Line in the Sand

Why should a single number separate wine lovers from each other?
Dec 18, 2014

One of the conversations going around (and around) in wine circles lately has been the discussion about balance, alcohol and the imaginary line in the sand of 14 percent alcohol.

The other day I was picking a wine to bring to a friend's house for dinner. My friend is one of those "13.9 percent good, 14 percent bad" people. We've had multiple conversations about the topic, and I've even gone so far as to serve him wine in paper bags to distract him from this number—and to prove that he can, in fact, enjoy a wine at 14 percent alcohol or higher.

He's unfazed, suggesting that, while there may be exceptions to his rule, he knows he's more likely to enjoy a wine of lower alcohol than not.

I'm a little torn. On the one hand, having friends who know what they like and can communicate that clearly is terrific. I'm also acutely aware—as someone who assigns a numerical score to a bottle of wine as part of my job—that disagreements are natural and a good thing. My feelings aren't hurt if I say I like a wine and you don't, or vice versa.

But here's my problem: I was having trouble finding a bottle of wine for him. I grabbed bottle after bottle I had tried and liked—expressive wines, from terrific vineyards or producers I thought had unique perspectives, wines that I thought would go well with his outstanding food. But when I'd grab my reading glasses to look for the alcohol level, many of them were above the approved percentage.

It's not that I couldn't find any wines that we'd both like, but the process made me sad that his wine world was so small. There were a lot of bottles that I would have loved to share with him, but couldn't because the label said 14.1 or 14.3 percent.

I don't consider myself an alcohol apologist, but I also don't understand why there have to be sides in the world of wine. Us vs. them. Burgundy vs. California Pinot Noir. Low alcohol vs. high alcohol.

Loving wine, waking up every day and thinking about it for the past 17 years, has made my world bigger, not smaller. There are moments when a dark, massive red hits the spot, and other times when I reach for a lean, crisp white wine. I love the choices and the exploration, not distilling the whole experience down to a single data point. Maybe that's how some people choose the wines they drink, but not me.

Alcohol Level Opinion

You Might Also Like

The Chilled Reds of Summer

The Chilled Reds of Summer

Forget “room temperature” and ice those reds

Aug 2, 2022
Keeping an Open Mind on 2020

Keeping an Open Mind on 2020

All was not lost in a Napa Cabernet vintage turned upside-down by wildfires and a pandemic:…

Jul 18, 2022
A Grand Award Remembered

A Grand Award Remembered

How a covert restaurant reinspection led to great memories—and lots of Champagne

Aug 31, 2022
Portuguese Exploration

Portuguese Exploration

The Douro Valley offers unparalleled vineyard views, rich history and lovely hospitality—an…

Jul 31, 2022
Editors’ Guide to the Grand Tour Tastings

Editors’ Guide to the Grand Tour Tastings

The Wine Spectator team shares don’t-miss wines, discoveries and personal favorites to …

May 28, 2022
The Wine World, On Balance

The Wine World, On Balance

Historic producers, new faces, limited bottlings, widely available options: All contribute …

May 31, 2022