Okay, I get the diatribe against high alcohol wines, and I often agree. Alcohol is nonetheless an integral part of wine's character: its weight, body, presence, mouth feel, part of what lifts its aromas, generates its flavors and keeps them all stable, at least for a time. And I like the buzz; I have no problem admitting that. On the other hand, I like wine too much to be satisfied with high alcohol wines; too much alcohol in a wine, and I won't be able to drink as much. And that's not good, dammit.
I will defend Darrell Corti's right (or anyone else) to refuse to purchase wines above a certain alcohol limit, say, 14.5% alcohol. I will assert his intelligence in all things wine, but I don’t have to agree with him. I don't think an arbitrary number (such as 14.5%) is particularly illuminating or insightful; it's more or less random. Some 14.2% alcohol wines taste warm, or even hot. Some 15% alcohol wines taste just fine. I'll offer as evidence last night's delightful drop: Patz & Hall Pinot Noir Jenkins Ranch 2009. It's listed as 15.9%; I'm not even sure that's an honest number. But here's the thing: it was great.
Let me set the scene: I've been working from 6 am to 4 pm in New York City, running tastings and lecturing. I head to the airport in hopes of getting an early flight home (yeah, right, the day before 9/11, when some people are still scared to fly), since my ticket isn't getting me out till 9:45 pm. Eight hours later, I'm still waiting to get on my plane. I finally arrive at my house at 3:55 am; my wife is awake. Bizarre; she can't sleep. She wondered why I was many hours late; she wants a drink. I want a drink. We share that bottle of Patz & Hall and, like I say, it was delicious. It didn't taste like 16% or so alcohol; it didn't even occur to me to think about the alcohol level, other than to be thankful that alcohol was serving its calming purpose.
I'm still surprised about that alcohol level; I may be critical of high alcohol table wines, but I'm usually downright hateful about high alcohol Pinot Noir. Was it poor judgment at 4 am? Gratitude for a tasty sedative? Well, you can think as you like. I thought it just tasted great, I found the fruit to be exuberant but not obnoxious, the oak to be intriguing but not intense, and the alcohol level simply amped up the fruit, the weight and, for me, the pleasure.
Disclaimer: I was sent this bottle as a press sample. So on some level you can question my impartiality. But if you read me regularly, you know I have no trouble ignoring the mountains of dull samples that I receive and taste, and I only write about a wine I believe in.