Yes, as soon as they know it and they should also list an approximation for En Primeur wines and similar pre-sales (disclosing that it is an approximation)
No, caveat emptor
No, too much work
No, too much risk if the retailer gets it wrong with too little upside
Other (explain below)
I don’t know why this isn’t standard practice, but apart from WineAccess.com, which just started doing it this month (and kudos to them), almost no other online retailer AFAIK lists the ABV of any wine. (Maybe Cameron at de Negoce does too now that I think about it.) They all should. *Edit: WDC lists ABV as does GrandVin.
The ABV number is one of the most salient facts about a wine.
For grapes or regions that can range from dry to sweet (like many Rieslings), the ABV can help one determine how dry the wine likely is.
For regions or grapes with varying ripeness styles (like Bordeaux or New World Pinot Noirs) it can help the consumer, more than most pro tasting notes which can be inexplicably obtuse about this, predict the likely style of the wine. (A Left Bank Bordeaux at 13% or 13.5% will likely be a classic style IMO, whereas a 14.5% will likely be more modern. Sure, 14%’s are iffier depending on the vintage but it still helps.)
Beyond styles, for people who simply can’t do big alcohol wines, it would help them pick better and be happier consumers.
I think all wine critics should do the same, but maybe that’s for another thread.
Yeah sometimes I’ve found some. Some wineries list ABVs on their website. But many don’t, including most of the big Bordeaux houses, from what I’ve seen, and beloved California producers like Carlisle, to mention some I’m familiar with and buy from.
I guess, now that I think of it, TTB might have some because of labels, but even if so, my argument is a customer service one more than a transparency one.
I want to underscore I’m not dissing anyone. It’s a widespread industry practice. I’d just like to see it change for what I believe to be the better.
Edited original post to acknowledge that Wine.com (sometimes) and GrandVin both list ABV.
Since I just noticed that those two merchants do have it, I want to underscore how important it can be (and stress again that sometimes the data is not easy to look up which is why I bring it up). Let me use one example of ABV of the same wine through the last few vintages:
Pichon Comtesse de Lalande:
2014 ABV - WDC doesn’t say but 13.2% according to Jeff Leve’s website (WA doesn’t say)
2015 ABV - 13.5% according to WDC but 13.6% according to Jeff Leve’s website (WA doesn’t say)
2016 ABV - 13.5% according to WDC but 13.32% according to Jeff Leve’s website (Neal Martin when he was at WA said the same as Jeff)
2017 ABV - WDC doesn’t say for this one but 13.1% according to Jeff Leve’s website (Lisa Perrotti-Brown doesn’t say at WA) 2018 ABV - 14.5% according to GrandVin and WDC but “just” 14% according to Jeff Leve’s website and to Lisa Perrotti-Brown (WA) 2019 ABV - 14.2% according to GrandVin (maybe rounded up from the 14.15% according to Lisa Perrotti-Brown (WA) but 14.1% according to Jeff Leve’s website)
2020 ABV - 13.6% according to WDC and the same according to Jeff Leve’s website, but Lisa is back to mum on ABV
I bolded 2018 and 2019 for two reasons. First, in both years, people accustomed to buying a ~13.5% wine should really be warned that the incoming one is up to a full point higher. Second, the difference in the 2018 between what GrandVin and WDC are saying and what Jeff is saying (0.5%) is significant.
I realize that Jeff usually enters that data in his first tasting at the Chateau, not from the bottle and I imagine there could be variation once bottled (though half a percentage point seems like a lot). But regardless of who’s right, 2018 and 2019 are still ABV outliers (though I realize that the Merlot percentage has been decreasing there but yet the 2020 is back to the mid 13s). And once the retailer has the bottle in hand they can certainly do a lot of good by clearing up any disparities (even if the source of the information disparities is totally reasonable).
Now I stress again, retailers not stating ABV is pretty widespread and I’m not blaming or dissing anyone. It’s a nice-to-have right now as you say Peter. I just think more retailers should.
Alcohol levels can vary between barrel samples to finished bottles. This happens for a myriad of reasons, more exact measurements from the time the initial samples were measured, to importers, or estates rounding things off for tax reasons, being in a hurry to print the information and typos, etc.
Personally, I am more concerned about balance than wine by the numbers. The descriptor tells you a lot more about the wine IMO. Today, Pichon Lalande is making the best wines in the history of the estate. Try a bottle is my suggestion before making a buying decision based on ABV #. My notes hopefully tell you what you need to know, at least I hope so.
Trust me Jeff, your notes on 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020 Pichon Lalande are top of mind for me. And I realize there can be variation in ABV from the sample as I said in my last paragraph. That’s why I want retailers to give the number on the bottle.
