. It is not the ethanol that creates that perception, but other compounds that yeast may crank out when they are stressed. High sugar and high alcohol can stress yeast, especially when juice nutrient levels are low, which is why more wines made form overripe grapes can taste hot than the other way around.

But high alcohol per se is not the root cause of heat, and I think everyone here - as well as most informed and experienced tasters - will agree that they have tasted wines over 14% that are neither hot nor un-balanced.

Edmund Burke said "A very great part of the mischiefs that vex the world arises from words." He also said: "Falsehood has a perennial spring." What he did not say, but could have, is: "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." So while I will continue to "...spend time simply making the best wine that [I] can, and dismiss the loud mouths of critics, focusing instead on selling and marketing to the consumer..." I choose to not sit idly by as opportunists spout nonsense about wines over 14%. I am going to push back.

I believe that was Adam's motivation when he presented his wines. A "stunt"? I don't think so. A stunt is when some little douche bag doctors videos to deliberately create misinformation in support of a bankrupt ideology.

Adam was simply making a point. A point that I believe needs to be made publicly, loudly and repeatedly.

Dave said...

This makes me wonder, was Daryll Corti's (Corti Bros. Sacramento) fiat of a year or two ago that he would no longer carry wines over 14% abv in his store a stunt of this sort or a sincere attempt to educate folks on more food friendly wines in general or to the items in his deli and market specifically?

Dave said...

Being the lightweight (figuratively, not literally) of this esteemed group, my first red flag was the comparison itself, iirc the variations in abv between two wines, one at 13.6 and the other at 15.2, are such that they might actually be the same, i.e. 14.4?

Secondly, I’ve had some excellent wines of the Cargasacchi and Keefer vineyards from multiple vintners, that were outstanding, didn’t make note of the abv, but also have only had a few Siduri wines that I thought were acceptable (if over priced). Again, from my viewpoint this means nothing, but after reading others opinions that I respect, I feel somewhat vindicated.

Finally at Lovely Lisa, Meter Maid… oh shit, screwed that up too, it’s the V vs V controversy (Vitamin Beef vs Vitamin Vegan). I would never attempt to slip a meat dish to someone that has an ethical, moral, or whatever decision on their part to never partake, but on the other hand, anyone that tells me they hate cauliflower brings out my competitive juices. To wit, a number of our whining/dining pals have expressed their aversion to this cephalophalic (I’m sure Ron will have a comment here) member of the plant family, so I serve them the following with full disclosure:

Head of cauliflower cut into florets, tossed in a bowl, with a drizzle of EVOO, dusting of garlic powder, sprinkle of red pepper flakes, light sprinkle of fresh oregano or marjoram (don’t used bottled shit), roasted in the over at @ 425 F for 40-50 min, then finished off with some fresh squeezed lemon juice, fresh ground black pepper, and a dusting of Parigiano Romano or other quality dry cheese. So far?..... 100% total converts.

TWG said...

It was a stunt, nothing more or less, you only need to read Lee's comments on the Pour to know it. The curious part is why Asimov didn't see it coming. It might be Lee's last sale to Parr.
I agree with Samantha on lower alcohols, 15% is often too much especially when driving.

John M. Kelly said...

TWG - I don't see any comments by Adam at Diner's Journal (formerly The Pour).

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, need to get caught up...was like selling wine, cooking and watching Top Chef and some junk.

While it may not be a moral issue for many it is a choice and one that I feel is not talked about enough, lost in the bickering over flaw and who is right...and it should be respected as something that people choose to do.

Hate this shit too kid and I too think it makes us look like giant douchebags at times. Wonder why people in the business of selling wine is looking to do that to one another? Motive makes me nervous.

I too think it was a stunt and the part that truly rubbed me the wrong way? The hall monitor, "See! See what you did?!" kind of spirit behind it. Kind of like the kid that narks you out in weenie.

No ruffled feathers here, been plucked so many times I'm nearly bald at this point. I understand your point, I respect it and always have. The only thing I ask is that my feelings and wishes are treated the same do that, not always the case and I think this little kicking of sand on people's shoes that Mr. Lee pulled is the opposite of respect. "For evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing" true but who gets to decide what's evil?

I had heard about Corti and heard a bit of rumbling about it. Not sure of his motives but I believe he has the right to do it and people can choose to vote as they always do....wallet. This whole thing just makes me wonder why the hell we are fighting with one another...

Thank you kid. Hey, how about we amp up the drama....what if he didn't really switch the labels and just said he did? Was there any documentation and witnesses? Oh lets run with this. One game of trickery deserves another and in the end we can all look like assholes that don't know what we are talking about fighting over something that doesn't matter. That will go a long way in bringing more wine drinkers to the table...

TWG said...

John, I don't think Lee has posted recently, but there's a history of him commenting, see: NYT.

For other posts you'll need to use google. You had two opposite sides get together and then one side closes with a sucker punch.

