Balance and high alcohol

In recent interviews with wine journalist Campbell Mattison two Australian winemakers (Iain Riggs and Troy Kalleske) both disagree that high alcohol wines can’t be balanced.  Of course, they are right, but in a narrow (almost tautological) sense.  They can be in balance, if they are balanced, but it’s difficult/rare.  But not the sort of wine I’d want to drink regularly.

If I can use an analogy, a cake completely covered in thick buttery icing can still be balanced if it is a very rich sweet dense cake.  It will be the sort of cake that people generally take thin slices of.  Some won’t like it at all.  Some will cut the icing off.  Others will have regrets after eating it, not because of the calories but because of the feeling in their stomach.  Only the unsophisticated palates of children will be near universally delighted.

Table wines above 14.5% are like this.

There are many superb warm climate wines (like Penfolds Grange and Wendouree reds) that for decades were considered wines of heroic proportions, to be matched carefully to strong flavoured foods and preferably aged for long periods – and these”big reds” were 13% in alcohol.  Today there are winemakers that specialise in syrupy high alcohol wines, and such wines have their place.  I just don’t see the need for many of them, and very few of them can be considered well balanced or fine.  It’s hard to make fine dry wine if you pick grapes that sugary.

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