Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Who put all that alcohol in my wine?

Many years ago, too many to count, when Kitchen Hand didn't know a colander from a coucousier or a baked bean from a beer nut, someone invented chardonnay.

I was working in a bar at the time. In those days, when you ordered white wine, you would be asked, 'Moselle or riesling?' This drove me crazy, because I knew there was more to white wine than just moselle and riesling: there was hock.

Just kidding. In fact, there was a number of other varieties and nearly all of them were better than moselle and riesling - which usually wasn't riesling but something else - but moselle and riesling dominated the market.

Then chardonnay came along. In the early days it was called the red drinker's white because it had a complexity rarely found in other whites - which wouldn't be hard when you're talking moselle and faux-riesling - as well as a powerful dose of alcohol. At a time when white wines were generally between 9% and 12.5% alcohol, chardonnay was at the higher end of that range with the really big ones sometimes hitting 13%. You could tell. Three glasses of that big, buttery, melony sunshine and you'd be seeing two of everything.

Now, 13% seems to be a minimum. The other day, I had a glass or two of a Yalumba viognier. It was OK, not really my style, but pleasant enough. Too grassy or lemony or something. I can't remember. I couldn't get through the second glass. No wonder I couldn't remember - I looked at the bottle later and the alcohol content was a whopping 14.5%. That is just way too high.

Reds are going the same way. An old favourite from the early eighties, Leasingham Bin 56 Cabernet Malbec, used to be around 12.5%; while the really big, specialist reds like Victorian durif, in which you could stand a spoon when you weren't drinking it, occasionally nudged the 14% mark.

The other night, I tried a Bendigo Waterwheel Shiraz 2004. If the viognier had you seeing double, you'll think the only oak in this - at a massive 15.5% alcohol - is the piece the winemaker had hit you over the head with.


Dr. Alice said...

That's interesting, I actually wasn't aware that the alcohol content of wines was increasing. I wonder why that is. Any explanation? Is it supposed to make the wine taste better or be more "complex" or something?

kitchen hand said...

I think it's just a trend, Dr Alice, like big white plates.

The following article says it might be driven by export market demands.,20867,20539104-2702,00.html