Michael Hughes said...

Once again a great post. You've succinctly tied up an issue without getting "preachy". Sorry I've been absent for so long.

Samantha Dugan said...

Reminds me more of lighting a bag of dog poo on fire and leaving it on someone's door step than a sucker punch.

Thanks darlin' and I have missed you! Not often going to get a preaching session from me, just don't assume that I or my way is the one and only answer or way. I get bunched up when this argument starts because everyone gets so defensive and pissy. All this over wine and how people choose to make and drink it?! I simply don't get it...

Valerie said...

I just stopped by for the roasted cauliflower recipe.

Charlie Olken said...

Gee, I'm glad I was closing up my April issue and barely had time to blog about this on my own site.

I'm saved. Virtually everything has been said, so two quick points.

Adam Lee is trying to prove that his range of Pinot Noirs does not run from acceptable to unacceptable based on the percentage of alcohol. He is tired of the folks who denigrate half of what he makes without tasting the wine. It will surprise no one that I agree with him and John Kelly on the principle involved.

There is no way that those two wines could have had the same alcohol level. The wine labelled 13.6 by law could not exceed 14.0. And, although this is a guess, it is extremely unlikely that anyone would label a wine as 15.2 when it was 14.2. Besides, Siduri wines are labelled by vintage with changing alc levels. Whatever else Mr. Lee may or may not have done, he is unlikely to exaggerate the alcohol level in his wines.

Dave said...

Charlie, apologies for posting when my personal abv level was over the limit. I didn't mean to insinuate that Lee was misrepresenting the wines but trying to figure out what the range of difference might be due to the natural variablility of any number printed on any bottle of wine. IE could the lower one actually have been 13. 1 for example and the higher as much as 15.7 or more?

TWG said...

The ATF labeling tolerances are 1%+/- for wines over 14%, 1.5%+/- for wines under 14%. If I read it correctly you don't need to state the alcohol % if you label it "table" or "light" wine, provided the wine is under 14%.

Doesn't mean Adam Lee has tolerances that loose, only he could answer that.

Dave said...

Thanks for clarifying, TWG. So the actualy variation could be as much as 4.1% (the under value being 12.1 to 15.1 and the over from 14/2 to 16.2).

One final question, I understand that higher abv wines do not necessarily taste "hot", depending on how they are made, etc, but is it possible for a lower abv to taste hot by being unbalanced or due to some other flaw(s)? TIA for your tolerance.

TWG said...


As Charlie pointed out wines labeled below 14% are not permitted to exceed 14%. I believe there is a higher tax on wines 14% and above.

As an aside, imported wines often have a different alcohol level stated on the importer's label (the back label). Often this is stated as a range which has the same tolerances.

Your second question will need to be addressed by the experts (Sam, Charlie, etc.). Is suspect this subject is too mundane for the Hosemaster to make an appearance.

Samantha Dugan said...

I think the lack of girlie pictures might be why we have not had a HoseMaster sighting...I think he reads me for the pictures.

Charlie Olken said...


The Keefer Ranch Siduri labeled at 15.2% could indeed legally be anywhere from 14.2 to 16.2.

The Cargasacchi Siduri labeled at 13.6 could not exceed 14% but could legally be as low as 12.1.

It was not unusual in the early days of CA wine, when almost everything was under 14%, for labels to say 12 1/2%, which covered everything from 11 to 14%.

The tax on alcohol was such that it made a difference to makers of wine at $5 when they exceeed 14% but makes virtually no difference to makers of $50 or even $20 wine.

But what this unusual dual level of taxation does is to draw some kind of line in the sand at the 14%mark and somehow that line has now become an artificial marker for some people as to the point at which alcohol is not acceptable.

I am guessing that had the line been set at 14.9%, we would be using that number as the marker.

Also, there was a comment about Darrell Corti early in the string. His stand has been somewhat exaggerated over time. What Darrell did, according to his own store newsletter, was to tell his staff that he was concerned about wines over 14.5% alcohol because he felt that many of them were trading varietal character for generalized intensity and that he had a preference for wines that stayed true to type.

He did not "outlaw" wines over 14.5% per se, and as he pointed out so poignantly, he was one of the people behind the Zinfandel revival of the late 60s and early 70s with his support for Zins from Amador County. Many of those wines were high in alchol, and he recognized that his palate may have changed but that he was not going to impose his palate on his customers under some hard and fast rule.

All of which brings us back to the point at hand. Overripe, pruny wines are overripe pruny wines. But wines high in ripeness are not necessarily overripe and pruny or out of balance.

The label does not tell us which wines have lost their ways and which have not. Only our palates tell us that. And because we have our own standards, uniquel ours, my wine in balance may well be someone else's out of balance wine.

Adam Lee feels the need to dispel the notion that half his wines are unacceptable without being tasted first. I would feel the same way as well if I were in his place.