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Darrell Corti says no to wines over 14.5 percent alcohol

Will wineries listen to Darrell? "With the number of wines that are around, it’s not very difficult to find wines that will fit into a category. … But it’s become more difficult to find wines that are balanced, tasty and are not high in alcohol."

Wine merchant Darrell Corti no longer sells wines over 14.5% alcohol.

"There will be no exceptions."

by Alan Goldfarb
June 17, 2007

Reader Comments... [58]

PR Howard
Paso Robles, Ca
Hooooray for Darryl Corti! I've been screaming the same thing into to the wind for years.

Michael Fallow, Owner
Artisan Wines, San Francisco, CA
Brilliant and finally! And I’m hoping it becomes a trend. The high ripe and high alcohol crowd could use their unsaleable wines to fill a pool party for Parker and the Wine Spectator, et al. Up with balance, complexity and wines appreciated for their diversity of styles.

Andrew Dombrowski, Sommelier
San Francisco, CA
Mr. Corti gets it! I only need cough syrup when I have a cough. I only trust that his customers realize that he is doing them a great service. Great wine that is balanced and leaner ages more gracefully and has a sense of place...terroir, if you will. (I suspect many of the '97 Cabs will crack.)

G. Dodd, consumer
Sequim, WA
Darryl Corte has been so often quoted that he has begun to feel god-like. Since I have libertarian urges I think he should be free to stock whatever he wants. And the consumer may buy from whomever he/she wants.

Peter Le Fort, Owner
Winefax, Huntington Beach, CA
I do not always agree with Darryl Corti, but I do respect his palate & wine wisdom. I agree that a good bottle shared between friends should never be quite enough. Regarding high alcohol levels: I tell folks "I drink wine not alcohol", over 13.5% is excessively high for table wine.

Marc Kauffman, Sales Manager Americas
Novembal, a Tetra Pak company, San Francisco, CA
I think Darryl is way off base on this one. I have known and respected Darryl for years. I always appreciated his knowledge and his sense of humor. But this decision arbitrarily limits Darryl's ability to sell a broader range of products to his customers. One word should suffice to prove the point: TURLEY. Turley Vineyards produces what are some of the best Zinfandels in California, all over 14.5% alcohol. These wine are well balanced and full of rich fruit. Sorry Darryl, you are going to be the big loser on this one.

Ryan Leeman, Winemaker
Van Ruiten Family Winery, Lodi, CA
A better trend I would like to see is only American wines sold in American wine markets. The best wines in the world are from America!

San Francisco, CA
I would not value someone’s stance on wine that refers to his customers as "bitching and complaining."

Terry Hughes, Blogger
New York
Speaking of Ms. (Jancis) Robinson, there was quite a lot of controversy surrounding Darryl's move. I (in the guise of my Veronese friend Giampiero Nadali, who actually paid for the subscription) applauded this move as a line in the sand or whatever other cliché you wish to use. Many felt that it was "censorship" and somehow an offense to Liberty -- their anger was misdirected of course -- and they made reference to Parker's snit. The old boy's losing it. This is a bold, smart move, and I think it's high time someone did it. That it was someone who is widely known and respected makes it all the more credible and defensible, including from a market POV. Bravissimo, Darryl. Evviva Frappato!

Red Wine Rick, Winemaker
Paso Robles, CA
Well, first of all I would like to say wine is subjective and the opinion of one man is subjective.

In Paso Robles a lot of wines carry higher alcohol but they are made that way to balance out the natural acidity due to very cold nights. We have to let the sugar levels rise enough to balance out the natural acidity which converts into higher alcohol wines than other growing regions. Paso Robles wines have grown in popularity due to our fun and casual atmosphere in the region – and the quality of wines and winemaking has risen due to the understanding of our 40 to 50 degree temperature swings. Our hot days and cold nights combined with calcareous soils have proven to be one of the World's greatest winegrape growing regions. You may fine higher alcohol wines in Paso Robles than other growing regions but to achieve physiological maturity in our fruit the sugar levels have to be high to balance that natural acid locked in the fruit from our cold nights.

