Zinfandel Alcohol creep

Just going through some old labels and laughed when I saw the alcohol levels on these:

How quaint, right?

You could go through some old Cabernet labels and come to the same conclusion.


Oh yeah, that too, but the zins really caught my eye!

Pick up some Hobo. Alcohols in the 12% - 13% range for most vintages.

That’s if you believe what’s in the labels ‘back in the day’ :grin:

Swan is still regularly under 13.

Or how about trying a recent vintage of Carlisle (2013 Papera at 15.3% for instance) and coming to the conclusion that there is more to the story than ABV. This particular Zin is exceptionally balanced with no trace of heat.


I too had visions of Carlisle dancing in my head.

I make a Zin and a Primitivo, both in the 13% range.

What is the residual sugar content?

The Primitivo was picked at 22 brix, and the zin at 23.1…no RS in the wine (and no watering back).

Some % of zin had pink berries (berries just going through veraison) and a few mostly green berries. This is common with zin made at this brix, and I was happy that the percentages here. I think these, in the right percentage, add to the character of the wine.

The primitivo was 100% fully colored up at 22 brix. I was floored when checking the fruit. It seemed crazy to pick Primitivo at 22 brix on the one hand, and crazy not to since it was completely colored up with excellent flavors. Fortunately, the right crazy won out :slight_smile:.

In both cases, there was zero shriveled fruit, and very little dimpling (berries that are beginning to dimple like a golf ball). Shriveled fruit is the biggest source of RS in zin. I’m not a fan of the flavors from fruit in that condition…tho, for riper zin styles, shriveled fruit can add something positive if the vineyard & conditions are managed carefully. For what I was making, shriveled wasn’t going to fit in.

The Primitivo tastes more like a Pinot Noir than a typical Primitivo. The Zin is in a claret style (not the same claret style as Ridge tho), and tastes a bit like a Bolgheri (Italian) Merlot, due mainly to the soil.

there were many high alcohol Zinfandels back in the day.

Back in the 80s there were many 17%+ Zins, it was a style then. Alcohol decline?

In ~1980, I had a boss who was real proud of his Mont Blanc refillable pen.

He would use an opened Cakebread Zin to refill it from time to time… [wow.gif]

IIRC the label was north of 15%; the wine was even higher.

It isn’t just about whether the palate is unbalanced. The difference between 12.5% and 15% alcohol is ingesting 20% more alcohol per sip – 12 grams of alcohol per bottle vs 10. Some of us can really feel the difference.

Zinfandel Alcohol Creep would be a good name for a band.

I had a Ridge Zin from the late seventies a few years ago which was under 11%. It was frankly peculiar.

Zin is not a grape I have a great fondness for, but I do think the best examples need to be a little higher in alcohol than wines made form other grapes. 17% is clearly an aberration, but I think complaining about them when they’re 15% just means you should stick to a different grape.

Or what’s on labels now, for that matter. I’ll believe the alcohol levels once there’s no financial incentive to manipulate them.

I have analyzed alcohol on enough California wines from the '70s and '80s to realize that any conclusions drawn from stated alcohols on labels are meaningless.

What creeps up will most likely creep down.
And then back up again.

To some extent fashion drives the notion of ripe v. under-ripe v. over-ripe.
The 80s were the time of “food wines”, an intentional effort to make lighter wines from less ripe grapes.
Some liked the result, a lot of folks didn’t.

We moved on to “full-flavored wines” thereafter, in part as response to/rejection of what came before. Parker also drove the move to riper wines. And, of course, a LOT of people like riper wines.
Recent efforts have gone into making wines from grapes of lower ripeness, but I don’t know if it reaches the level of a “movement”.
Too, Zin is a cultivar that is somewhat resistant (for viticultural reasons) to such trends.

Of course, the 800 lb gorilla in alc discussions is global warming. Temps are up, and so are grape sugars.
A lot of money is being thrown at ways to make lower alcohol wines in a warming world, everything from yeasts with poor sugar-to-alcohol conversion rates, to clonal selection for extreme late ripening.
I don’t believe California has expended too much effort on this. Guess riper wines or de-alc’d wines are of sufficiently high quality for everyone’s tastes.

And, as Mike says, don’t always believe what you read on a wine label…

True dat, because there is always that fudge factor of 1.5%. I simply thought it funny because I always thought Rosenblum made riper wines and surprised to see one at 13%… I think I need to post some old pricelists.