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james laube's wine flights

Why Dunn's Anti-Alcohol Plea Misses the Mark

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Aug 1, 2007 2:53pm ET

High-alcohol wines are controversial. But blaming critics, or even worse, consumers for buying and enjoying these wines misses the mark.

That’s why I find Randy Dunn’s recent letter (below) baffling: Sent to various media outlets and others in the wine industry last week, the letter urges consumers to, in effect, stop drinking wines they apparently like. The timing of the letter, well, better late than never?

Having known Dunn, the owner and winemaker of Dunn Vineyards, in Napa's Howell Mountain appellation, for nearly 30 years, I don’t doubt his sincerity and concern about riper wines and higher alcohols. That he doesn’t like this style of wine is apparent.

But it’s not as if critics are forcing consumers to buy these wines. Ripe wines, irrespective of where they’re from, have a solid base of fans as well as detractors. The popularity of ripe wines is clear; if consumers didn't like this style of wine, it wouldn't sell.

It wasn’t all that long ago that some people would have accused Dunn’s Howell Mountain Cabernets as being too tannic and too aggressive and not the style of wine that goes with meals.

If you substitute the word tannin for alcohol in Dunn's letter, it underscores that the enjoyment of alcohol or tannin is a matter of personal taste and preference. Alcohol and tannin levels in wine will drop when people stop drinking those styles of wine.

Dunn's Letter:

"It is time for the average wine consumers, as opposed to tasters, to speak up. The current fad of higher and higher alcohol wines should stop. Most wine drinkers do not really appreciate wines that are 15 -16. +% alcohol. They are, in fact, hot and very difficult to enjoy with a meal. About the only dish that seems to put them in their place is a good hot, spicy dish.

"I don’t believe the average person is so insensitive to flavors and aromas that they must have a 15% Cabernet, Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir to get the aromas and flavors. Influential members of the wine press have lead the score chasing winemakers/owners up the alcohol curve and now I hope that it soon will lead them down.

"Winemaking is not really much different than cooking. The end product should be enjoyable to consume—not just to taste. Hopefully most who read this don’t think it’s a novel concept that we should be making wines to consume. Would you want to sample a soup, meat dish or other course that is so overpowering that you cannot enjoyably finish what is in front of you? These new wines are made to taste and spit—not to drink.

"This is all linked to my views on the ever evasive and vanishing terroir; the subtleties of terroir in wines have been melted together in a huge pot called “overripe” or the vogue “physiologically mature” grape. Gone are the individualities of specific regions, replaced by sameness—high alcohol, raisiny, pruney, flabby wines. Likewise, the descriptor “herbaceous” was often used in a positive sense when describing Cabernets. Now it is the kiss of death. Voluptuous—I do remember seeing that only occasionally, but not on the aroma/flavor wheel.

"So I would like the consumers to take the lead for a change, rather than being led. Ask for wines that are below 14% when you are out to dinner. The reactions are fun, but the results are not good for United States wines. The sommelier usually comes back with a French or New Zealand wine. On the restaurant level, high alcohol wines have reduced the number of bottles sold. It is very simple arithmetic; % alcohol times volume equals satisfaction. If % alcohol goes up, volume must go down for satisfaction to stay the same—or else we all get plastered.

"Consumers—wake up and get active. Reviewers—please at least include the labeled alcohol percentage in all your reviews, and try to remember that not everyone is spitting."