Enough said about that. After being in retail for over 20 years and tasting 1000's of wines I came to realize there are lots of good wines, bad wines and wines that should never have been bottled. But I would carry the wines that I tasted and enjoyed with an open mind. To close your mind and pallet and product selection based on alcohol percentage is absurd. It's your store and I applaud you for making a stand but keep an open mind. Just because a wine has higher alcohol does not mean it's not elegant and out of balance. It might not be for you and your store but customers should have the right to make that decision and hopefully they will make the decision to buy their wines at a more fun and casual open minded store.

Brad, Alderson
Winemaker, Lodi, CA
Bravo, I am so tired of wines of this style. You have to add water or an ice chip to ever drink them and even then are they really enjoyable? While we are at it, let's talk about the use of excessive added tannins that are also part of the same trend. Monolithic indistinguishable wines, …yuck!

Tom Casagrande, wine drinker
Houston, TX
I LIKE big, ripe, full-bodied Zins! I suppose if I were in Corti's area I'd drop in and see if he could recommend Zins in that style that were under 14.5, and I'd taste them with an open mind. But I've noticed that the Zins I like are at least 14.1, and the ones I find too angular and tart tend to have lower alcohol levels than that. So my admittedly non-scientific experience leads me to seek out Zins that are between 14 and 16%. Still, it's his store, and he can do as he pleases. As to Cabernets, I'd be more likely to agree with his policy. I think they tend to get too jammy, flabby, and out of balance over 14.5. Still, categorical rules like this seem kind of silly. If I were a high profile wine guy, I'd be more likely to use my soapbox to advocate requiring wineries to disclose whether they used manipulative techniques (like reverse osmosis) to lower the alcohol of already fermented wines. I like to search out non-manipulated wine (and food), and I would welcome such truth-in-labeling.

Brian Croser, Winemaker
Tapanappa Wines Pty Ltd, Piccadilly Valley, South Australia
Great man, great thoughts and actions. Darrell has always understood and been an advocate of the essential quality of finesse in wine. Through the finesse of a great wine shines the imprint of the vineyard unsullied by the heat of alcohol, the thickness of tannin and the confection of oak that is suffocating terroir in so many "me too" wines. BJC.

Ann Marie, customer
Orland, CA
Thank you for your article. Darrell Corti exemplifies what the American business owner used to be about. Flavor and quality in a product and free to buy or sell what one likes. Hurray for you Mr. Corti. All I personally seek in wine is a good tasting low alcohol wine that can be paired with a delicious meal. Al Italia!

Louis, Resort Beverage Director
Bravo Mr. Corti. It is about time someone stood up to wineries making wines to please the palate of one or two critics. I remember doing a 61/82 Bordeaux tasting and was amazed at the beauty of some 61's (Margaux and Lafite) and amazed at the lack of balance in all the 82's. Once again Bravo!

Steve Mirassou, Wine lover
Livermore Valley, CA
Darrell is not only the leading authority on Italian wines but on ALL things. He was setting trends in the 1960s and now, 40 years later, he's still doing it. You go Darrell, I agree 100%.

~ Steve.

Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant
SidewaysWineClub.com & Tastes of the Valleys, San Francisco and Solvang, CA
I'm with Darrell! I give him kudos for putting his money where his (well-trained and well-traveled!) palate is. But I also think Parker and his ilk (those who daily taste dozens of wines without the benefit of food or contemplation -- a setting where big wines invariably elbow out elegant wines) have created a market. Note the Turley comment in item #6, above -- exactly the sort of wine those on Darrell's side of the argument find dreadfully undrinkable. When I am tasting alongside today's wine youth (the up and coming 20 and 30-somethings who will inherit the wine world once the likes of Darrell and I are long gone) I frequently and regularly suggest a given wine is overblown and unpleasant. They look at me with the same sad, bemused look I used to give my Dad every time he insisted good music ended with Glenn Miller. Sigh. Please keep shouting in the wind, Darrell. Someday it will change direction.

~ Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant -- SidewaysWineClub.com and Tastes of the Valleys

Bob Miller, Counselor
Mission College, San Jose, CA
Bravo Darrell! Having spent over 30 yrs in the wine industry starting in the late 60's I have seen the high alcohol fads come and go a couple of times. It is a rare wine over 14.5% that is truly balanced and drinkable. To "Dan" in SF (comment #8), you show your lack of knowledge of one of the best wine merchants and palates in the US. To Tom in Texas (comment #12), one day your palate will become experienced enough to see the real value of excellent Zins that are under 14.5% for their drinking pleasure, not just to get a glass of alcohol. :-) My experience in aging high alcohol reds is that the vast majority do not age well.

Keep up the good work Darrell!

Scott Miller, Partner
Willie's Restaurants, Houston, Texas
Mr. Corti, though well informed, seems to be a bit on the left of this issue. If you are going to make your living dealing with the public, you will have to answer to their wishes. Since the King of France no longer dictates the market for wine, Mr. Corti would be remiss to think that his buying public has no say. Wine consumption is 10 fold over the last 10 years thanks in large part to people such as Mr. Parker who have "suggested" to the buying public that they try these wines that he recommends. Without people like Mr. Parker and the demands of the "buying public" Mr. Corti and his family business do not exist.

Greg Masset, Winemaker
Masset Winery, Yakima, WA
First off, besides being a winemaker, I am an Executive Chef as well (just so you can understand that I see wine from the dinner side of the table). I agree that wines with moderate alcohol are much easier to match with a meal (as wine should be), and all the wines I make come in at 13.5% or slightly less -- for this very reason. I cannot agree, however, that wine above an arbitrary point are to be deemed unsaleable. Why 14.5%? The government says 14% is the cut off for a table wine, right? Why say that if it's Amarone it's the style, why can't Zin have a high alcohol style? It is absolutely the right of a storekeeper to carry product that he believes in etc. but sometimes a cocktail wine is what is called for.

Joel Backman, Consumer
San Francisco, CA
Bravo! If only more Americans consumed more wine with their meals this higher alcohol, fruit forward style would not have gained momentum...try pairing some of these beasts with a meal!

Thomas Houseman, Winemaker
Anne Amie Vineyards, Carlton, OR
I applaud Darrell for his stance. As a winemaker who started his career in California making Zinfandel and being exhausted after tasting through the cellar, I realized that not only did the alcohol affect my judgment as a winemaker, but it was not a natural winemaking style. Ripe, high alcohol styles require some very invasive winemaking techniques. Alcohol and VA removal are commonplace. Does wine really need to be split apart and put back together by spinning cone or reverse osmosis? Without machines these ripe wine styles could not be achieved. I am happy I saw the light early in my career and decided to follow a different path -- one that revolves around graceful, low intervention wines from cooler wine regions. To address Mr. Leeman's (comment #7) response -- while wonderful wines are indeed made in the United States, your view is both provincial and disappointing. Where do you think your vinifera came from originally? There is much to be learned from wines from other regions. Get your head out of the sand!

Mark Holloway, Medical Doctor
RxM Red Pty Ltd, Perth Western, Australia
My concern is that alcohol percentage on a wine label does not tell the full story. In Australia much of our red wine production exceeds 14.5% due to our high sunshine levels. Our labels do not have to reflect this and by law can vary by up to 1.5% alc. concentration, without penalty. Does the same apply in the USA? I dealcoholize my own wine using a technique of reverse osmosis, reducing from an average of 14.5% to 13%. My reason is not just the taste profile but a genuine concern for reducing the total amount of drug consumption amongst my customers. My bottles are only 500 mL, meaning a total of 50 g of alcohol in order to minimize the potential harm to the consumer.

