Alcohol, an issue with legs

Everywhere I go, the topic of the alcohol content in wine tends to be discussed.

Some people say wines with high alcohol content don’t pair well with food. Wine Enthusiast’s Unreserved blogger Jim Gordon says such wines don’t go well with him, period. “… my problem is not that wines over 14 or 15 percent alcohol don’t go with food. My problem is that they don’t go with my metabolism. I like to have a 3-4 ounce glass of wine before dinner while I’m cooking, another glass or two with dinner, and then another small one after dinner if it’s good enough to savor. But I have to get up the next morning without a headache and have a good day.”

Gordon and others have responded to comments by California wine maker Randy Dunn of Dunn Vineyards, who wrote an open e-mail to the media calling for a stop to the current fad of high alcohol wines, particularly those that have alcohol levels over 15 percent. (Credit goes to Appellation America for the e-mail.)

Dunn says these so-called “cigar wines are made for standing and not sitting down with a meal. I hate to see the whole industry cater to that segment of the population and there’s a whole bunch of the population that likes to drink wines that are not just sipping and sitting wines.”

What do you think?


Opulent and luscious

We recently had an opportunity at our favorite wine bar, Vino Bello, to taste some of the “opulent, voluptuous and concentrated” wines from O-S Winery and meet the knowledgeable, opinionated and entertaining winemaker Bill Owen: “Just call me Owen. I was Owen before Cher was Cher.” When Owen found that I’m a writer for Write for Wine, he opined that writers should not use cliches such as “boutique winery” or “world class wine.” I agree. Being opinionated is not a bad thing in Owen’s case. He is so knowledgeable … he has traveled and studied extensively … that his opinions matter to a lot of people, including me.

Back to the O-S wines: The current releases are aged exclusively in French Oak barrels. About 35% are in new barrels while the remainder is in barrels in the second, third and fourth years. The results, according to the winery, are “opulent, voluptous and concentrated wines that are immensely pleasing in their youth, yet possess the structure and balance to reward cellaring.”

Specifically, we tasted the 2006 Riesling–in my case, I must admit, reluctantly. I’m not much of a white wine drinker and Riesling has never been my cup of tea … er, glass of choice. But O-S Winery’s 2006 Riesling took me by surprise. This 100% Champoux Riesling was clean and crisp, with peach, pear and citrus flavors. It would be paired perfectly with lobster or scallops. Owen says his wine has the lowest alcohol content (10 1/2%) in Washington state, and he promises that his Riesling will be twice as good next year. I won’t hesitate to drink it again.  And you shouldn’t hesitate to spend $20 on a bottle, particularly if you like Riesling.

We also tasted O-S Winery’s 2004 Ulysses–my tasting notes have four stars next to this lush, elegant wine! This big red is incredible–both jammy and silky, with complex black fruit flavors. This distinctive wine is a superb blend of 45% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Cabernet Franc from Sheridan Vineyard. Wine Spectator rated it 90. If you have $50, it is well worth a visit to the winery in Seattle.


How long can wine be cellared?

Here’s another tip that comes from Columbia Winery’s own wine educator, Steve Vernon–a wise and funny guy whom you’ll find in the winery’s Woodinville tasting room, if you’re lucky.

A bottle of wine can age at the rate of $1 a month. What does that mean exactly? A $70 bottle of wine can be cellared for 70 months. A $25 bottle of wine can be aged for 25 months, or about two years.

This calculation makes cellaring easy, eh? Of course, my humorous husband tried to trip up Steve by asking him how to calculate cellaring if the bottle of wine was bought on sale. Steve laughed and didn’t answer.


How long should wine breathe?

This helpful tip comes from Columbia Winery’s own wine educator, Steve Vernon: Open a bottle of red wine and let it breathe for $1 a minute before drinking. What does that mean exactly? A decent $15 bottle of wine should breathe for 15 minutes. A more expensive $60 bottle of wine should breathe for an hour.

Vernon also notes that decanting is a double-edged sword–decanting speeds up the time needed to let a bottle of red wine breathe … but the subtle bouquet escapes with the decanting.

More tips coming soon. Cheers!