The alcohol level of Burgundy wines is in my view becoming increasingly important. In the old days it was often a struggle to reach a sufficient level of ripeness and alcohol – hence the wines were often chaptalized to compensate for lack of ripeness.
Global warming have however changed this somewhat, although chaptalisation can still be needed or used for adjustment of the wines – the ripeness in the warmer vintages is much better.
I normally paid less attention to the alcohol level in Burgundy wines, but the increase in the Bordeaux alcohol levels have taught me to pay attention – as we now see alcohol levels well beyond 14% in Bordeaux on a regular basis.
Global warming and the alcohol level
The 2015 vintage produced quite a few wines with high levels of alcohol – some surpassing 14% and even beyond 14.5% have been seen with some producers.
Some wines I have tasted does taste richer and more ripe than the alcohol levels on the label suggest, and this tendency began to worry me to be honest.
Let me say this clear and direct – I would “never” buy a bottle of Burgundy that is beyond 15% alcohol. I would struggle to buy wines with beyond 14.5% and I would hesitate to go beyond 14% – unless I have tasted the wine before.
And why – because high levels of alcohol will – in my view – cloud the expression of terroir, it will destroy the purity and detail of the fruit, and in reality change the character of the wine from what I love and cherish about Burgundy.
I would hate to see Burgundian producers edging the alcohol levels towards 14% and even beyond. Bordeaux did that – and I don’t drink these wines either. With global warming this is clearly the risk, and if we want to keep the freshness and refinement in our Burgundies – the viticulture has to be adapted – before the maturity and sugar levels move beyond the phenolic ripeness of the grapes.
Bordeaux came too late in many cases!
How accurate or valid are the alcohol levels?
On my May trip to Burgundy I was at a tasting where the alcohol levels of certain wines from rather known producers were discussed.
This sort of confirmed what I already suspected – that the alcohol levels of some 2015 Burgundies seemed … quite optimistic … judged from the writing on the labels. Wines tasting like 14.5 or 15% alcohol where merely 13.5% are reported on the labels. One producer was mentioned having levels close to or even above 15% .. which were apparently not always in “full” correspondence with what was stated on the labels.
This is not to point fingers … but I think this tendency should be monitored as the incentive has changed – from showing a good level of alcohol and ripeness – to show a moderate level without being on the high side.
Realising that it can apparently be difficult to measure the alcohol levels … it’s perhaps an idea to have more focus on this in the future – to ensure more valid or precise numbers on the labels.
We must be able to trust the labels
There are often a lot of talk and rumours … but fact of the matter is … we need to be able to trust the labels regarding the informations printed on them. For me the alcohol level is now a very important piece of information to have about a wine – especially with global warming starting to push the alcohol levels upwards.
Perhaps I’m wrong – and one can really trust ALL the labels! If i’m not – well this needs to be taken seriously.
The situation is relatively new, as we come from a situation where wines were often chaptalized to reach sufficient alcohol levels, and now the high alcohol levels can soon become a problem even in Burgundy.