They say you can’t argue taste. I believed that until I read a recent column titled Demon Alcohol by The Wine Spectator’s James Laube. In his article he argues that the 2004 Martinelli Zinfandel Giuesppe & Luisa at 16.9% alcohol is a balanced wine. Balanced for what? Perhaps month-old hung wild boar with a sauce of aged Stilton served while you’re smoking a big cigar? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
“If you taste a wine and it seems to be balanced, the alcohol content shouldn’t matter,” writes Laube. I could not agree more, but if someone thinks a dry wine, destined for the dinner table, that has 16.9% alcohol is balanced, I just have to question what their standards of taste are, one thing for sure, they do not mirror my own.
So in this case I will argue taste with Mr. Laube and fundamentally disagree. Balance in wine is not like a balance scale. It does not mean that if there is enough massive big fruit on one side of the scale that it will naturally balance the massive big alcohol on the other. Port is balanced because it has both fruit and sweetness to carry the alcohol, take the sweetness out of Port and you’ll have a raw, harsh wine. Keeping the scale in balance is not so simple and is not dependent on the wine alone, that is unless you believe a wine’s purpose is to be consumed with no accompaniment or, perhaps, only with other wines.
Ultimately it’s true, you can’t argue taste and if Mr. Laube loves the Martinelli Zinfandel at that alcohol level so be it. However, trying to convince the rest of us that such a wine is truly balanced seems to be taking things a bit far. Perhaps it’s understandable. Lord knows what I would write after drinking a wine with 16.9% alcohol.