America’s New Wine Hero
There is a new Wine Hero.
And you should salute him. You should shout his name from the tallest grapevine.
Read Alan Goldfarb’s story at Appellation America in which he reports that Corti will no longer sell any wines over 14.5% alcohol.
"They (high alcohol wines) make you very tired. My
idea of a really good bottle of wine is that two people finish the
bottle and wish there was just a little bit more. Some of these wines
with high levels of alcohol — you can’t finish the bottle. You don’t
want to finish the bottle."
Goldfarb is, as far as I know, the only person to interview Corti on this subject. And it’s well worth a close reading. Corti is famous as being among the foremost authorities in CA on Italian wines. His family has owned Corti Brothers store in Sacramento for 50 years. The man is highly respected and deservedly so.
What could Corti’s decision and articles like this about his decision lead to? Exposure. Exposure to the idea that great wine does NOT need to be 14, 15 and 16 percent alcohol…even if it comes from sunny California. There is a generation of serious wine drinkers in America that have been convinced that it must put you under the table to be any good.
They’ve been misinformed.
When I first read about this on Jancis Robinson’s site, I thought, “Finally!” Revolutions start with a simple action.
I’m sort of amazed by these guys who jump in and condemn Darryl because they claim to think that their 16% Zins have to be that way. And the Parker cultists’ reactions, come on already. Over the top, like those insane wines they’ve been claiming to love. I’ll go out on a limb and say they’ve got it wrong. Mr. C’s got it right.
More power to him.
“Some say, “You sell Amarone, which is over 16.5.” Yes, but they’re made to be like that.”
WTF does that mean?
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
This topic has been discussed on various wine fora, ad nauseum.
Its really only likely to affect those who buy wine from Corti Bros. As they list less than 30 wines on their web site I doubt that internet sales are a large part of their business. So for the majority of the wine world, I predict, this will be a storm in a tea cup.
(As an aside Mike Officer of Carlisle posted on the Parker Bulletin Board that Corti contacted him recently to buy a case of zin for one of their best customers. He had sold out and told them so, then added that they couldn’t buy any because all of the zins are over 14.5%.)
Its probably also worth pointing out that, as far as I know, the labeling of alcohol content allows 1% variation, over or under, on wines above 14% of alcohol content by volume, and a 1.5% variation, over or under, on wines below 14% alcohol by volume.
So a 14.5% wine could be a 15.5% wine, and a 13.9% wine could be a 15.4%er. So just how is Darrell Corti going to determine what is above 14.5%, by what is on the label or in the bottle? Corti’s stance is just silly.
Like everyone else who does not have access to a lab analysis, Mr. Corti has to go with what’s on the bottle. That seems a reasonable way to go about this.
That said, I don’t think this is silly at all. I think what we see is a person who is tired of high alcohol wines who is also in an an economic and business position to try to put his money where his mouth is.
As for Zin, I think Mr. Corti said he’d make an exception for zinfandel.
Mr. Corti may have to wrestle with issues of consistency in his stand against high alcohol wines. This is true. However, if he can remain relatively consistent I think it’s a good thing.
From Goldfarb’s article:-
ALAN GOLDFARB (AG): “Set the record straight for us: I understand you will not be tasting wines over 14.5 percent alcohol for possible inclusion in your store.”
DARRELL CORTI (DC): “At our store, after a tasting on the 29th of March, I put on top of the Zinfandel section, “This is the last tasting Corti Brothers will do for over 14.5 percent Zinfandels. These wines will no longer be sold at Corti Brothers. There will be no exceptions.”
I did it after we tasted Zinfandels that were 14.6, 15.1, 15.6, 15.2, 15.1, and 17 percent alcohol.”
So it was high alcohol zins that started this.
I’ll still go with silly because Corti has no real control over what happens.
1) He can’t control what alcohol is actually in the wine by what’s on the label.
2) He can’t control what critics will say about wines. For example Parker loves the Molly Dooker wines of Sarah and Sparky Marquis. These are not alcohol shy wines (the label says 16.5%, but Sparky admits its something like 17.2%) but their wines sold out in 21 days in the USA last year.
3) He can’t control what wine drinkers will buy, except in his own shop.
4) He’s inconsistent. His excuse for selling Amarone over 16.5% is that they are made to be like that. Well, news flash, big fruity, full flavored wines have high alcohol, even without being dried out. And, unless I’m mistaken, much of the wine buying public seems to like wines with plenty of flavor.
Changing the wine buying public’s acceptance of high alcohol wines requires more than retailers saying they won’t sell them.
