Oct 29 2008

Is your wine bringing the heat?

Published by at 8:23 PM under Red Wines,Savvy Sip Tips

Ever watch a sommelier swish and gargle his wine like a swig of Scope?

That’s because different parts of your mouth sense different things about your wine. Alcohol, tannins, acidity, sugar—these are the elements with which a winemaker crafts his creation. Ideally, they’re so balanced that you don’t even think about them. But a professional taster senses their levels individually as well.

This week: Where does your wine clock in on alcohol? I’m not going to get all Robert-Parker-debate on you and discuss whether big wines are better or worse. I only want to share with you how to sense the alcohol in yours without peeking at the bottle.

After you taste and swallow a wine, pay attention to the sensation at the back of your throat. Is there a pleasant warmth? If so, your wine has a modest level of alcohol (perhaps around 11 or 12 percent). If you feel a burn at the back of your throat, your wine is a little (or a lot) higher in alcohol (perhaps 14-16 percent).

Ideally, your wine is well-balanced, with the right amount of alcohol-by-volume to go along with the wine’s other characteristics. If so, the alcohol, regardless of level, won’t stand out unless you really pay attention. If, on the other hand, all you notice is a searing heat at the back of your throat, your wine is known as “hot.” Clever, right?

You can practice this parlor trick by taste-testing yourself: take a swig and a guess with several different wines, then check the ABV on the bottles. But watch out for those well-made wines. They’re so balanced they make separating out the sensation of alcohol tricky. And they’re the ones you want to add to your collection! Just Grapes has a Boxer that won’t knock you out even at 16 percent, and a Monster that’s not scary at all at 14.1 percent (rather low for a Zinfandel from California’s Paso Robles). You can play with fire without getting burned!

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