Jay J Cooke
Ripon CA —  August 1, 2007 7:00pm ET
Seldom, if ever, in the past did I check or know the alcohol content of a wine I really liked. However, now that the subject is being discussed I have checked & found that my favorite wines usually have an alcohol content of 14-15%. I am not spitting these wines out I am drinking them & enjoying every drop. It is taste not alcohol content that I look for.
John Rater
minneapolis minnesota usa —  August 1, 2007 7:27pm ET
He should worry about his wines and not others. I recently had his Howell Mountain 1998 Cabernet and I was very dissapointed. I know it wasn't a good vintage but dunn wines shouldn't have a bad vintage, just make less wine with only the best grapes.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  August 1, 2007 7:33pm ET
I've had great California Pinots, Cabs and Zins that are over 14% alcohol. I have found them balanced, well-made, graceful and lively.While I will agree that there are high alcohol wines out there that are hot, heavily extracted and over the top, there are also high alcohol wines with beauty, clarity, focus and varietal correctness.Similarly, there are lower alcohol wines out there that are uninteresting, one-dimensional and unbalanced. There are also lower alcohol wines out there that are stellar.I guess I'm surprised that such a seasoned and experienced winemaker would dare make such sweeping generalizations about something as complex as wine. At least it got him some press....maybe that's what he was after?
Robert Johnston
Washington DC —  August 1, 2007 7:42pm ET
I certainly understand Randy Dunn's point, but I also agree that folks are drinking these wines and liking them. I believe that high alcohol wines are a symptom of the trend toward big bold fruity wines that so many folks seem to be buying as fast as it comes out.I thought it interesting however when I opened the 2006 mailer from Loring Wine Company that arrived yesterday. Eight single vineyard Pinot Noirs, all with alcohol levels ranging from 13.4% to a high of 14.7% alcohol. Not a 16 or 17 percenter in the lot.
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  August 1, 2007 8:33pm ET
I think that regardless of the way his argument is shaped he is absolutely right to try to raise awareness on this issue. I hope that Wine Spectator follows suit and can explore these ideas further. How about an article or two and a comparison test between lower and higher alcohol wines from the same regions?
Joshua Sun
Mountain View, CA —  August 1, 2007 8:46pm ET
I think that there is already a shift in popularity away from wines that are overly ripe or extracted. Winemakers don't really want the garage wine label anymore because it seems to suggest a wine that is overripe or overextracted and not well balanced. The market will adjust itself. There is some truth to his suggestion that wine critics can heavily influence what is popular but over time, wine drinkers (at least those who don't care about how many points a wine received) will form their own opinions.
Paul Lin
Irvine —  August 1, 2007 8:52pm ET
I find Randy Dunn's letter self serving and a tad condescending. Would it make any more sense if we substituted "cheap approachable wine" for "high alcohol wine"? Why not just let the market decide?
Willim Tisherman
Katonah, NY —  August 1, 2007 8:53pm ET
I find it very refreshing that a Napa producer is appealing directly to the industry, media and consumers on this topic. And his appeal to you, as a reviewer, to include alcohol levels in your rated reviews, is totally reasonable. Do you object to that? It would allow people who do care about alcohol levels to be informed, yes?
Bryan Bucari
Baton Rouge, LA —  August 1, 2007 9:03pm ET
James, I have to agree with what you said about the tannins. I recently had a 1985 Dunn that only had a tannic structure without enough fruit or anything else (tasted just like you reviewed it the last time). I know that when you all taste you say if the wine has heat on it, for that thank you. Just as others have said however if the alcohol is high but there is no heat, what is the problem? With that said, I just had the '06 Mollydooker Boxer Shiraz at 16% alcohol...no heat but one hell of a wine!
Jeff Banyas
Ellicott City, MD —  August 1, 2007 9:37pm ET


I couldn't agree more with Randy Dunn. And I believe many critics, especially one from a competing publication, celebrate a winemaker's ability to jack up the alcohol and mask it with with sugar, tannin, and wood.

I will admit that I've enjoyed those high-alcohol fruit bombs in the past. I guess they were a good transition to something a little more sophisticated than lemon-drop shooters and sex on the beaches from my college days. But over the past 3-4 years, however, my palate has changed. I've grown to appreciate wines with less heat, as I believe they reveal more of a wine's character.

Bravo, Mr. Dunn! Keep on keeping on!

