There is a misunderstanding or should we say prejudice for high alcohol wines, usually with 14.5% abv or above. Many consumers and wine lovers believe that they should avoid them just because the label states for example 15% and conclude in advance that these wines will be very alcoholic and therefore undrinkable.
There is a vogue in our days for more freshness and lighter alcohol in wines
It is not always like this, however, and we think that by isolating just a single information from the label that may not be exactly the truth (there is a 0.5% tolerance in the EU and up to 1.5% in the US) some of the magic of wine is lost. There is the case of a wine with 16% abv hidden in an exceptional way and a wine with only 13% leaving in much greater extent the notorious burning on the tongue. We have drunk Assyrtikos with 14% alcohol that were on fire and Chateauneufs with 16% extremely well balanced. Of course it may go the other way around and it usually does but you can’t tell without tasting it.
Nobody knows what exactly and at which proportions balance alcohol
There is a vogue in our days for more freshness and lighter alcohol in wines, clearly visible with the New World wines’ efforts of Australia, California, etc. to become more delicate. There is no better example of Australian Chardonnays that have shifted their style even close to Chablis in France, homeland of cool climate Chardonnay, producing wines even with less than 12%abv. This is often achieved by harvesting up to 20 days earlier in conjunction with a few to several winemaking interventions.While intentions may be pure, the reality sometimes is quite disappointing with fresher and less alcoholic wines occurring at the expense of flavor depth and producing in the end a more elegant but also flatter wine. On the other hand, if we look in more classic regions such as Bordeaux we can see in ripe vintages alcohol exceeding even 15.5% in a reverse Australian effort that proves nobody is happy with himself. Nobody knows what exactly and at which proportions balance alcohol because balance is like a ghost hiding in the shadows and very difficult to define. But when it is present you can feel all structural elements (fruit, acidity, extract and tannins, oak) in perfect order with nothing highlighted.
It seems that every case is unique. Personally we prefer to appreciate wine as a sum looking beyond solely alcohol or acidity always trying to taste without prejudice to the extent it is possible. True it is not always possible because labels are misleading, but it is worth a try.