ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

It seems to me that wine, especially red, has become too alcoholic. Some reds I have recently drunk have a medicinal aroma and taste. Am I imagining this?

—David M., Towson, Md.

Dear David,

There certainly has been a trend in recent years of riper, higher-alcohol wines, particularly when grown in warmer regions and in warmer vintages. Some of them are wonderfully balanced and elegant wines, while others can come across as jammy and “hot” or excessively alcoholic.

Red wine grapes tend to get riper than white wine grapes, and the ripeness means increased sugar, so as a result, when the sugar converts to alcohol during fermentation, the higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content. So you’re probably not imagining these alcoholic reds.

Even though this trend has been fashionable in some regions for some wines, I’m certain there are still plenty of wines made in styles that you like. Looking at the alcohol percentage on a bottle of wine might give you some clues as to its style, but in my experience, that number doesn’t give the whole picture. You might want to look for wines grown in cooler climates or in cooler vintages, or read the descriptions and avoid wines that mention heat or extremely ripe notes like “jammy.”

I also want to warn you about serving temperatures. One of the reasons a red wine tastes better when it’s chilly outside than on a hot summer day is because the warmer the glass, the more alcoholic the wine will taste. If you’re serving your reds at room temperature, they might need to be chilled slightly to show better.

—Dr. Vinny


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