~ Dr Mark Holloway

Ken P, asst. winemaker
Santa Cruz, CA
Bravo, Darrell. The difficult work is being heard above the roar of Wine Spectator and Parker. New wine drinkers, 21 to 30, are arguably the most important demographic. They will drive winemaking trends. What bothers me is the noise generated by WS and P. It’s like the film 'Jesus Camp': get'em while they're young. What is a newbie to do when confronted by 'scores', so freshly reminiscent of their high school and college days, and shouted at them by these aged WS-P(y) cheerleaders from brick-and-mortar shelves and websites of wine-selling concerns? Everybody wanted Heather, the consummate wasp. Everybody wanted a 95. Now you can buy both in a bottle.

More seriously, education of the palate is the key. The very few established critical voices have the upper hand here. How to resist? Well, contrarian, deviant and refuseniks of the WS-P(y) status quo must organize tastings of wines with lower alc, unmanipulated (as far as it can be ascertained: outfits like Smith's Vinovation lurk everywhere, like the KGB of old), and of smarter wines, from throughout the Old and New worlds. Blogs must walk the walk. Retailers, like Darrell Corti, have hit upon a complementary approach. Risky business. Kudos. One notion stands true: the dictatorship of the palate by WS-P must be broken!

Diana Privara, Programmer
State job, Sacramento, CA
I totally agree, 14 % is too much alcohol. I do not drink wine to get drunk, I drink it with dinner. That is why it's called table wine.

Richard Fong, Court Reporter (ret.)
U.S. District Courthouse, Sacramento, CA
I noticed in the last year the increase in the alcoholic content of wines and am in agreement with you. It is getting out of hand. Taste and balance is the priority; not getting a high buzz. Stick to the hard stuff if that is one’s goal!!!!!

David Moore, Co-Owner
Moore Brothers Wine Company, NJ / DE / NY
Bravo -- and good "catch" with Mr. Parker. In Italian or French, there is no word that equals "winemaker." If people who produce these alcoholic monsters did their work in the vineyard, they wouldn't have to "make" what's called "wine."

Rhoda Stewart, Author, "A Zinfandel Odyssey"
Publ.: PWV journal, Napa, CA
My "bravo," to Darrell for taking such a useful stand. Although I have a few 14.5% alcohol Zins in my cellar from a few favorite producers, I find myself rooting about for those under 14% wines for my daily glass with dinner (like a nice little Côtes du Rhône). I have become very partial to the Madirans of France (they are robust reds with an earthy, dark fruit/cassis character and a stiff tannin backbone, reminiscent of some early under 14% Zins), and a purchase last June in Paris of a 1995 Cuve Prestige from Chateau Montus with label alcohol of 12.5% proved to be an enormous hit at a dinner for my house watching neighbors upon my return. Now that's a wine I wish I had a couple of cases of! Shows that a robust, full-flavored red wine doesn't need to knock you under the table to be memorable. Or empty your pocket book. I paid 38 Euros for it in Paris.

Joe Varga, former merchant
Orange County,CA
Darrell Corti, How much wine has Parker sold? People in the US started to pay attention to better wines with the coming of Parker. The Wine Spectator does a good job on wine news but the serious buyer pays attention to Parker and HIS WINE MERCHANT.

R Elliott, consumer
Perth, Australia
I agree in part. If you want a big ripe wine to splash down by the BBQ then that's OK. Its rich, and ready with soft ripe tannins. Where the issue arises is in those wines which get rave reviews upon release and are bought to cellar. They just can't because they lack balance; the tannins are already too developed, acid too low, alcohol too high. They also loose terroir. The biggest problem you have in stocking stuff by the alcohol level on the label is that I've found quite a few wines from France and Italy which are now following the trend and lying on the labels to meet appellation requirements. The new world is at least more honest.

