Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Wine Blog Wednesday 22, alcohol levels and taxation

The theme for Wine blog wednesday 22 has been announced and this month its a low(ish) alcohol red wine - ie less than 12.5% ABV. So when I read that was to be the theme, I went down into the cellar and started having a wee peek at some of the alcohol levels to see if there was anything here I might be able to use. Not much! There were a few wines, so next week I'll post my tasting notes on that one.

That got me thinking about alcohol levels though. This lunchtime Ive just served a lunch for eight people in the Arkle with four wines. We started off with Dom Ruinart 1993 which weighs in at 12.5%. So if that were red it might well qualify (barely!). Then with the first course of a cold gazpacho with langoustine tails and cucumber I served a Fiano di Avelino from Feudi di San Gregorio. At 13% abv this isnt too bad, but its edging onto the high end for a white wine. The main course of steamed turbot with asparagus, scallops, peas and morels was paired with a 13.5% Chassagne Montrachet "les Masures" from Jean-Noel Gagnard. You can spot the pattern of increasing alcohol levels here can't you. They finished the meal off with chocolate and praline tacos with raspberry and pistachio, paired with Rosenblums Cellars fantastic Gallagher Ranch Black Muscat. ABV? a monster 15.8%, which officially makes it a fortified wine. Which I suppose it is really, as they add neutral grape spirit to arrest the fermentation before all the sugar turns to alcohol. Now without planning it, that meal featured escalating alcohol levels. As i searched the cellar the other day for wines for WBW22, I was more than a bit surprised at the numbers. I found less than a handfull of wines under 13%, quite a lot between 14 and 15% and I was actually a bit taken aback by the numbers over 15%. There were over a dozen wines over 15%, and I must say every one of them came from the New World, mostly California, but a couple from South Africa and Australia and even one New Zealander. I guess it has opened my eyes a little bit.

Part of the "problem" is the increasing levels of ripeness that are being acheived these days. As our knowledge of viticulture increases, and the more accurate placement of vineyards and varietal planting increases, the end result is that grapes are reaching super levels of ripeness, and all the right sugars present them with very high potential alcohol levels - that is that if all the sugar is converted to alcohol. Now if they halt the fermentation before all the sugar is converted then you end up with quite a lot of residual sugar - hence a sweeter wine. Some residual sugar is tolerable, but too much and it becomes a medium sweet wine or even a dessert wine. If thats your aim then well done, but if you want a bone dry wine, you face the potential of 15%abv or higher. In the UK that means you are taxed as a fortified wine, which is why these big alcohol wines are so expensive because the rate of duty has increased to nearly £2.20 per bottle (compared to £1.45 for wines less than 15%){lets not forget that on top of the duty you have to pay VAT not only on the wine but the duty is vatable as well!!!}. So the moral of the story is that I guess it pays to keep an eye on the alcohol levels on the wines!!

Happy Devil day (todays date is 06/06/06!!)

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