Ask Wine Wizard

High Alcohol Wine


Ron Bas — Escondido, California asks,

I picked up 500 lbs. (227 kg) of Syrah from Paso Robles, California. I was told the Brix was 26.2 at 52 °F (11 °C). After bringing the grapes home and cold soaking for two days, the Brix shot up to 30, per my hydrometer. Instead of adding water, I decided to ferment. I had a successful fermentation after seven days. I adjusted the pH, pressed and introduced malolactic bacteria. The wine is in a barrel and actually has some dark cherry tastes and it’s not bad. However, there is a medium-strong alcohol smell to the wine. My question is, how do I get rid of the alcohol smell at this point? The only idea I have is to blend the smell out by blending some Cabernet Sauvignon to the Syrah. Please help.

From personal experience I can tell you that red grapes from the warm (sometimes downright hot!) and dry region of Paso Robles always seem to “soak up” to a higher Brix then they sample in the field. For example, if I sample the vineyard the day before at 26.0 °Brix, I always assume that there are at least 1.5 °Brix units of what I’ll call “hidden sugar,” which will be released upon crushing and soaking up in the juice for 24 hours. This sugar gets sequestered in slightly dehydrated berries that are always in clusters once you get above 24 °Brix or so. Because of this, I always use this second Brix measurement when deciding if I will add water or not. You took a big risk for a stuck fermentation by fermenting something at 30 °Brix with no water added to bring it down. Most yeast strains have a hard time fermenting above 16% alcohol (some even have a lower threshold) and if you assume a rough Brix-to-alcohol conversion rate of 0.58, then your initial 30 °Brix X 0.58
Response by Alison Crowe.