We Need More From Wine Reviews
Can you spare 10 characters in your reviews of wine?
That’s really all it would take, a measly 10 spaces in a wine review to add the alcohol level of the wine under consideration. And by adding this bit of information the consumer would be served mightily.
I started thinking about this need for stating alcohol content in reviews upon reading Robert Parker’s reviews of Paul Hobbs wines on MSNBC.com. For example:
"2003 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 93 points. A dark ruby/purple-colored, full-bodied, impressively
endowed effort offering up notes of charcoal, smoke, creme de cassis,
and toasty oak. A wealth of glycerin, concentration, and fruit suggest
it will provide ideal drinking now and over the next 10 to 15 years."
What’s not mentioned is that the stated alcohol is 14.7%. This means it could be as high as 15.7% alcohol based on the leeway allowed by law. Even at the lower end of 14.7%, that’s a lot of alcohol. But I’d never know it from the review unless I was able to read between the lines.
This is not an anti alcohol rant. Rather, it’s a plea to wine reviewers and wine publications to recognize the the alcohol level of a wine is critical to understanding the wine. Furthermore, the alcohol level of a wine is crucial to know in the context of how and when the wine might be drunk. The fact is, many people can drink far less 14.7% wine at one sitting than they can a 13.5% alcohol wine. A little difference goes a long way. Add to this that the higher the alcohol content the higher the calorie content of the wine.
So, we are talking about adding a mere 10 characters to a review of any wine. It could go right there at the end of the review right before the price: "14.7% Alc."
At the risk of moving into the world of rants, I’m beginning to glean a clear set of indications that there is a movement afoot to back way from high alcohol wines. It’s a movement that appears to be starting not with consumers but with restaurant wine buyers, retailers and even members of the media. Clearly this trend has already been in full swing when it comes to white wines. But no so much with reds.
Winemakers have been arguing for a long time that the difference between today’s higher alcohol wines and yesterdays lower (12.5 to 13.5) alcohol wines is that today grapes are "being picked for flavor" rather than just when the sugars at a certain point. The message here is that today’s wines are better.
There is absolutely nothing to validate that conclusion.
So, the plea is this: give consumers the chance to decide if they want a wine that is 14.7% alcohol. Put it right there in the review, before the purchase is made. There are a lot of implications to the alcohol level in a wine, not the least of which is the intoxication level that they can result in with fewer sips.