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Trying to Pick Out the Perfect Wine?
Lighten Up!

Posted: April 20, 2010

By Jerald O’Kennard

There’s a debate going on in the wine world about the pros and cons of high alcohol wines. Some sommeliers berate them for being unwieldy and unmatchable at the table (often true) and some critics and hedonists love them for their rich, powerful flavors, (often true too) whether they play nicely with food or not. I think the debate is a bit too simplistic and misleading. In our tastings, day after day, we find different wines with the same levels of alcohol, high or low, can taste hot or balanced. Perceived heat and balance in a wine is far too complicated of a sensory/chemical/environmental matrix to reduce down to one factor, namely alcohol.

It’s always best to judge individual wines on their own individual merits, tempered by your own likes and dislikes, and maybe most importantly, how you will be drinking them. Will you be enjoying the wine on its own–as a trophy polishing session with fellow wine buffs, a conversation starter with someone special, or simple sipper on your own–or with food where other factors like acidity and residual sugar may have an even greater role than the alcohol in successfully pairing with a particular dish. I find that context is the key to deciding on the right wine. Once you know the context, its just a matter of finding wines that you like for each context and what distinguishing characteristics that those wines have so that you can search out other wines with similar characteristics.

Having said all that, I do really enjoy wines in the categories we refer to as “summer whites” (riesling, gewürztraminer, pinot gris/grigio, Muscat, etc.) where the level of alcohol is usually well under the “critical” 14% mark. They tend to be a great compliment to carefree warmer weather sipping and spicier, Latin and Asian cuisines–three of my favorite “contexts”.  Below are some recently tasted domestic summer whites for you to explore and delight in. They will help you lighten up this Spring, no debating that.

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