One more thing if I may... Is it more commonplace than not for California wineries to chaptalize their wines? Just how much natural sugar do Napa Cabernet grapes routinely acheive? I can't help but wonder just how often winemakers add sugar to their wines in an effort to generate higher alcohol, but then claim to be non-interventionist.
Jeffrey Ghi
New York —  August 1, 2007 9:42pm ET
It seems overwhelming amongst the post here that wine drinkers are looking for balance more then anything. What I'm scared of is too much alcohol that "simulates" the fruit. If the alcohol is too high, when the wine ages, it almost always seems like you end up with some maderized wine. Madiera has it's place in the wine world, but not that special dinner bottle you've been saving up for. If the wine has high alcohol but the fruit to back it up, I'm all for it. If it's got 12% alcohol but turns out just herbally and no fruit, like my recent trip to the niagara region, I'm going to have to pass.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  August 1, 2007 10:29pm ET
Willim,I think I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree that it's "refreshing" that he's appealing directly to the industry, media and consumers. It would be truly refreshing if he and other winemakers issued broad statements on a regular basis to the media regarding pricing, allocations, mailing lists, etc. But for Dunn to wait and issue a statement directly to a broad audience, and then to use that opportunity to disparage other winemaking styles isn't necessarily refreshing. It seems kind of misguided to me.
David Allen
Lufkin, Texas —  August 1, 2007 11:09pm ET
I'm sure the increase in Alcohol which has moved from Zinfandel to now Mainstream is mystifying and Mr Dunn crystilizes the issue. I have no problem with his viewpoint. His 1991 Napa is drinking great- solid fruit- the tannin is still present but now more integrated. Agee with the comments on the balance in wine is key but generally I would prefer lower alcohol levels back in 13% range. However high alcohol is here to stay and in the next five years I predict someone will get to 19 or 20% in the quest for ripeness or even over ripeness.
Dominic Passanisi
Los —  August 2, 2007 1:20am ET
I do feel like this is an odd message to come from Randy Dunn, whose cabernets will knock the stuffing out of any dish whose centerpiece isn't something big and bloody that's just come off the grill. Is he channeling Kermit Lynch?

That said, I believe that James Laube's response to Dunn's letter isn't quite what I had hoped for. First off, to say that the popularity of ripe or overripe wines is justified by that same popularity seems odd to me. Is the popularity of something the most important measure of its value? I think we can all agree that there are things in this world that are popular without being good. I'm not saying that ripe wines are inherently bad, but let's not stop the conversation just because someone expresses an opinion that happens to run against the current. If Randy Dunn sees something that concerns him in a popular trend, should he just throw up his hands and say, "The people have spoken"?

I also think that J. Laube sells himself and his fellow critics far short when he says that critics don't force wine on their audience. There aren't any guns involved, true, but the triumvirate of Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, and Stephen Tanzer have an ENORMOUS impact on who buys what wine and for how much. How many wine stores in this country DON'T proudly display Wine Spectator scores for high-scoring bottles? And their scores are driven by their tastes.

As an example, J. Laube has used his blog to note in the past that he likes fruit-driven wines and he doesn't find herbaceous notes appealing. Is it really that difficult to draw a line between his personal taste and the brisk sales of the wines that he enjoys?
Eli Curi
New York —  August 2, 2007 1:25am ET
I agree with Mr. Dunn. Jim Laube says that "if consumers didn't like this style of wine, it wouldn't sell". I couldn't disagree more. Many consumers (especially those like me who read the WS) buy a lot of wines based on the scores. When we open a bottle months later, we sometimes realize that the bottle isn't to our taste. In fact, it has taken me YEARS of trying wines scored highly by Jim Laube to realize that Jim and I don't have the same taste in wine.Critics aren't forcing consumers to buy these wines. But many of us probably wouldn't have purchased these wines in the first place if JL and RP didn't prefer this style.I realize that Jim likes many styles of wine. Therefore, his reviews would be more helpful if he told us clearly whether the wines were "overripe" or "classic" or someplace in between. There are good and bad examples of each, so all of us should explore the various styles of wine. But when deciding between two 94 point California wines, I would love to know which one tasted like a 94 point overripe, low acid, high alcohol Australian wine and which tasted like a 94 point classic Bordeaux (or best yet, someplace in between).
Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  August 2, 2007 2:18am ET
I think there's also a health issue to consider as well. Drinking wines with a higher alcohol content can't be good for the body long term. Of course one could reach for the second bottle of a 'lighter' wine that much more easily, but is that often really the case? There is an article on the UK Times website yesterday that touches on some of these issues. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/wine/article2163907.ece
Andre Lallier
August 2, 2007 8:15am ET
I have to agree with Mr Dunn. The overripe, high alcohol, garage style wines are created to make an impact on the palate of critics who taste hundreds of wines every week. Those powerful fruit bomb make them stands out. This trend eliminate the notion of terroir completely and makes every Shiraz, Carbernet, Merlot or Chardonnay taste the same, from Australia, California to St-Emillion and South Africa. I like to call this trend the McWine. Wherever in the world it comes from, it taste the same!!!
Willim Tisherman
Katonah, NY —  August 2, 2007 9:26am ET
Eli's and Dominic's posts here are spot-on. THe influence of WS and RP are far greater then you naively/humbly try to suggest. THe real problem developing here is that an issue of great significance is being stifled by lack of transparency in the current wine-criticism model.

