I went to a wine tasting dinner that featured wines from a small B.C.
producer. The 1st wine was a 2004 pinot gris that had a good blush
colour from being left on the skins. At any rate, without any alcohol
burn feel, the wine 16% alcohol. Isn't that abnormally high for a white
wine? I don't think it was fortified or chapelised.
A 16 percent alcohol white wine is strong, but not as strong as some. I
don't know how unusual that is for a B.C. wine. However, back in the
70s, David Bruce in California made several wines that strong and
stronger. I remember a dry riesling he made that was about 17 percent
alcohol. it was not very well balanced. In addition to having extremely
ripe grapes, great care in fermentation and sometimes selection of
special strains of yeast that tolerate a high alcohol content are
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I made a barrel of 2001 Pinot Grigio in much the same style as the one you
tasted. It had a fair amount of copper color from skin contact, and the
fruit was very ripe at ~25° Brix. It fermented out to about 15% alcohol,
but it has enough fruit and oak that it doesn't seem particularly "hot".
To reach 16% alcohol the Brix in your example wine must have been even
higher than mine. Somewhere around 27° Brix would get it there. For it not
to appear hot on the palate, the fruit must have either been remarkably ripe
OR botrytised to some degree.
The trick is not in getting the fruit to such a degree of ripeness that it
can produce that much alcohol. Late harvest fruit can easily top 30° Brix,
and I've heard numbers in excess of 40°. The difficult part is in getting
the fermentation to go to completion at high Brix.
The effective limit for a non-fortified fermentation is about 18% alcohol or
so. Beyond that the yeast simply poop out and die, leaving whatever
unfermented sugar there is as residual sugar in the resulting sweet wine.
There are only a few yeast strains that are capable of reaching such high
alcohol levels. Montrachet is one, and Prise de Mousse may be another.
Even so, the conditions have to be favorable (temperature, nutrient, oxygen
access) for the yeast to produce such high alcohol without "sticking"
Salut/Hi Tom S,
Unless I'm mistaken, the record for more or less natural yeast strains is
held by a tokay strain, which can ferment a little higher. I suspect that
there are two different abilities required. One is to be able to withstand
the high alcohol levels as the fermentation progresses, before dying. The
other (and this is where the Tokay strain excells iirc) is the ability to
survive and resist the VERY high osmotic pressure on the cell walls caused
by the very high sugar concentrations in the starting must. Given that
Tokaji Aszu Eszencia can start life with 400-500 gms/litre of sugar, there
aren't many yeasts that can withstand it and grow.
I would say that it is high for a BC wine. Can you tell me the name of the
producer? Has it already been released?
IIRC the 2004 summer started off quite warm but then August was cool and
from September on it was pretty normal. Unless this was a late harvest wine
I find it surprising that the alcohol is so high. I haven't seen any
alcohols that high in the 2003's, which was a very warm vintage.