The Role of Alcohol in Wine
Alcohol found in wine is the natural result of the yeast fermentation, otherwise known as alcoholic fermentation. The presence of alcohol with sugars, phenols and tannins define the balance of wine, which is diagrammed below;
> Sweet Taste (sugars + alcohols) <= => Acid Taste (acids) + Bitter Taste (phenols)
When there is too much alcohol relative to other components, this equation is out of balance, and the wine is considered “hot.” It is generally accepted with fortified wines, but is not desired otherwise. California Zinfandels tend to have alcohol content pushing 17%, which is very high.
The reason why California Zinfandels have such high alcohol content lies, or “hangs” in the vineyard. Vineyard managers are allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vine, raising the sugar content in the grapes. During the winemaking process, all of the sugar is converted to alcohol; thus, the higher the sugar concentration, the higher the alcohol content.
Recently, there has been a push for lower alcohol wines. This is prompted winemakers to start pursuing balance through the dealcoholization process. One winery who has adopted lower alcohol wines is Nalle Winery in the Dry Creek Valley.
One of the major starting points of the alcohol debate is that it tends to get people drunk. Although not usually a problem for responsible drinkers, it doesn’t help when a bottle of wine is 17% + alcohol. However, there are ways to optimize your drinking, so that you don’t end up on the short end of alcohol consumption. It is also important to know the alcohol laws.
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