How hard would it be for Wine Spectator to include alcohol levels in the Buying Guide ratings. It's just a number... a few typographical characters. Yet it is crystal clear from this discussion, as well as from mounting murmurs throughout the wine industry and blogosphere, that alcohol levels have become something consumers care about. Or are you afraid to have people iscover that your higher ratings tend to go to higher-potency wines?

This would simply help empower wine buyers to make more informed decisions. If Spectator does it, others will be compelled to follow, and then -- only then -- will you as a critic be able to say that the marketplace is the best arbiter of what consumers want. WIthout knowing what the alcohol levels are when they read about wines, consumers are simply not armed with the information they deserve.

James Mccusker
Okemos, MI —  August 2, 2007 10:21am ET
I still have great difficulty understanding why people care about the alcohol level in wine. Unless you're collecting taxes or work for the ATF, what difference does it make? It should be about taste. The only time I take note of the alcohol level in a wine is when I detect some heat on the palate. But I've had that happen with wines clocking in anywhere from 12.5% to 16%. It's about balance and what style of wine a person prefers. A caveat to this that I agree with was suggested earlier in this post by Jeff Ghi, where too much alcohol can masquerade as fruit. And of course, alcohol levels that are not commensurate with other components will surely impact the ageability of the wine, but again this comes back to balance. Mr. Dunn clearly has his preference and this will be reflected in the style of wine that he makes and consumes, and that's fine. But to suggest that someone who enjoys a well-made, balanced wine is "wrong" simply because the alcohol level is above a certain percentage...I can't decide if that's stupid, arrogant, or both.
David A Zajac
August 2, 2007 10:45am ET
I will second, third and fourth what so many are saying, don't downplay the role you and a few other critics do have, even over someone like me who believes (properly or not) that he knows a lot about wine. Simply put, I don't have time or money to do what you do and I rely on your reviews when buying wine, saying otherwise or disclaiming responsibility to your readers is a cop out on your part. I too, want to see the alcohol levels included as part of the reviews...its not that I don't enjoy both styles of wines, but all the information I can get helps me make an informed decision.
J E Shuey
Dallas, TX —  August 2, 2007 10:49am ET
Carrying yet another coal to Newcastle, I too agree with and applaud Mr. Dunn.Consumers did not gravitate to high alchohol wines via natural selection, but rather were led (or driven?) there by a handful of well-placed critics. Most of these wines simply are not food-friendly; not to mention their undesirable after-effects.For more than a year I have been rejecting wines...no matter the ratings...with Alchohol levels above 14%, having found that at that level (to my taste) they simply are not enjoyable with any food beyond plain crackers.
David A Zajac
August 2, 2007 10:54am ET
I will second, third and fourth what so many are saying, don't downplay the role you and a few other critics do have, even over someone like me who believes (properly or not) that he knows a lot about wine. Simply put, I don't have time or money to do what you do and I rely on your reviews when buying wine, saying otherwise or disclaiming responsibility to your readers is a cop out on your part. I too, want to see the alcohol levels included as part of the reviews...its not that I don't enjoy both styles of wines, but all the information I can get helps me make an informed decision. Also, as to Randy's comments, since when can't a wine producer be entitled to his opinion? I didn't see him single anybody out, he just said the alcohol levels are getting too high...good for him, and by reading these blogs a lot of the readers do too...
Tom Benson
Bellevue, WA —  August 2, 2007 11:25am ET