Don Brady, Winemaker
Robert Hall Winery, Paso Robles, CA
Three Cheers for Darrell [Corti] and Randy [Dunn]!!! These 14.5+% wines are a threat to our business. I have heard this class of wines called cocktail wines because that is their most appropriate use. A glass by itself taken in place of a Jack and Coke. This is a dangerous road to go down. I believe we will all be better served with a focus on vineyard balance to mature our grapes at reasonable sugar levels not using over-ripe flavors to mask the misery of poorly grown grapes.

Berkeley, CA
Hooray. Those high alcohol wines give me and everyone else a headache.

AIFW member, CA
The dining experience including the sensation & tastes of food & wine is enhanced with the Corti Philosophy. The subtleties & variances of food composition work with lower alcohol wines. The higher alcohol dominates & diminishes the sensuality of the food/wine experience. CHEERS TO CORTI!

Dennis, Wine Librarian
South County Quaffers, the OC
Mr. Corti has his widely-respected opinion and others have theirs.....the marketplace is the ultimate Determinator, in one sense. I ask that we all guard against becoming too 'precious'. This only makes us look like effete fools to those who just simply live, eat, and drink for nothing more than pleasure's sake....what a concept!

Dr. Richard Grant Peterson, owner/winemaker
Richard Grant Wine, Napa, CA
I agree with Darrell Corti and Randy Dunn and am telling everyone I know about the folly of 15% alcohol in what otherwise is intended as "table wine." Those wines aren't easy to drink -- with or without food. One other thing: most of these wines have very high pH levels as well, which is a defect even more destructive to table wines than too high alcohol levels. Unless the winemaker is lucky, his table wine, bottled at pH levels near 3.9 will not age well in the bottle. In fact, most pH 3.8 or 3.9 wines will taste old, over the hill and oxidized within a very few years -- regardless of how much SO2 is added at bottling.

Mike Pollard, Blogger
San Diego, CA
"There will be no exceptions." Really! I can think of a few that Darrell Corti has made:

1.) Corti will continue to sell Amarone (can be over 16.5% alcohol) because they are made that way. Which suggests that other winemakers make high alcohol wines by accident!

2.) Corti will sell wines above 14.5% if a customer asks for it. Just ask Mike Officer about the call he got from Corti seeking to buy one of his Zinfandels. Carlisle wines are not alcohol shy, and not below 14.5%. The 2003 Sonoma County Zin I had last week was 15.8%!

3.) If Darrell Corti is served a wine above 14.5% and he likes it he may buy it. After all, as he said, I made the rule, I can break it.

Are any of the anti-high alcohol group posting here aware of The Sydney International Wine Competition? Founded in 1982, wines in this competition are assessed blind beside appropriate food, by a highly qualified international panel of wine professionals who offer you their personal opinions. The 2007 winner was the 2004 Neagles Rock One Black Dog Reserve Cabernet Shiraz. The Neagles won the trophy for its category (Fuller Bodied Dry Red Wines) plus trophies for Best Red Table Wine of Competition and Best Wine of Competition. Weighing in at 15% alcohol only one of the six reviewers found the wine just a little bit hot. Others said “it showed especially well against the beef structurally…The palate has nice oak and fruit integration and quite a bit of finesse on the finish, opening up further with the food…A pleasure to drink…A great match…Well balanced…Delicious flavors…The beef was complemented very nicely with this wine.”

The bias against wines based on their alcohol level does very little credit to any wine maker or wine drinker.

Dave Marra, Wine Retailer
Co. Clare, Ireland / Detroit, MI
Mr. Leeman [comment #7], thank you for making yourself known to me. You can now guarantee yourself that I will never buy or drink a bottle of your wine. Your attitude is deplorable. Mr. Casagrande [comment #12], I agree with your position on the labeling of manipulative techniques. I avoid wines that use these techniques whenever possible and more transparency would be very welcome. Processed food is labeled as such and so should wine. Wine comes from nature, not a lab. Good work, Mr. Corti! While this is an extreme position, and sometimes I do taste "big Zins," I think the current trend of extreme alcohol must be countered with an extreme "anti-alcohol bomb" stance. No more fake wines! No more industrial wines! No more manipulated wines!

