Pinot Noir and Alcohol, Take Two
I posted a link last week to my Slate article about alcohol levels, and later updated it to include a link to financial blogger Felix Salmon’s broadside against my piece and my reply to his rant (don’t ya just love Internet spats?) But no one responded to the questions I posed about high-alcohol pinots, and I am very curious to hear what you think.
My friend John Gilman, taking a break from pulverizing Château Pavie, tweeted the other day that my article “missed a key issue in debate—high alc wines lose both focus and complexity.” As I told John, I wasn’t discussing the merits of high-alcohol wines; I was simply arguing in favor of diversity and choice and noting that a lot of people seem to enjoy fruit bombs. That said, I think John made a fair point: past a certain alcohol level, wines lose precision and nuance. That’s particularly true with pinot noir. For my taste, pinot just doesn’t work well as a high-alcohol wine. The alcohol has a crowding-out effect on exactly those things that I most adore about pinot—the subtlety, the delicacy.
Delicacy is key. Probably the biggest beef I have with higher-alcohol pinots is texture. I don’t like syrupy wines, and more often than not, higher-octane pinots feel thick and heavy on the palate. The viscousness, when coupled with extremely sweet fruit—and the two usually go hand-in-hand—instantly causes me to reach for the dump bucket (or kitchen sink—whichever is closer). So much of what I love about red Burgundies is the tactile pleasure, that enthralling combination of crispness, succulence, and silkiness. That’s what I want from pinot, wherever it originates. I can’t say at exactly what alcohol level the texture problem arises—it varies from pinot to pinot, which is why I’m against arbitrary cut-offs. But above 14 percent, the syrupy sensation certainly becomes more prevalent.
Is texture an issue for you? Where do you come down on the great debate over pinot and alcohol? Is the high-octane style an aberration/abomination, or do you think it is a legitimate expression of pinot?