Is this a highly contested topic or what? With this high response rate it is clear that many have an interest in the subject. It is my opinion that most of us would love to have alcohol percentages included with all reviews. I understand that this adds to the magazine's logistical challenges but it seems like a majority would vote in favor of the notion.
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  August 2, 2007 11:27am ET
heuuuuuuu, thank you mr dunn to tell me what to do! next time I want my favorite zin with 16 degrees with my barbecue, i will pass for a "better" wine with low alcohol! Why didnt you write a column called "wine dictator"? I do whatever i want and if i want to drink a 15 , 16 degrees wine i will do it. Thanks god those wines exist, that make a diference and not a common taste. If I want a 12 degree wine i buy it. I hope winemakers continue to do amarones, reciottos, vin santo, 16D Zinfandels so i can choose whatever i want when I want . Regards !!!!
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento,CA —  August 2, 2007 11:35am ET
The other day with dinner, we drank a Washington Syrah (13.3%) ETOH and a Aussie Shiraz 16% ETOH. Both were balanced, delicious and went well with the pasta dish (red sauce, lots of parm, veggies and chicken). There is no such thing as a "proper" ETOH level and thus this debate (ala Darryl Corti) is asinine. If you like it then drink it (and visa versa)
Willim Tisherman
Katonah, NY —  August 2, 2007 11:42am ET
Judging a wine solely on alcohol by volume is not what this discussion is about. It's more about INFORMATION that is indeed relevant to many many wine drinkers. Everyone posting here would likely agree that balance is the critical quality we seek, but knowing the alcohol level in a wine before buying/trying it can only help. Personally I think it is even more important with Cal Chards these days than Cabs. High-alc Chards, in my experience, are more likely to be un-friendly with food, and/or also involve over-ripeness and/or excessive oak.
Mark Whisler
August 2, 2007 1:18pm ET
Sure reviewers like WS could include alcohol levels, but why not just look at the bottle before you buy it? If you don't want wines over some set level, don't buy them. There's a radical notion... You're lucky enough to be buying online? Get the alcohol level from the winemaker or retailer if you're so concerned about it. And read the review... if you're looking for balance, and the review states that, and you find you agree with the reviewer, why should the alcohol level matter?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 2, 2007 2:03pm ET
Jeff, it's illegal to chaptalize wine in California.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  August 2, 2007 2:12pm ET
J Shuey...consumers were "led or driven" to "high alcohol wines" by well-placed critics????Did a handful of well-placed critics lead otherwise unsuspecting kids and adults to the Harry Potter books? Did some well-placed critics lead countless viewers to the Sopranos...all against their will, like a herd to the slaughter? Maybe we should all assume a bit more consumer-intelligence than consumer-ignorance. Isn't it possible that these types of wines purchased, repeatedly, because they taste good and are well made?
Dominic Passanisi
Los —  August 2, 2007 2:26pm ET
I don't think anyone is proposing that high-alcohol wines be banned or anything of that sort. Just like everyone else, I've had many very good syrahs, petite sirahs and zins over 15%. William is right, it's mostly about information. For me, it's a little more than that; I feel that Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate are engines that drive a significant portion of high-alcohol wines' popularity, and that that popularity is making it harder to find good pinots, cabernets, and chardonnays at lower alcohol levels.

I can imagine the cycle going something like this: WS rates ripe, high-alcohol wines favorably; those wines are prominently displayed/advertised in stores and therefore purchased more frequently; winemakers, no dummies they, see the trend and produce wines that are bigger, richer, and have more alcohol. Then the whole thing is explained away as the voice of the people. QED.