John Barford, wine writer
WinetheBasics.com, England
Bravo Mr Corti -- let me add my support to your crusade. As someone who has been passionate about wine for nearly 50 years I agree that you lose all subtlety at these high alcohol levels. And it takes years to mature them properly. Well done.

Tom Hedges, Owner
Hedges Family Estate, Red Mountain AVA, WA
Darrell, you have become my new hero. Since I have not trademarked the term, you are welcome to call the 14.5-plus wines "Bimbo wines"; they may be very attractive at first glance, in a bar, but you wouldn't want to have them for dinner! In the old days, with "reasonable" alcohol, one could be mentally transported to the terroir of the wine, you could even guess the grape varieties: not with Bimbo wines! If you become more popular than Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator, the fine wine consumer will have won perhaps the most important battle ever.

Kzem, Wines Sales Consultant
Distributor, New Jersey
A noble gesture to try and turn his customers’ palates. Unfortunately, some people enjoy hurting themselves and if Mr. Conti will not provide the $50 fire water someone else will, and his business loses the sale and quite possibly the customer.

Nick, consumer of california wine
Bay Area, CA
It’s too bad that this business [Corti Bros] will be turning its back on so many local wineries... this is California!! Consumers LIKE ripe full bodied wines!! They LIKE fruit in their wine!! As a local business owner and consumer I choose to shop with local businesses that support California made... your choice. I wonder how many wines from California Mr. Corti saw being sold in Italy? Very few, if any, I suspect. Consumers please send this guy a message and shop at a business that supports California grown & made.

Roger Carrillo, Consumer
Tucson, AZ
Years ago in the 70's when I was a young man living in Sacrament Darrell taught me what it was to drink fine wine! I applaud his courage and those that say he is not supporting California or America need to open their hearts as well as their minds.

Alan Boehmer, Feature Writer
Suite 101.com/New World Wine, Los Osos, CA
Bravo, Darrell!

Thanks for stemming the tide in a way that might make a difference. Fermenting overripe grapes to achieve enhanced flavor and higher alcohol undermines the principal function of table wine. I hope other retailers will follow suit.

Pete Hoffmann, Vineyard Manager / Winemaker / Consultant
Sebastiani Vineyards, Aum Cellars, Eagle and Rose, Napa, CA
Bravo. Wine and Food is a marriage. Why drink wine without food? I congratulate Mr. Corti. I feel the winds of change beginning to bend the tall grasses and shake the leaves of the live oaks here in Napa and Sonoma.

Phil, merchant
Yippee!!! The only wine I could see receiving a potential pass would be Zin and maybe Syrah, but I would limit those to 15% and under. I've tasted some really nice, elegant Zins that were up there.

I'd have to ask an attorney friend of mine with regards to "intention", but, people who are making 14.5 Pinots and Chards (for example) are INTENTIALLY going for the SUV style of winemaking... which equates to number chasing... It's a "style thing" for them... treating delicate varieties like Pinot with all the muscle and "mature flavor profiles" of say Zin. Shrivel does not equal flavor. Pinot Producers: DO NOT claim to have respect for Pinot and then neglect the fruit on the vine only to then finally pick the shriveled decimated bunches at 25.5 (or higher!) and then think you can reconstitute the overly ripe fruit with H2O de la hose and various bags of acid waiting at the crush pad. YOU ALL SHOULD BE ASAHMED of yourselves!!!!!

And to top it off, there's guys like ‘Speculator’ and Parker who AWARD (ultimately rewarding) you for making viscous, overly oaked style Pinots that have enough jet-fuel in them to fire up Airforce One. Some of the very highest rated Cal Pinots have pH's as high as 3.85!!! The kinda wine that will fall apart within a few years... but sure tastes good now, right? What a farce the California Pinot Noir arena has become.

