A lot of recent debate in the wine world has concerned questions of balance. Are black-fruited Napa Cabernets that weigh in at 15.5% alcohol a sure sign of wrongheaded winemaking, or are they exactly the way they should be? Is Pinot Noir at a less extravagant 12.5% balanced, nuanced and expressive—or is it just sharp, unpleasant and flavor-challenged? I wrote about the issue in my column not too long ago, here, and recently acclaimed winemaker (and man of strong opinions) Sean Thackrey sent me the following open letter, weighing in on the same issue:
It's difficult to understand fads such as this; that is, fads such as the assertion that ‘lower’ alcohol is an expression of subtlety and intellectual complexity and general all-around Frenchness—without reminding ourselves just how much of the wine world is simply a branch of the fashion world, and that ‘low alcohol’ happens to be the anorexic currently on the catwalk.
In fact, good wine is always made from ripe fruit, which means fruit ripe for the wine-maker's particular purpose. Grapes ripe for Champagne are of course less ripe than grapes ripe for Amarone; but they are ripe, not unripe, for their purpose, which thanks to the British invention of the méthode Champenoise in the middle of the 17th century, is to produce an adorable sparkling wine which would no doubt be ruined were the grapes harvested at a higher sugar level.