I also don't buy the "But that's the California terroir" line for why we see so many huge pinots and chards here in California. Now I'm no grower, but it seems to me that if you're making pinots on a plot of land and that plot cranks out pinots that ripen at 15-16%, have all the subtlety of George Foreman in a tutu, and taste a heckuva lot more like syrahs than pinots, then...maybe you shouldn't be growing pinot - maybe you should be growing syrah! Of course, I'm not dumb enough to think that as popular as the Kosta Browne/Loring/Siduri style of pinot is, that these winemakers would do anything else with their plots. They seem very happy with the style of wines they produce, as do a lot of WS readers. But I'd be a lot happier if WS agreed that the Pinot on Steroids model wasn't the only blueprint for success for California pinot. Because it isn't.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 2, 2007 2:32pm ET
Dominic, we do agree. I hardly consider Marcassin, Mueller, Williams Selyem, Littorai, Merry Edwards, Vision and W.H. Smith Pinots on steriods. They are among my favorites, just like KB and Aubert, which are bigger wines.
Trevor/38 On Central
August 2, 2007 2:39pm ET
It's not about drinking baseds upon percentages, but rather what comes relative to those percentages. If it's a high alcohol wine, you can bet your cellar that it's carried by bold fruit flavors. And so what? Everyone should have their opinions and tastes, it makes for better options around for all of us. However, when good wine and opinions are decided based upon critically driven popularity I think we'll find a far less exiting selection. As much information as possible is needed. I agree that the reviews should carry the alcohol percentages; not because it helps us avoid them or buy them based on that alone, but because it truly is a defining element of a wine (as much as vintage) relating to its composition as a whole.
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m
miramar beach, fl —  August 2, 2007 2:57pm ET
Thanks to Mr.Dunn! I donot like the high alcohol wines. I find that they taste more like port and not the grape that they are made from. It is impossible to enjoy a high alcohol wine with most foods. In fact, when I get one, I usually enjoy the meal and then enjoy the wine as if it were a port. We consumers have to buy these wines because the wineries only make them. Thus, we have very little choice if we want a "low" alcohol wine. It seem that in order to get a high rating, the wineries must make the wines with a high alcohol. Thus, the wine "experts" that judge wines must also claim part of the reason for these high alochol wines. It is not fair to only blame the winemakers.
Jack Bulkin
August 2, 2007 3:13pm ET
I agree with Randy. The number of DUI arrests especially for women who have consummed 2 glasses of wine as they have regularly done for years has become alarming. Futhermore, Mr. Laube your high point scores for some high alcohol current California Pinots have left many wine buyers confused when they try the wines and discover the sad reality of the wine's heat that in my mind detracts from the wine's elegance. Maybe you should listen more to Randy Dunn in your wine appreciation and scoring. I do.
Sao Anash
Santa Barbara —  August 2, 2007 5:18pm ET
Jack, do you have the statistics to back up that statement about the rise in female wine-related DUI's in recent years?
Chris Hinton
Alpharetta —  August 2, 2007 5:26pm ET
I'm with you, James. Out of 45 Zinfandels we carry, only 5 list less than 14% alcohol. And even THAT is debatable, as there's a .5% margin of error. Interestingly, in states like Georgia, tax on alcohol goes up after 14%, others are 15%. Shame on all of us Zinfandel aficionados; we should be burned at Mr. Dunn's stake for enjoying such wines. http://www.alcoholpolicy.niaaa.nih.gov/index.asp?SEC={1EC0E81A-3F91-4164-8E3D-E385519E012C}&Type=BAS_APIS David Allen mentioned someone eventually striving for wine at 19 and 20%. Unless something has changed since my old WSET textbooks and other tomes on vinification were printed, you'd have to fortify the wine (as in Port) to get it to that level; yeast dies at 17%, hence stopping fermentation. While it is true that higher alcohol drinks are absorbed faster into the bloodstream, well, champagne is more quickly absorbed than non-sparkling drinks, and most Champagnes are 12% ABV. Shall we women start a letter-writing campaign to decrease the alcohol content in bubbly? What was that sound? The widow Clicquot rolling over in her grave? That would make for some rather unbalanced Champagne, wouldn't it?Balance. Ahhhh, yes. That's when no one component outweighs another. Literally defined: "equality of distribution." High alcohol wines that have the fruit, acidity, tannin (in the case of reds) to stand up DON'T taste "hot". I've had my share of unbalanced wines, where the heat comes through, or the oppposite occurs: there's not enough alcohol or acidity (one has nothing to do with the other) to balance the fruit and the resulting wine is flaccid.Hey, whilst the Zin lovers are being flogged and burned for liking their (necessarily) higher in alcohol wines, let those among us who enjoy Amarone (rarely below 15% ABV) join them on the pyre, oh, and somebody tell the esteemed producers of 14+% Barolo and Chateauneuf du Pape to knock it off, as well. Clearly they don't know what they're doing. Cheers- Gina Cook
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  August 2, 2007 7:43pm ET
I don't believe that any style of wine is inherently good or bad. If you don't like something - don't drink it. It's pretty simple. But a "call to arms" against something you're not a fan of?

