Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Alcohol in California Pinot Noir

There is a war being fought. In vineyards and restaurants throughout the nation, a battle for minds and palates (not to mention wallets and purses) is being waged. There's even name-calling; the term "Fruit Bomb" is tossed about more often than hand grenades. The skirmish is about alcohol and its place in wine, particularly those hailing from California that are made from Pinot Noir.

There are two major schools of thought: there are those that believe that California's benign climate is almost too ideal for growing grapes (especially the early-ripening Pinot Noir) and that resultant wines will be big, lush and high in alcohol (let's say over 14% ABV) and that this is alright so long as the wine is balanced. And there are those who think otherwise; they possess the belief that such balance can be achieved at lower levels of alcohol. Their model Pinot Noir is that of red Burgundy where there exists many examples of complex wines that have alcohol below even 13% ABV.

Each side of the war possesses its own rhetoric, but the important thing to realize is that there's no reason why only one style of wine need dominate. There is room in the market for both the high-octane Pinots that pack a little punch as well as the lighter versions that place an emphasis on delicate subtlety. The question then becomes one of discerning which wine style a specific bottle embodies. Luckily, the alcohol content will be right there on the label.

It is difficult to draw geographic generalizations concerning the two styles, as they appear to be independent of appellation. There are some lighter-bodied Pinots from the North Coast as well as some weightier ones; much depends on the decisions of grape growers and winemakers.

Still, one interesting trend has emerged: Pinot Noirs with higher levels of alcohol tend to carry higher price tags. Of course, many of them warrant it as they can be extremely balanced and expressive. This is not to say that lower-priced, lower-alcohol Pinot Noir can't be delicious; a good deal of them are. It is really just a matter of taste, which, as the saying goes, there's no accounting for. So never mind the war, drink what you please as that's the best way to fight for what you enjoy.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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