Alcohol in old burgundy

I shared a bottle of an old Burgundy, '83 Jadot Clos Vougeot, with a friend.

The cork did its job, the color looked fine and the aromas was unmistakably an old red burgundy, with remarkable interplay of perfumed dried fruits, forest floor, leather. On the palate both my friend and I did observe the alcohol sticking out, chest warming even. The label read 13.9%, and it felt a lot higher. I thought was high for a burgundy, that too for a 1983 vintage.

The questions I have:

  1. Was 13%-14% alcohol the norm for a burgundy during the early 80s? Is the trend of sub 13% alcohol recent?

  2. Do wines show more its imperfections with age? As in, the alcohol becomes more pronounced with age?

Sorry didn’t a shot with the glass, but attached pic FWIW.

83 was quite a ripe vintage, also it had a few issues with hail and more than a few fermentation’s went wrong as well.
The stated percentage on the label could well be optimistically low. 83 has never been a favourite of mine

At least in Europe the indication of wasn´t obligatory until 1985 (may have been different in the US), so hard to say …

Marcus, I was aware it was not a great vintage. Hence opened it on a casual weekend. However I was surprised by the alcohol kick, in an era when ripening was the concern. Perhaps it was over chaptalized?

bottle notations re alcohol levels need only be accurate to within 1.5% so it leaves a lot of leeway.


I am aware of that. It was my first time experiencing high alcohol in burgundies, let alone a 35 yr old one. Was just trying to understand the reasons for it.

There is (was) a different tax rate for wines over 14% alc, so the importer, perhaps, advised the label to read 13.9%…

Possibly too much sugar added to try and prolong the fermentation, also due to the reduced crop load from hail damage the crop would have gone from optimal to over ripe quite quickly, and I doubt vougeot was a top priority vineyard for the picking team. My main bugbear with 83 Burgs is the element of rot that I find in the wines due to poor grape sorting as well as their beefy demeanor.

FWIW… 1983 remains one of my very favorite red vintages…since 1970.

Lots of “urban myths” about it…

There was no reason to chaptilize to prolong fermentations…plenty of natural potential alcohol…and no need to do that in 1983.

In most ways, to me, this marks the division between “old style” RB and more modern. The baby boomers were taking over at many estates around that time…and equipment and hygeine were more rudimentary, which is the “old style” in a nutshell.

The hail damage did reduce yields in very limited places…but the abundance of “rot” is purely “urban myth”, to me. I’ve yet to identify the taste of rot in any bottle of red from 1983. Certainly, the colors browned out early due to some issues with the pigments…simulating early maturity and, perhaps, rot to some…But, it happened early and is, to me, a non-issue once recognized. Sorting wasn’t as precise then, admittedly.

The “beefy” “demeanor:” of 1983…is what “old style” is all about…barnyard and beef. It was once thought to be desirable…though when hygeine evolved and improved…that charaatcer disappeared…so it was a flaw of sorts…that many people craved.

I would l love a bottle of 1983 red anytime…though they do need to be cleaned of sediment, which is not all that clean itself. (The sediment was particularly heavy that year as the pigment problem led to lots of precipiate.

If anyone knows of anyone selling 1983 reds , at any level of the hierarchy, for reasonable prices…please let me know. They will last forever.

I am with you Stuart. My TNs for the vintage are few, but I am hard pressed to recall a poor showing. More often than not, they have been quite remarkable, and in some cases- Drouhin-Laroze for example- about as good a wine as I have ever had from a given Domaine. And, as you say, not in decline either- at least not the wines I have tried.

I really like '83 too.

Even in the riper years there are makers who believe that a degree of chaptilization will add to the wine’s mouthfeel.

and to prolong fermentation to get more out of the grapes.

Thanks all…learnt a thing or two about old burgs.

Going by the Jadot, its no way in decline. There was still some fruit characteristics left. Could easily go another 5-7 years. However this wine wasn’t quite balanced.