~Don’t people have more to do than to spend hours online arguing over their opinions?
~Alas, I have no answer, and I am guilty as charged.
~Every so often, however, online arguments make me want to run from my computer; then, I take a breather; I stop posting for a while and just read the posts of others, until someone posts something that compels me to respond, and I am right back at it.
~It’s an addiction.
~Over at Robin Garr’s “Wine Lovers” site we argued seemingly endlessly about a San Francisco Chronicle article concerning Clark Smith’s recent comments (or, as Smith would have it, his recent revelation) concerning the power of music over wine.
~The article was put forward in a rather confusing manner, but what I (and a couple of people) got from it turned out to be different from what some others got from it.
~I discounted one of the opinions, mainly because over the years I’ve noticed that this fellow has a problem with cognizance. But some of the others are people whose online opinions I have often come to value. Why then couldn’t they understand that Smith was talking about music changing the wine in the glass and not that music changes our mood or perception of the wine in the glass? In fact, if he meant the latter, there would be no story, since we already know that.
~Smith even recommended specific music for specific wines.
~Have you heard of the “sweet spot?” It’s a concept also fostered by Clark Smith. He claims to have discovered that the general public palate has a particular capacity for a specific range of alcohol. (Smith runs a wine consulting firm, among other things.)
~The sweet spot concept may be in part responsible for what some of us feel is a nasty creeping up of alcohol in wine, and that subject led to another argument.
~Last week the alcohol debate heated up once again over on Robert Parker’s Web site (or Mark Squires’ Web site; I don’t really know who owns the site, but Squires runs it his way).
~This “alcohol in wine” subject is about as contentious as any. Here’s where I stand on the subject.
~I have been consuming wine for decades. I know when a wine is hot with alcohol, and I don’t need a lesson about balance either. As one poster aptly pointed out in the online debate, the nature of producing high alcohol wines often adds other offenses on the palate in an attempt to “balance” the wine.
~I also don’t need a lesson about the 1.5 % leeway, plus or minus, concerning the “alcohol by volume” government mandated statement on the label. Sure, those old 12.5 % wines may have been as high as 14 %, but certainly not as high as 16 and 17%, which seems to be inching toward the norm. (On an earlier thread, one California winemaker boasted about his so-called “non-interventionist” wines that he managed to bring to nearly 19 % alcohol. I shall spare myself the experience!)
~To this palate, there’s a lot more high alcohol wine out there today than there was two decades ago, and why not? Two decades ago, we had neither a sweet spot concept in play nor do I believe California wineries routinely demanded that grapes hang on the vine until their sugar to liquid ratio reached Amarone-type statistics, not to produce Amarone but to produce so-called table wines: Cabernets, Zinfandels, etc.
~I don’t claim to understand the process of harvesting dried out grapes with astronomical sugar levels and then, after fermentation, adding water back to lower the alcohol. I don’t understand it and, based on the alcohol in so many finished wines, I don’t think it’s working very well.
~What all this means, I certainly don’t know. I only know what I like or do not like about individual wines, and I don’t like my wines to taste like spirits. But arguing over that with others is about as meaningful as arguing with an automobile, and so I’ve resisted the recent argument. Luckily, should I choose to give in to the urge to argue over alcohol in wine, a chance will arise soon enough—it’s an argument that seems to come up on Squires’ site with frightening regularity.
~Another discussion ensued online after Constellation Brands bought itself yet another cache of well-known wine names.
~One has to wonder what this company is after. Bean counters don’t exactly look for the winemaker’s philosophy on the balance sheet. How can a small winery maintain artisan character after having been gobbled up by faceless conglomerations?
~Ask a bottle of Ravenswood Zinfandel that question and see what the response is—but have an older version of their wine on hand for comparison, and for better enjoyment.
~Soon enough, we will have a few big wine corporations and a few national wine distributors, plus a few national retail outlets running nearly the whole show. Imagine what that will do both to competition and to choice.
~I’ve been a wine drinker since the late nineteen sixties, and a wine professional for almost three decades. For the first time, I really believe we are losing the product that I love. I am afraid we will be drinking something along the lines of mass-produced, high-alcohol homogenized milk, or milkshake, as so much bulk Shiraz already is.
~I suppose it’s inevitable. It is the way of the world. Look at what happened to beer in the United States before a small brewing industry reignited.

I take refuge in two things:

First, the ruination of wine isn’t quite complete. There still are many dedicated winemakers that produce near hand-crafted wines, and small distributors and retailers who love wine.

Second, I’m told that after a certain point, my palate will think that all things taste the same, and since they probably will anyway, I’ll be in the vanguard just before I make my exit.

You can read the arguments for yourself. Caution: arguing on the Internet may be habit forming.

Alcohol Music Constellation

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
November 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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