Is Alcohol Really a Taboo Subject?

enjoying wineI’m not sure what to say about Lettie Teague’s recent article in the Wall St. Journal entitled “Why is Alcohol in Wine a Taboo Subject?”

She laments what she perceives as fact that wine writers seldom talk about alcohol.

I’m not referring to excessive drinking—though that certainly takes place in the film and in life. That’s likely why no one I know talks about the appeal of alcohol. A wine drinker might note that a particular bottle is high in alcohol or low in alcohol, based on the percentage listed on the label. But that’s about as much as alcohol ever comes up.

Even wine professionals avoid mentioning the appeal of alcohol when describing a particular wine. They might single out attributes such as aroma, texture, origin and history, even price and scarcity, for praise or scorn. I’ve never read a tasting note on a retailer’s website or shelf talker, or heard a sommelier describe how she or he felt after drinking a glass or two of a particular Burgundy or Napa Cabernet. Nor have I, for that matter, ever written such a tasting note myself.

The premise is questionable. There is a long standing debate in the wine world about the relative virtues of low vs. high alcohol wines. And tasting notes often mention if a wine tastes excessively hot. But that is of course about the taste of the wine not its psychoactive effects. Furthermore articles about whether the alcohol in wine is healthy or not are rather common.

Apparently, her concern is that discussions about the aesthetic or experiential properties of particular wines do not include discussions about how the alcohol makes you feel, how the alcohol affects you. But isn’t that information essentially conveyed by the percentage of alcohol listed on the bottle or on the wine spec sheet? It doesn’t matter if its Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine at 15% alcohol will get you more tipsy than a wine at 13.5%. Why should that be mentioned in a tasting note? Granted, the alcohol content by law is allowed to vary by 1% if it’s above 14% or 1.5 if it’s below 14%. That can make a considerable difference if you are drinking several glasses over the course of an evening but I’m not sure the difference would be discernable in the amounts used for wine evaluation.

It makes sense to limit your consumption if you’re drinking high octane wines all evening but I don’t see why that fact would be interesting or informative in a tasting note independently of the abv percentage.

She seems to think wine professionals are reluctant to talk about the connection between pleasure and alcohol. Really? Is anyone confused about this? Is this new information people need to make sense out of wine? No doubt we focus on flavor when writing about wine. That is what makes wine interesting. Inebriation in moderation is surely enjoyable but not particularly interesting to read or write about.

The Wall St. Journal is a valuable piece of wine-talk real estate. I’m not sure it was well used in this article.

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