For the last portion of this decade some wine journalists, many from the UK, maintained a slow and unending criticism over Australian shiraz and cabernet being alcohol high.
Put better for tasting terms, that means alcohol hot in the back of the throat, or lip-burning if the level is over 16 percent.
In earlier days it was easy to line up on one side against the other because the guy to kick in the U.S. was Robert Parker.
He was praising these super-ripe lumps of shiraz which simply collapsed over time to reveal their imbalance, partly from high alcohol.
And now many UK scribes are gratuitously praising the 2009 Bordeaux for their quality yet stepping around the fact that alcohol level in most right bank merlots runs between 14.5 and 15.3 percent. Left bank cabernets are hitting mid-14s.
The crazy issue is that big super-structured reds (low-crop, fully ripe tannins, near excessive oak handling) will not show their alcohol at the point of sale, as with en primeur when barrel samples are being handed around.
The real point to make with Bordeaux products is the longevity-wines are asked to have a reputation to age, and cash in with the secondary auction market.
The sunny 2003 vintage is showing that pattern of jammy cabernets, and is not a vintage I embrace.
Excessively ripe reds do not look good when they dry out – the alcohol factor becomes demeaning, and drinkability slips.
The best examples are the early decade Parker-pointed cult Barossa shiraz which now look like dry ports, and have fallen from grace in the U.S. market to become humble drinks.
This writer sounds the alarm that UK writers are walking into the jaws of the unknown with unqualified, unstinting praise for the 2009s. That’s what hype does.
And the wines have current poise and structure, but surely after venting many vocal English spleens upon Aussie reds the path would be very clear for the future.
To answer, wines over 14.5 percent don’t have much of an aging future – so drink them young when alcohol does not show, should be an obvious recommendation!
And what Bordeaux have “hot alcohol”?
Decanter’s Steven Spurrier says “Cos d’Estournel at 14.5 abv and Haut-Brion at 14.3 abv are certainly high alcohol wines in the history of Bordeaux, but both are balanced by high tannins and a refreshing acidity.”
Well, that remains to be seen with future reviews, and auction ratings two decades away, by which time all the wine will be sold, ridiculously-priced.
Spurrier summarises “2009 just happened to be a very ripe vintage and when Bordeaux gets it ripe, it gets it right.”
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