Randy sounds like every parent complaining about the music their kids listen to... "it's just a bunch of noise." "How can they stand to listen to that crap?" What's next? Will we be yelled at for playing ball in the street? :)

And if Randy is right, and this type of wine is a trend... basically like fashion... driven by critics... then these wines will fade away as thy get replaced with the next "big thing". But if they have staying power, then it's just the free market working as it should - the consumer decides what they like and vote for it with their wallet.

Mark Antonio
Tokyo —  August 2, 2007 9:05pm ET
Not all readers of Wine Spectator are experts on wine and I believe that we read the magazine to gain information to broaden and deepen our knowledge. I myself don't know well where to look outside of the likes of Napa, Bordeaux, Barossa and Tuscany to find lighter styles of wine with less alcohol content. I also agree that there are less of these lighter styles on the shelves and there are various reasons for this. Would it be somehow possible for Wine Spectator to spend some time to further explore these issues?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 2, 2007 9:28pm ET
Mark, duly noted.
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  August 3, 2007 12:47am ET
I would only agree with the proposal to include alcohol content (which is a measurement) when tannins, TCA, alcohol, oak, and other wine components can be measured, scientifically. As this doesn't seem likely, my advice to those who hang their decision on the alochol percentile is this: don't, because no one element makes or breaks a wine in/of itself. Find producers you align with and become faithful.

As for the rabble-rousing call-to-arms for shunning high-alcohol product, get over yourself, Mr. Dunn! No one tells me, as a consumer, what my palate should like. I'm the only "decider" when it comes to my mouth.
Dominic Passanisi
Los —  August 3, 2007 1:52pm ET
It's probably worth noting that pretty much all of the "lighter side of pinot" winemakers that you listed above are only available to those willing to wait for months or years on waiting lists from the wineries - not in stores. This stands in contrast to Siduri, Loring, ROAR, Melville, Golden's, etc. all of which I've seen here or there in southern California wine stores. That's really all I want - to be able to walk into a wine store and choose between a lighter, more nuanced pinot and something darker and heavier. The ability to make that choice is getting harder these days.

Also, while I've never had a Marcassin pinot, I find it hard to believe that their style could be ascribed to a more subtle approach based on the tasting notes from WS: "Incredible richness, density and concentration, with a tight backbone."
Mark Ellis
Trabuco Canyon, CA —  September 10, 2007 5:29pm ET
I have recently found that I do enjoy and look for high alcohol "fruit forward" Zins and Syrahs (usually CA or Australia). Most important to me is how they taste and if they have balance (enough body, fruit & texture to carry the high alc. %). Everyone's palate is different, thank goodness there is much for us to choose from. I'll take a bigger Cal-Rhone or OZ-Shiraz over a thin, low alcohol wine anyday. Everyone has favorites, and the market/demand will take care of itself.

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Do Vintages Matter?

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