How climate and taste changes make red wine stronger


Whether from the corner shop or the most respected Terroir, The glass of red wine in your hand is getting stronger and stronger.

Although critics have long noticed this trend, data from the boutique wine market Liv-ex has tracked the increase in alcohol content in thousands of vintages over the past 30 years.

During this period, the average alcohol content of red wines from California, Piedmont, Tuscany and the Rhone and Rioja regions rose from less than 14% to much higher. The strength of Riojas has risen from an average of 13.1% in 1995 to 14.5% in 2018.

According to Tom Gearing, chief executive of Cult Wines, a premium wine investment group, climate change is driving this shift. “Basic characteristics are constantly changing climateWhen the weather gets warmer, grapes will produce a higher sugar content, which leads to a higher alcohol content. “

Extreme weather events can leave a mark in a given year: for example, the severe heat wave in South Australia in 2005 caused an increase in alcohol levels.

According to Anthony Maxwell, director of Liv-ex, another driving factor is consumer preferences and wine growers who adapt to these tastes.

He said that many drinkers in the 1990s liked “old school red wines” with lower alcohol content, “but then New World wines were affected, with higher maturity and higher sugar content… Then there was a push from ‘Robert Parker Influence’.

“This wine critic has extraordinary power and influence. He tends to like more mature, stronger wines.”

Parker wrote the “Wine Advocate” newsletter and is known for his early and controversial praise for 1982 wine Bordeaux, From a hot, sunny and dry year.

His 100-point scoring system was widely adopted, leading critics to coin the term “Parkerization” as vineyards adjust their wines to seek higher Parker scores-although the American writer himself has always rejected the idea. Nevertheless, in the Parker era, mature and full-bodied wines became the norm.

Liv-ex collected data on approximately 17,000 wines whose label alcohol content was initially recorded as part of the process of generating export codes.

The increase in alcohol content of Bordeaux wines is both stable and significant, rising by more than one percentage point from the 1990s to the 2010s, reaching approximately 14%.

“In Bordeaux, in those days, people might try to find something more mature in wine,” Maxwell said.

“This is combined with global warming… Some vineyards in southern Bordeaux have also felt the influence of this city.” The city of Bordeaux itself generates heat, which raises the temperature of nearby vineyards.

Grape growers can influence the ripeness of grapes by harvesting time, by manipulating the degree of the vine canopy or “green harvest”, or by removing excess grapes from the vine.

Adding sugar before fermentation will increase the alcohol content, while culturing yeast can more effectively convert sugar into alcohol.

Robert Parker

The influential American wine critic Robert Parker “tends to prefer more mature and concentrated wines” ©Abel Alonso/EPA

Although Liv-ex’s data mainly reflects premium wines, experts say that trends in the mass market are similar.

The Australian Accolade Wines Group, which produces brands including Hardys and Banrock Station, said that the alcohol content of the entire market has “increased slightly in the past few decades”. “This is a global phenomenon,” adds Nigel Sneyd, Accolade’s Director of Global Wine and Quality.

Liv-ex said that the alcohol content of Loire wine and Riojas wine is also rising steadily. Red wines from California, Piedmont, and Tuscany became significantly stronger from the 1990s to the 2000s, but then their alcohol content stabilized or declined.

The level of whites is usually much more stable than that of reds. “For white wines, grapes tend to be harvested earlier and grow in a slightly cooler climate. By their very nature, they have a lower alcohol content,” Maxwell said.

Similarly, Champagne growers pick grapes in advance to maintain acidity, thereby keeping the alcohol content relatively low.

The chart shows that in the past three years, the alcohol content of premium white wines has not risen

Snyder said that overall alcohol content is unlikely to continue to increase. “Higher alcohol levels cause taste imbalance, so any alcohol level significantly higher than current levels [ones] Technology will be needed to restore them to their original condition,” he said.

There are also some objections to the decades-long trend of full-bodied red wines.

Maxwell linked the stability of alcohol levels in certain areas (such as the Saint-Emilion area of ​​Bordeaux) to Parker’s retirement-he stepped down as editor-in-chief of the newsletter in 2012 and retired completely in 2019.

“There is a movement -‘Maybe we don’t want these increasingly mature, higher-alcohol wines. Let’s go back and pick them sooner,” Maxwell said. “This has a health perspective. People are paying more attention to alcohol now.” Accolade said consumers are increasingly looking for Low alcohol and non-alcoholic wine.

Gearing said that in some regions, especially in Europe where climate change is greater, the focus has shifted to mitigating the impact of climate change, using slower and colder fermentation and other methods.

“Many winemakers are now taking steps to control the alcohol content and make sure they are not too high,” he said.


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