I was recently in a group setting where a winemarker mentioned a study on alcohol levels in wine. Because of the setting I wasn’t able to ask for more detail, but would love to find this study to read the specific findings.
In essence, the study showed (and I’m doing this by memory, which makes details highly suspect) that at 15% the wine was out of balance, when dropped to 14.5% the text book fruit profile of the grape was prominent, and at 14.0% the aspects of the terrior where grown were most notable.
Of course this would only be as good as the particular wine used in the study, the tasting/judging panels’ palates, and could be influenced by the dealcoholization technique. But would be interesting to read nonetheless.
I don’t know about the study you are refering to, but wines can vary so much that I think the best answer is “it depends”. I have had really high alcohol wines that hid the alcohol so well that you didn’t notice it, and wines with much lower alcohols that were too thin to hide it, and they tasted hot.
I recall Jamie Goode mentioning something like this in his Wine Science book. This also sounds like something Clark Smith would do. IIRC, I think the conclusion as relayed by Goode was that the balance point was not at a single ABV. 13.0 too light, 13.5 might be good, 14.0 bad, 14.5 good, 15.0 so-so, 15.5 terrible.
I don’t know that he ever created a “study” from it, but Don Baumhefner (formerly w/m of Copeland Creek) used to give a seminar at Pinot events a few years back. He’d pour 5-6 wine samples with varying degrees of alcohol, and ask people to write their tasting notes/impressions on the wines. We were mostly surprised to find out that they were all Copeland Creek Pinots, de-alc’d to provide differences in alcohol. There was no doubt that each tasted quite different from the other - some seemed hot; others seemed just right. What was really surprising was that each had only a miniscule difference from the other in alcohol (the range was something like 13.80 to 13.90. The attempt was to find each individual’s “sweet spot,” and show that alcohol did affect taste. It was a little spooky to find such differences, and the audience’s favorites were all over the place.
Do you know what makes the difference? I had a Buehler Cab '06 the other day (just trying some Cali Cabs, which is a new area for me) @ 14.5% that was (mostly) unpleasant, I think because of the alcohol. At times (I drank it over a few days) the first sip was quite smooth, but generally it was much too “hot” (if I’m interpreting that properly). But I’ve had other wines at that level that I liked.
Mostly I think it is a function of the amount of extract in a wine (the flavor and color components, tannins, etc.). As I said above, there are times I’ve had very thin or light bodied wines that just didn’t have enough stuffing to hide the heat.
Tasting de-alc’d wines is definitely interesting, as Eric mentioned above. My first experience with that was in school. We de-alc’d a Viognier, and we tasted sweet spots over a range of about 2% EtOH, at 0.02% increments. There were approx 40 students and prof’s tasting through them, and what was interesting is that the ones that were preferred were not linear- you might taste one wine at 13.6% and like it, then not like the 13.8% sample, then like the 14.0% sample. There are times also that the highest EtOH sample is better than the lowest. It really just depends on the base wine.