Granted, Mr. Corti’s actions won’t change the world. But it is a start. I don’t think that Mr. Corti is demanding anything of American wine drinkers or critics. All he’s doing is suggesting there is a better way…the exact same thing that wine reviewers do every time they review a wine.
My first reaction was that it is unfair to wines labeled 15% because some labeled 14.5% may actually have just as much alcohol. But then I started to think this is about more than alcohol. It’s about retailers re-gaining a sense of independence and authority. What is really important here is that a widely respected U.S. retailer is taking a stand for something he believes. I wish more retailers would be as proactive. Customers and the trade will respect them.
“Customers and the trade will respect them.”
Surveys show high respect for French wine, yet fewer people are buying it. I guess if respect is what you’re after, then God bless you because you’ll need it.
Dave Chambers of the SidewaysWineClub.com is running a vote on this issue on his blog at http://www.sidewayswineclub.typepad.com/blog/. Currently those of us who don’t pay much attention to alcohol levels when we buy wine are in the majority – by quite a margin. Pity Dave is not listing the total number of votes he is getting for this as it might be useful for Corti Bros and other retailers to see. But if we can get the blogosphere to vote then we will have some measure of the issue.
No one has addressed how the industry will react to this position. I would be willing to bet my last dollar that every poster applauding this move is hoping it will result in more ‘authentic’ wines in the marketplace. The reality is that it will only result in wines being ‘manipulated’ to a further extent. You will have to become comfortable with wines being; put through ‘spinning cones’, watered back to a dramatic degree and the resulting manipulations to compensate. Each time you read about some wineries committment to ‘low yields’ you need to realize it is BS. By pushing wineries to produce low alcohol wines you will push them towards technology and away from authenticity. What is it you want Low Alcohol wines or wines that are made traditionally and reflect the vintage? The idea that a certain % alcohol is the criteria is ridiculous, what about balance? As a producer I don’t want to make 14.6% ABV wines but I would rather do that than resort to ‘heroic’ measures to please consumers and decrease alcohol mechanically. You are also creating an environment where those that ‘have the means’ can make lower alcohol wines while those that do not cannot. Are you really telling me you want to push more bussiness towards the wine ‘factories’ and away from small quality minded producers? Certainly many producers are intending to make these very ripe wine styles, but many pick when they believe the grapes are ready and sometimes this coincides with high sugars. Simply picking earlier doesn’t completely solve the problem. Though this retailer is pioneering a policy of not selling high alcohol wine many retailers have long had a policy of not selling wines that are green and unripe.
An article written by Mike Dunne for the SacBee (http://www.sacbee.com/taste/story/231070.html) ends with the following.
But he isn’t necessarily bolting the cellar door to all table wines over 14.5 percent alcohol, even aside from traditional exceptions. He acknowledges that a table wine with more than 14.5 percent alcohol can be balanced and graceful.
“If I’m served one and I like it, I might buy it, but I won’t go looking for one. I’m always open to anything,” Corti says.
Isn’t he being a bit contradictory? “Life is a contradiction,” Corti says. “I made the rule, I can break it.”
Looks like Mr Corti is giving himself a way out. Not surprising when you consider that the poll on the Sideways Wine Club blog (http://www.sidewayswineclub.typepad.com/blog/) has over 50% of the respondents voting that they don’t pay much attention to alcohol levels when they buy wine.
I say it’s Corti’s store and he can do whatever the hell he likes. If he decides he wants to stop selling wines with white labels, he can go right ahead. He doesn’t want to help perpetuate a winemaking trend that he’s opposed to. What’s wrong with that? He’s not saying the rest of the world should follow suit.
Given the amount of debate over this topic in general, as well as the poll posted on my blog (www.SidewaysWineClub.Typepad.com/blog), I regret that I designed it to inspire debate and discussion instead of to provide more solid marketing research insights.
While the huge majority (close to 60%) who indicate they “pay little attention to alcohol levels when selecting wine” seems sufficiently large to be statistically significant, I must caution against making business decisions based on this sort of reserach.
Interesting? Sure. Insightful? Hopefully. Rock Solid? Hmmmmm
Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
I laud Mr. Corti’s experiment. Actually, 12.5% is still excessive in alcohol content in my opinion. Alcohol adds nothing to the taste. I learned, fortunately by personal experience, that Italian “house wines” have 4-7% alcohol content. The taste was magnifico! Unfortunately, these are all young, or new, wines. They don’t get a chance to sour in Italy. American wines are every bit as good as anything foreign, but we apparently don’t have the distribution mechanisms to market “new wine”. One of the major benefits of the newer wine is minimal, if any preservatives.
I don’t care for chemistry either.