April 27, 2007
Hot Wines a Hot Topic

Two days ago, I posted an item here about Sacramento grocer Darrell Corti's decision to no longer stock California table wines with more than 14.5 percent alcohol.

Online reaction to Corti's impatience with hot table wines has been illuminating, showing the best and the worst that cyberspace can contribute to public debate. To see how Corti's decision has stirred up wine enthusiasts, visit this chat on the Web site of the esteemed wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr.

Scrolling through the comments can get tedious, with many commentators going far off point, but stick with it and you will find remarks that thoughtfully expand on the issue. Even Parker himself weighs in, calling Corti's stand "apallingly stupid, frighteningly arbitrary, and like some part of a police state's mentality to me." He is quick to note, however, that Corti Brothers is Corti's store and that Corti is free to run it as he pleases, a detail that seems to have eluded several people weighing in on the matter elsewhere in the thread.

I'm rather glad to see Corti draw this particular line, even though I've tasted several table wines that while high in alcohol, even at 17 percent, nonetheless were balanced and alluring. I could see myself enjoying them with this or that dish, though perhaps for just one glass. Corti Brothers, at any rate, long has prided itself on personally choosing its wines, looking for releases virtually guaranteed to provide shoppers with interest and value. The pleasure of shopping for wine at Corti Brothers is that the selection has a personality that while somewhat eccentric also is captivating. You sense that someone with a history and a palate has assembled the inventory, not someone who is being guided by the points given wines by a critic. As appallingly stupid and frighteningly arbitrary as that method of wine marketing is, it does seem the practice at several wine shops these days, to judge by the eagerness with which clerks talk numbers.

At any rate, Corti, it turns out, isn't the first wine merchant to take a position on the increasingly high alcohol level in table wines. Earlier this year, representatives of the United Kingdom supermarket chain Marks & Spencer, sensing consumer backlash against table wines with more alcohol than traditionally found in the genre, announced that it would start stocking more wines with 12 percent rather than 14 percent alcohol, reported this piece by the magazine Decanter. I have a feeling that this whole issue of high-alcohol wines is just starting to warm up.

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