Yvonne, house wife
New York
I agree with Darrell Corti on above 14.5% alcohol wines. You can get tired quickly. Buy wine for yourself, not because of a rating. Don’t pay for a rating, you’re just paying Robert Parker.

Eric, Winemaker/VP
Ridge Monte Bello ...a true Mountain Winery, Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
This is truly commendable and should benefit consumers who are after balanced age-worthy wines for their collections. I wonder if Corti Brothers will do independent alcohol analysis of the wines they chose. Let's face it, there is a lot of deceptive alcohol reporting on both sides of the pond. European producers are probably the most lax on accurate reporting. Plus they round everything to a half-percent (They tend to round down, 15% could be reported as 14.5%). With the backlash towards high alcohol content, our domestic winemakers here are more likely fooling around with their numbers too. The TTB gives producers +/– 0.5% leeway on alcohol reporting for wines above 14%, and +/– 1.0% for under 14%. It's just going to be difficult for Corti Brothers to rely on the label for correctness of alcohol content. They probably should drop their limit down to wines under 14%. There is much more government oversight (due to higher tax rate for 14.00%) to verify truthful alcohol reporting. The government does not want to miss out on tax revenue and so they scrutinize and analyze wines being reported as under 14% to catch those wineries trying to evade tax payment. No producer wants that kind of trouble, so they avoid mis-stating alcohol when it's under 14%.

On a separate note, congratulations to Darrel for his nomination into the CIA/Greystone Vintner Hall of Fame. What an awesome achievement.

Sacramento, CA
Mike Pollard [comment #36] -- to answer your rhetorical question...You probably should have looked closer at some of the previous comments. I think You will find Brian Croser is rather familiar with most of the important wine events in Australia. You also may want to consult Darrell on the issue -- he has a rather good understanding of the Australian wine scene too.

Trey Busch, Winemaker/Owner
Sleight of Hand Cellars, Walla Walla, WA
Bummer for Darrell that he won't be carrying any Amarones, then. Does the fact that he is missing the boat on wines from the likes of Giusseppi Quinterrelli (who arguably makes some of the worlds greatest wines, and they are over 15%) and others bother him? Probably not, and like someone said earlier, it is a free country and he can stock what he likes. The market will decide. I am just opposed to a blanket statement and set number for the wines he will carry. How about simply taste all the wines and determine if they are balanced, then stock them on the shelf? Now there's an idea!

John Frost
Seattle, WA
Gutsy move Mr. Corti! You are a luddite in every (good) sense of the word as it was first intended. A man of principles. I agree with his decision in general and have always detested high alc wines. But that's just me and I understand that other drinkers might differ. I've observed on various trips to Italy that the lower alcohol wines are sought out and crowd pleasers because you can revel in more wine with less of a buzz. And there are so many good ones, as with wines from other zones. Of course some might feel that 14.5% is too arbitrary, but you have to draw the line somewhere. It would be better if the industry self-regulated rather than force sellers/consumers to have to do it. While uptight Spectator wine snobs (you know who you are) & corporate wineries might prefer these alcohol laden wines, that's not the majority of American drinkers. Personally, I'm inclined to switch to gin or scotch than drink wine over 15%. And anyone who dislikes Mr. Conti's decision is free to go buy elsewhere. It's not being forced on anyone, folks.

Fred Scherrer, Proprietor
Scherrer Winery, Sebastopol, CA
Retailers are certainly free to choose what to carry in order to better serve their customers. There is room for all styles. Corti Bros. has merely identified itself as a lower-octane outlet. Ties and skirts change over the years, anyway.