I’m going to go slightly off topic since I have you here.
Back to your notes, they’re the ones that make me want to buy some for aging. And yes they’re very, very helpful and I thank you for them. That said, I also know that your palate tends to run relatively more modern and so, if I want more classic, I need to keep that in mind.
Going on your non-technical notes alone, I’d say the 2019 sounds best to me. But unlike what you did for the 2018 notes, your 2019 notes don’t make a direct stylistic comparison to 2018 or 2016, so I only have scores, technical notes, and my parsing of your poetry to go on.
You score as follows:
2016 (100 pts)
2018 (99 pts)
2019 (98-100 points)
2020 (97-99 points)
Then you also provide pH (THANK YOU!): 2016 (3.76 pH) — (mid 13% ABV)
2018 (3.85 pH) — (mid 14% ABV) (these are Napa numbers in my mind)
2019 (3.70 pH) — (in the lows of 14% ABV)
2020 (3.82 pH) — (mid 13% ABV)
pH is a logarithmic scale. The difference in acidity between 2018 and 2019 is significant. In fact, at least one study I saw says that above 3.8 pH wine has too little protective acid to age well and that keeping it at 3.7 or lower is best (of course phenolics matter to but you need the alcohol something to esterify with as I understand it). And as far as balance is concerned, the fact that 2019 is more acid than 2016 but has the higher alcohol would imply to me that it is better balanced than that 2018. (An extra confounding point is that the 2016 and 2020 varietal mixes are a bit more similar to each other than to the almost identical 2018 and 2019).
So, which to go long on if I’d be buying either 2019 or 2020 en primeur? I can’t try them first. So there’s some trust in your notes that always goes into it. I’m not in the same income level as some people here so I need to be judicious (not that most people would regard $200 for a bottle of wine as judicious, let alone buying several to age, but here we are).
I still think 2019 before prices skyrocket. But not sure. Any thoughts?
You probably know this already, but since the alcohol level stated on the label is virtually never the real number you’re only getting an approximation at best. If memory serves, I think the TTB allows wines over 14% alcohol by volume to have a plus or minus leeway of 1%, while wines under 14% have a 1.5% leeway. So if the label says 14.5% it could actually be 13%, It could also be 15.5%.
A few things… First, thank you for reading me and trusting my notes. As for pH and not aging, 1989 La Mission is 3.9 pH, and that is aging nicely. Wines are going to age because of their terroir. All wines and all terroirs are not equal.
As for 18, 19, and 20, I think 18 will be the best vintage overall, but you will find wines in 2019 and 2020 that are better than in 2018. I am going to be tasting about 600-800 wines from 2019 over the next 10 weeks or so. So far, I have only tasted the wines from Lafite and all their other brands, as it was over a Zoom call yesterday.
18, 19, and 20 will have more in common than not, but you will find differences in the vintages as they age with 2019 being a bit more stoic, while 2018 will be the most ostentatious.
Question, why did you post this here and not in Wine Talk?
Thank you for posting them and for taking the time to go through this here!
It’s good to know that about 1989 La Mission.
I think the decisions of the winemaker matter more than the terroir when it comes to aging, but I think I get your point: the winemaker has to work with what nature provides.
Interesting. In my mind, stoic seems like a good thing for aging as opposed to ostentatious which sounds to me as better for immediate drinking, but maybe I’m wrong. You’re certainly the expert in this conversation.
I’ll wait a few weeks for your notes before I buy then! Thank you
Well my purpose was messaging the ABV request to retailers. They come to this section. And I thought it was such a niche concern it would get washed away in the Wine Talk section, whereas there are fewer threads here and they would be more likely to see it in the long term (since that isn’t a rush request).
I think everyone checks these areas every once in a while anyway. And if this moves into being about 2018-19-20 Bordeaux then everyone will benefit if it stays on top longer as well. It could be in the first page for 30 years and still be relevant.
(By the way, the other wine I’m thinking of buying in these vintages because it seems like a much-improved QPR no-brainer is Domaine de Chevalier. Have some '19s ordered already. I’ll wait for your notes on others though.)
There are too many exceptions for this to make sense. Are you sure the authors aren’t talking only about microbial stability rather than a broad ability to age well? It’s true that a given concentration of SO2 becomes less anti-microbially effective as pH rises, and that above a certain pH one can’t add enough SO2 for microbial stability. In those cases, the wine can still age well and stay sound if it is filtered at bottling or is relatively clean when it it bottled (or possibly with one of a couple of other treatments, but I am no familiar with how effective they are over long periods of aging).