Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Alcohol, Part 1: A Tiger Is Cuddly Once You Punch His Teeth Out

Here are some tasting notes:

  • Fre Alcohol Removed Brut: Yellow-green with seltzery bubbles. Interesting green tea aromas turn into reductive burnt match after a few sniffs. Big yellow apple hit on the midpalate (this is all midpalate). Very low acid. Don't take "Brut" literally--this would probably be demi-sec if labeling rules applied.
  • Fre Alcohol Removed Chardonnay: Peach-heavy nose. Watery and off-dry, evokes the apple juice served at snack time in first grade.
  • Fre Alcohol Removed Merlot: Sweet-smelling with a little unfortunate vinyl. Juicy and a little sugary like the others. Decent acid balance. Mellow structure, not much in the way of tannins.
  • Inglenook "St. Regis" Alcohol Removed White Zinfandel: Hate to join the White Zin gang-tackle, but there isn't much to recommend this. If wine is bottled poetry like the famous Napa welcome sign says, this pink stuff is "There Once Was A Man From Nantucket..."

The contempt these products elicit from everyone who doesn't already drink them is thicker than trockenbeerenauslese.

To prestige hounds, it's for the peasants like every other wine available at Safeway. To would-be critics and somms, it's excruciating to acknowledge they even exist. Drink water, soda, methanol, anything else--just please stop pretending you're drinking wine. To pregaming woogirls who don't like carbs, what's the point, bitch?

Per my little bench trial, they are in fact not much fun to drink. But hey, at the $6-$7 price point nothing is kicking their tail too hard in measures of aroma and taste. Cheaply-fermented grape juice is cheaply-fermented grape juice, not much variance in any direction you wander.

The collateral damage would obviously be severe dragging finished La Tache through a reverse osmosis torture chamber until its alcohol is scourged away (doesn't that thought just ruin your day?). Fre, to understate the crap out of things, doesn't have as much to lose.

About the only thing it does have to lose is the portkey to drunk. And here's a black fly for ya, Alanis, to lose it is its reason for existing. It may or may not be fair to assume that non-alcoholic wines were born of an attempt to chisel an odd niche into the adult beverage market. Like, something for people who want to keep alcohol out of their bloodstream but are happy with anything that has the essential sweet/sour/bitter balance of wine. Or for whatever reason wish to be observed holding a goblet containing translucent red, yellow, or pink liquid.

Evidently the gambit worked since these are not new products and there has been plenty of time for them to join Crystal Pepsi and (real) Four Loko in the great recycling plant in the sky. The profit margin is intuitive enough: Schwag grapes bought at high volume, probably not chauffeured around the winery by sparkling new Waukesha pumps, very probably not punched down by hand 4x/day, certainly not luxuriating in fresh-off-the-boat Seguin-Moreau barriques for two years before finally cannonballing into the punch bowl.

Also, the cost of an RO or vacuum distillation or spinning cone setup has to be largely offset by the feel-good PR the makers can claim by having a gentle pony in their stable. Drug pushers? Us? And all that really matters is that people are buying them, though aside from myself twenty-four hours before breaking ground on this post, I'm not sure who they are. I do know a handful of disciplined folks who "don't drink", and they "don't drink" this stuff either.

Once again, the silent majority sticks it to the smartasses and gets their representation.

The contempt for non-alcoholic wines will continue to sizzle. And like most contempt, it accomplishes little except making the people spewing it look like dickheads. If there is an error sloshing around inside all these bottles, it's the attempt to bisect the pleasure of drinking wine into

Pleasure from aroma/flavor | Pleasure from alcohol

and then snap the wishbone. You can't pull these two things apart and not expect to taste the trauma. They're not the same, but in the fabric of wine their fibers are tangled together somewhere. Tugging until they separate leaves a ragged mess.

I don't blame producers like Ariel for trying to create NA wines that can run with the Clydesdales (because in winemaking anything is worth a try if you can afford it), but there's a point--that has probably already been reached--where they can't get any better. Seriously intending to take the alcohol out of wine and still have it taste amazing is like trying to rewrite DNA code with a fat crayon.

Texture, the underappreciated lug, is toothless and predictable without alcohol's oily velvet. And a little post-swallow heat on your breath does a lot to bind otherwise disjointed flavor elements in to the mystery we call "finish". On the molecular level, I'll bet the Barolo under my sink that at least a few other essential compounds get the Brundlefly treatment when their alcohol is yanked out.

And let's pretend for a second none of the above is true at all. Let's pretend Latour and Montrachet and Grange would taste exactly the same without alcohol. Or let's pretend there was the same profound enjoyment to be had and the same lifetime of curiosity to indulge drinking the different varieties of Snapple. Would wine occupy the place it does in our minds, in our mouths, in our economies, in our lives?



Sam Timberg said...

I am fairly uncomfortable even reading about NA wines. In fact, I may go chug a bottle of Indaba to get the bad taste out of my mouth. But, through the tough subject matter your writing continues to impress.

JBH said...

indaba shiraz killed it at my bbq this past sunday.

Tim Hanni MW said...

"White Zin gang-tackle, but there isn't much to recommend this. If wine is bottled poetry like the famous Napa welcome sign says, this pink stuff is "There Once Was A Man From Nantucket..."

There once was a lass from Nantucket

Who drank her White Zin from a bucket.

How silly to think

Its uncouth to drink pink

To my morals I now just say "@%ck it!"

JBH said...

Und billionaire gourmand Berliner
Sought perfection with his foie gras dinner
Cristal was a dud
Petrus turned to mud
Humble White Zin was the winner

Thanks for stopping by Tim, I hope I didn't misrepresent anything.

Tim Hanni MW said...

All is OK by me- thanks for asking! Working on a dealcoholized wine development project as we speak as well. go figure.