Chris Whitcraft, Owner/winemaker
Whitcraft Winery, Santa Barbara, CA
I've known Mr. Corti for 30 years and hold him in high regard but I never thought he would believe everything he reads, i.e. the label! A 14.5% wine could be 14% to 15.45% and still be legal! My labels are honest but I know of many that aren't even close. Judge a wine by the label? Never.

Saso Velkov, Export Manager
Tikves Winery, Macedonia
Bravo for Mr. Corti. Definitely it is becoming a trend in the world’s wine consumption, with higher consumer wine knowledge and education. More important is the fact that he sees it, I hope, from the consumer’s point of view, having in mind his valuable everyday experience and communication in the store. After all, the main idea in the wine business is to make wines that our valued consumers will like and enjoy (and buy, of course). That's why wine is so beautiful and unique, but, don't forget the most important thing in the wine world today: vive la difference! Modern open minded wine consumers today are enjoying a rich palate of varieties, styles, regions, and appellations -- and that's what makes the wine world so beautiful. It's up to winemakers now to offer, as Mr. Corti says, wines that are tasty, balanced and not so high in alcohol. But let’s not be so exclusive this time, and leave the people who enjoy this type of wine without their pleasure. These are not ‘everyday’ wines, I will call them, maybe, ‘once in a few months’ wines, like going to an Indian restaurant with hot and spicy food, or a caloric bomb chocolate cake, that we all enjoy from time to time. Extremes are here to feel the harmony better.

H. George

I love these self-proclaimed experts like Darrell Corti who feel it is their business to crusade on the part of the consumer. I guess I will not be visiting his store any time soon. Oh that's right his store is in that bastion of innovation and culture, Sacramento, California. So exactly how is anything Darrel Corti says relevant? Unfortunately for those who live in Sacramento I guess you will have to find another store that lets you buy things that you want and not what a dinosaur like Darrell decides is proper for you.

Robert van der Vijver, winemaker
Van der Vijver Estate, Somerset, CA
Even though I am not a fan of high alcohol wines, I find it ignorant to set an absolute for everything. Apparently Mr. Corti finds himself so wonderful and all knowing he can treat his customers like idiots, or as in my wife's case, ignore them completely in his store and not assist her at all. We will no longer be a customer.

Paul, consumer
Bay Area, CA
Major props to Darrell Corti for taking a stand. Props to Tom Hedges [comment #39], Don Brady [comment # 31], Thomas Houseman [comment #22], Greg Massett [comment #20] and Pete Hoffmann [comment #44]; winemakers who have commented on this and agree. It is great to see so many comments agreeing with this article and letting these winemakers know their sticking with tradition and making wine the correct way is appreciated and recognized.

As for Paso Robles needing higher alcohol to balance out the acidity [comment #10], that is incorrect. My parents recently opened up a 1977 Estrella wine from that area and it was a very low alcohol wine.

None of these high alcohol wines will be worth cellaring more than 5 to 7 years at the very most.

Anna Maria Knapp, Owner
Celebrations Wine Club, San Rafael, CA
We specialize in Californian and Italian wines, so I'm super conscious of the high alcohol-lower acid syndrome, typical of Californian wines, versus lower alcohol-higher acid wines, typical of Italy and Europe in general.

Personally, I almost always take home Italian wines for household consumption because I think too many California producers have gone off the deep end with high alcohol wines, purposefully letting grapes dehydrate on the vine before harvesting them. But clearly many people, especially newer wine enthusiasts, prefer big, inky wines, probably because they're sweet and smooth even though you can't tell the difference between a Cab and a Zin at 15% alcohol.

My mantra in the newsletters that accompany our wines is that consumers absolutely need to read labels and find the alcohol content of a wine, because those tiny numbers have become the single most important predictor for what's in that bottle. We all deserve to make or drink what we like. But sometimes what we think we like is simply what is familiar, and especially younger people have had no opportunity to experience California wines with moderate alcohol levels. The California wines that won the Paris Tasting back in the day and established themselves as the best in the world and were just as good 30 years later were 12.5% alcohol, not 15%.

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