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Nation's taste in wine shifting?

 Posted: 2:00 AM March 12, 2013

Spring is sneaking around the corner. I love this time of year. When the days begin to warm and the sun stays with us a little longer, the lighter, thirst-quenching wines begin to appeal more to our palates. But there's a dizzying array of white and rosé wines available. What should you consider when making a selection?

Alcohol levels are very important to note on white and rosé wines. Unless a wine is designated as "late harvest," the higher the alcohol level, the drier the wine will be. A white or rosé with an alcohol level at more than 12 percent will be dry. One whose level is more than 14.5 percent alcohol probably will smell and taste "hot."

I think that many of the sweeter white and rosé wines, especially if they lack natural acidity, lose varietal integrity and their thirst-quenching quality as the sweetness overwhelms the inherent flavors of specific grape types. This is particularly true with some of the newer-styled chardonnay and pinot gris, which sport some residual sugar.

At the 2013 Newport Seafood and Wine Festival, we found an amazing array of chardonnays with residual sugar and, frankly, many of them simply did not taste like the varietal. Many producers feel the younger generation wants sweeter wines, while older palates are looking for a more traditional approach.

It is an interesting time in the wine world. I, too, am finding in my university wine appreciation class that students' palates tend toward much sweeter wines than those of students 10 years ago.

I have wrestled with this change in preference for some time. What is happening? After polling my students, I found an interesting shift in wine consumption. The older, more experienced wine drinker is consuming wine with cuisine and attempting to pair the two on a variety of levels.

The college student, or "new" palate, is drinking less malt beverage and more wine-based products recreationally. Drinking wine by itself requires less austerity in flavors and a more rounded, less-dry offering with lower alcohol levels as a result. I think the American wine scene is sensing this and beginning to soften many traditional offerings to fit in with this new phenomenon.

To illustrate this change in behavior, I asked my students to bring me empty bottles of what was characteristic of their wine-drinking world. Of the many bottles of wine consumed, none had alcohol levels higher than 10.5 percent, which, of course, meant that all of these wines exhibited some level of sweetness.

I am not a fan of the sweeter, less acidic, unfriendly-to-cuisine offerings, but I understand the value of the winemaker making sales and the new consumer being exposed to something other than malt-based beverages.

My fear is that the future of wine consumption will be a world filled with easy drinking — soft and sugary offerings. Only time will tell.

Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and works there part time. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.


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