Too hot to handle? Does the perception of high alcohol change over time?

I posted the below note on CT after trying a bottle at a Hillstone concept and the first comment was that the alcohol and tannin will take time to integrate. I have limited experience tasting bottles over time, but I’ve noticed tannin mellow out in some bottles. I’ve never noticed a wine that came off as a bit hot and then had that alcohol integrate over time. Is that something to be expected?

Posted from CellarTracker

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I’m with you - tannins evolve, alcohol doesn’t much.

Thanks Adam. I honestly wasn’t sure if it could or not.

Hoping someone else has tried the 2019 - would love another Berserker opinion on the bottle.

The greter question is - does acid evolve? In my view it doesn’t. But the perception of it does as the tannins evolve, of course. So a harsh wine (high tannins, high acid) might evolve into something elegant. But a wine that has too much acid without any tannins, probably won’t.

But the jury is out on that. Case in point: Riesling.


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I also do not have a lot of experience following higher ABV wines over time. With that being said, in 2018 I tasted a 2009 Foppiano Petite Sirah (14.8% abv). Early Cellartracker notes reference the alcohol and a sourness that I suspect was an acidity imbalance. Nine years later, my bottle was very good, well balanced, and I did not get any heat.

My question is: Do PH, titratable acidity, tannins, and oak affect the perception of ABV over time? Is one more “important” than another?

Here’s a good WB thread on high alcohol wines and aging.

I’m hoping some winemakers and chemistry-type folks could weigh in.


Hi Max. Serving temperature is a big factor with respect to the palate’s perception of alcohol. Did you serve the wine at 60-65°F?

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It didn’t seemed as if the temperature was appropriate, but it was served at a restaurant so I can’t say with certainty. It could very well have been over 65.

How long did you follow the bottle? I do find some wines can appear ‘hot’ upon opening but do settle down.

If you are a fan of higher proof Bourbons, it’s not uncommon for neat pours to be appear ‘hot’ at first pour, but they do tend to ‘acclimate’ over a few minutes.


Bourbon is a foul and disgusting effluent. The effluent doesn’t ‘acclimate’, the taster’s bludgeoned palate becomes numbed by the assault.

As for the OP, no, alcohol doesn’t integrate. In fact, as fruit fades with age, alcohol becomes more obtrusive, not less.

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There are 90 proof bourbons that are a hot mess and overwhelmed by alcohol burn, and there are 120 proof bourbons that are well-balanced. If the alcohol is disjointed out of the gate, it’s usually a bad sign for wine or bourbon in my experience, but I definitely don’t have deep background in following hot messes over a number of years.

Tell us how you really feel. Don’t hold back. :slight_smile:

Seriously though, I’m not sure if I agree with you. Does the alcohol not integrate? Or do other elements in the wine accentuate or minimize it? My instinct is that it is a moving target, and one of the reasons wine is so intriguing to me.

Right about 1.5 hours, maybe a little longer - seemed like enough time to shake it off, but was still getting the heat with the last drop. My worry is always that I ate something or did something that made it more obtrusive. That said, every 14.5%+ ABV wine I had in SB over the weekend felt noticeable. Maybe Im just more sensitive to it than most.

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+100 (proof). I visited Starlight Distillery in Southern Indiana last month, and tasted through their entire lineup of hooch. I was amazed at how well the higher proof bottlings showed.


Since you asked… I’d rather drink lye; it tastes better and is better for you than bourbon.

Hey All!

Thanks for the invite Patrick! Sorry if this is too ramble-ly and/or is too loosly connected! At least I had a nice glass of wine to help with the writing! :slight_smile:

Sometimes, a wine might seem too tannic or too alcoholic or acidic…and later it doesn’t. Sometimes that happens because the tannins or alcohol changed giving the wine a better balance. Other times, the tannins, alcohol or acids don’t change at all, and other things around it changes to ‘accomodate’ their ‘needs’.

Take skin vs seed tannins. Seed tannins can have chemical structures (e.g. galloylated flavanols) that make the seed tannins extremely tannic and unpleasant. Skin tannins otoh don’t have those…they have other structures that are more mild wrt astringency than seed tannins.

However, in certain conditions, esp long bottle age for example, seed tannins can completely detach from their bitter/astringent/gallo hanger-ons leaving the seed tannin in a more “pure” state, i.e. without the astringency. In this case, the seed tannin becomes a wonderful asset to the wine…one reason that BDX make such an amazing transformation with enough age.

Skin tannins, relative to seed tannins, won’t make such transformations. Their bitter/astringent aspects might be more mild, but they are more longer lasting/permanent and won’t go away like those on seeds do. This, I believe, is why folks in BDX like high temperature fermentations (more seed tannins) and don’t like extended mascerations (more skin tannins and more seed tannins).

Somewhat of an analogy for acidity is mannoproteins, which are proteins (from the lees, i.e. dead yeast cells) that can bind to tartaric acid. Mannoproteins can bind to potassium bitartrate to help it ( the PBT) from precipitating out of solution…but it can also reduce the apparent tartness of the acids.

Woo Hoo


Right on. On the issue of ethanol/ABV it is this odd thing where early on ethanol does take a while to integrate. For example during ferments, and when fortifying wine for port or vermouth everything is out of balance and I feel like I have surely made a mistake. After a month or so it seems better, and after a couple years it is beautiful. But in a red wine situation, it does feel at times that excessive alcohol can get worse over time. In addition to the “heat” sensation, the science does show us that ethanol enhances the perception of bitterness and astringency three times more than tannins and other phenolics. I think this is the challenge with a high ABV wines— it really needs to be loaded with fruit flavor compounds, with good acidity, to stay in balance with the high ethanol. Totally doable as in Port and vermouth, with loads of residual sugar :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: and flavor…