01/06/09 — high-alcohol wines to start the year off right

By Jesse on January 4, 2009

It’s a New Year for the Young Winos of LA (and likely for most other people as well, I guess), so we thought we’d start things off strong with a tasting of wines with a 15%-or-higher alcohol content.

There’s another motivation, however, for this slightly obnoxious meeting topic. As some of you may already know, longtime LA stalwart Andrew Lang has abandoned his erstwhile digs in West Hollywood and moved into Wino HQ in Sherman Oaks. Besides having the effect of establishing the Sh’oaks as the undisputed capital of the Young Winos Empire (no more of this Rome vs. Constantinople nonsense), the move also made us realize that since neither of us has to drive home, “high alcohol wines” might be an ideal theme for our first gathering.

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just going to be another Bacchanalian swill-fest. On the contrary, we’ll be taking this meeting as seriously as any other (at least to the degree that we can before getting totally bombarded). The increasing ABV of many wines worldwide is a major topic of discord in the grogosphere today. Global warming has played a role — warmer temperatures means the grapes get riper, which leads to higher alcohol in the finished wine — as has the perceived preference among influential critics (such as Robert Parker) for big, high-alcohol bottles. The Winos, meanwhile, have definitely discovered that not all high-alcohol wines are made equal: some are glaringly out of balance, while others integrate the alcohol seamlessly into a beautiful palate. In an insightful piece on Vinography, Alder Yarrow explains it as follows…

Higher levels of alcohol in wine are often accompanied by various sensations on the palate, ranging from a thicker, more viscous body to the wine (thanks mostly to the qualities of Ethanol), as well as the alcoholic heat that is, in my mind, the true scourge of high alcohol wines. The presence of this heat, however, is not constant. Some wines, which I simply assume are just better made (though I don’t know exactly how) don’t betray their alcohol content with heat, while others (the cheaper, more mass produced ones in my experience) can sear the throat badly.

Lets do our best to seek out the former rather than the latter. Your task is to seek out a “still wine” — no dessert wines, sparkling wines or fortified wines — that has at least 15% alcohol by volume, as indicated on the label. (Ask your friendly wine merchant for help selecting a bottle that hides its alcohol nicely in a well-balanced pal, rather than one that sticks out like a sore throat.) Also, please make an effort to do a little research on your bottle (“what factors led to this high alcohol level?” is a good starting point), and also to take a position, even if it’s just a tentative one, on the “high-alcohol” debate.

We’ll be meeting at Wino HQ in Sherman Oaks, now the site of the biggest free agent acquisition since Alex Rodriguez. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). Priority is given to long-term members but seats are also reserved at each and every meeting for new people. If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve gotten your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a delicious bottle of 15-ABV-or-higher, along with some info on your selection — or, as always, you can opt to bring a $10 spot. We’ll see you on Tuesday at 9pm.