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On Tasting
How You Can Drink Smarter
Monday, 28th August, 2017  - David Farmer

All of us need to think about our alcohol consumption as there is no doubt the accumulation impacts on health.

Drinking of wine in moderation is a large plus as it is such a complex magical beverage, so much so that I find the best way to understand wine is to see it as a gift of the gods.

I think a focus on a healthier way of living, which means you should worry about a few percent of alcohol and thus deny yourself the wines you would like to drink, is being silly.

Warm climate wines are bolder and more full bodied than those from cooler regions and as such often appear lighter on the palate, as do varieties like pinot noir, though many bigger styles from cooler regions have only marginally less alcohol.

I am not swayed by stories of the hot burning tastes found by some in wines over 14% as after-all the job of winemakers is to make balanced wines with agreeable tastes.

Thus I have the deep suspicion that the concern about alcohol is more to do with a current fashion. This fashion couples objectives of health with promoting lighter styles with lower alcohols when this is contrary to natures wish as to what wine can be.

I find these concerns simplistic, and of the order of issues we all face in life ranks in the non-existing category. Drink what you like when you like but be careful as no one says you can drink all you like whenever you like as alas a penalty will appear.

Since customers have been swayed and are concerned about full bodied wines there has been a small trend to pinot noir, warm climate grenache styles and cool climate reds as they appear lighter on the palate, though the alcohol is often little different to full bodied reds making me wonder how a shift of 1% to 2% alcohol is weighed against pleasure.

The processes of making wines explains the range limitations of alcohol while cautionary thoughts from experts about not buying on numbers have been quoted.

If you want what the Barossa Valley does well you will not get it with a 13,5% abv red unless it is picked earlier and then the style will be different.

I have spent a lifetime drinking and see the important issue as asking yourself what role do you wish ethanol to play in your life. Worrying about a few glasses of wine which contain 10% more abv than you think you should be drinking strikes me as the wrong approach when it is the total consumption over the week, the year or your adult life which is the important number.

It is of course never too late to cut back alcohol consumption and is likely sound advice. Thus I offer a few thoughts.

1. Instead of worrying about the alcohol by volume of each glass just cut back consumption by 10% or as the song goes If you have a drinking problem why not drink a little less.

2. Often now I use an old fashioned, cheap, short champagne flute which cannot hold much and find this slows my consumption. The giant glasses which readily overfill to hold 300ml increase consumption and should be used with caution.

3. Wines from hot vintages can have higher extract and alcohol and while illegal I suppose these are watering down in wineries. Using this as a guide it is OK to add water to dilute your wine. Add 10% water to a big Barossa red and you will hardly detect the difference. This will still taste better than a lower alcohol wine made from early picked grapes or perhaps a wine from a cooler region which you do not favour at this time.

As with all things the solution lies with the individual. Winemaker can do anything but to make lower alcohol wines from warmer regions means a compromise. In turn while a glance at the stated alcohol is of interest you do not know the correct number and to buy a red of 13% abv in preference to one with 14.5% abv rather than by the potential taste is not recommended. Do not buy on numbers as it is basically meaningless.

There is also the consideration of sugar as low alcohol wines either have high sugar content, may contain unfermented grape juice or the alcohol has been lowered by removal. There is nothing wrong with this but surely greater pleasure will come from drinking less of well-made wine.

If you find well flavoured 11% to 12% abv dry wines which suit your taste then you may indeed have found what you want. I have seldom found such wines to my satisfaction but each to his own as I like flavour.

With that said surely over a life time of drinking it is better to discard a few less empties each year and continue to experience all the wines made around the world. The chance to do so only comes once.

Warning: Alas this final thought must be given and not because of my responsible serving of alcohol certificate but because I ask you to reflect.

Ethanol which we refer to as alcohol is a drug. I believe its consumption makes life more interesting but those who make, sell and consume its many products must never forget that for a minority it can create misery.

A few percent must nor drink at all as they become addicted, a further few percent are rated as high risk and must be sparing in consumption. For the rest of us the traps are many and we must never forget the reasons not so long ago there were such strong temperance movements.

I deplore those who disguise alcohol with flavoured colourings and sugar in a manner which all too readily disguises the potency of the drink. You have been warned to drink in moderation for good reason.

And note I am not a later day preacher as the slogan 'drink in moderation' was placed on Farmer Bros branded wines in 1982, well before it became standard practise.

The above is an exerpt from the article Thoughts on Wine and Alcohol, published 28th August 2017.

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