Warming, cooling

Suddenly it’s September – the autumn equinox is only two weeks away – but Earth’s hottest summer on record probably isn’t through with us yet.

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Earth’s climate is changing. It’s getting warmer. We can argue about the causes of this warming (although NASA is pretty sure it knows why); but it’s hard to ignore the reality of longer, hotter summers. And as wine lovers, it’s hard for us to ignore the reality of hotter, higher-alcohol, stronger wines made from grapes that have basked under that scorching heat.

Today’s featured wine, Nieto Senetiner 2020 “Don Nicanor” Malbec from high up in the Andes foothills of Argentina’s Mendoza region, startled me with its 14.9% alcohol, a level to match big Zinfandels and moving in the direction of Sherry and Port.

NASA map shows global temperature anomalies for July 2023, reflecting how July 2023 compared to the average July temperature from 1951-1980. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

NASA map shows global temperature anomalies for July 2023, reflecting how July 2023 compared to the average July temperature from 1951-1980. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Regular readers will recognize, perhaps with a grin or maybe a sign, that I write about this often, usually in a column written some time between July and September. As far back as 2002, I wrote in a column titled “Alcohol: Creeping Upward”: “While the trend isn’t universal, many wines are creeping upward in alcohol content. As recently as the 1980s, it was unusual to see a red wine much over 13 percent alcohol, with whites lagging a percentage point or so behind. A wine labeled 12.5 percent may actually contain anything from 11 to 14 percent. … But some wines nowadays seem to start at 14 percent and go up from there.”

The good news is that wine makers are learning to accept the challenge of hotter summers yielding riper grapes that make stronger wines. They’re creating wines that carry their alcohol load well. This Malbec, for example, was alcoholic, but it brought a good fruit-and-acid balance that showed as suave, not fierce. As I’ve reported of other higher-alcohol wines lately, it managed to express itself with a firm voice but it didn’t yell.

So what’s a wine lover to do? Here’s a wine-tasting tip that goes double during summer (and early fall) heat: The old wisdom about serving red wines at room temperature comes with an asterisk: It is perfectly all right to put your bottle or glass of red wine into the fridge for a half-hour before dinner, just long enough to bring it down to something like cellar temperature, the natural chill of underground wine cellars and caves.

Realistically, you don’t want to serve red wine ice cold. Not good red wine, anyway. An icy chill will rob the wine of the flavor nuances you expect in a red, and will throw its acidity and tannins out of balance. But ice cold is one thing, and a light, refreshing chill is quite another. If you try it, let me know how it goes.


Today’s Tasting Report

Nieto Senetiner 2020 “Don Nicanor” Mendoza Malbec ($17.99)

"Don Nicanor" Mendoza Malbec

Dark reddish-purple in color with a clear violet edge, “Don Nicanor” Mendoza Malbec opens with a bold, forward scent of cherries and cherry liqueur. With time in the glass it calms a bit, adding blackberry notes and whiffs of black and white pepper. Its hefty 14.9% alcohol adds an indisputable touch of heat, but it’s well integrated in a full black-fruit flavor, fresh and clean, shaped by fresh-fruit acidity and soft tannins that become more obvious as a touch of dark chocolate joins in an exceptionally long finish. U.S. importer: Foley Family Wines, Santa Rosa, Calif. (Sept. 7, 2023)

FOOD MATCH: Beef or venison make a classic match with this big, dry red wine. It would also go well with cheese-based dishes. We dreamed up a Beyond Burger seared outside, cool pink inside, topped with fresh chimichurri to approximate an Argentine parrilla, and it was an excellent match.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s fine now, but it should be fine under good cellar conditions for the next three to five years.

Wine-Searcher.com’s $18 average U.S. retail matches my local price, which represents a very good value for this exceptional Argentine red.

Here’s a fact sheet on the 2020 vintage from the winery in English.

Check prices and find vendors for “Don Nicanor” Mendoza Malbec on Wine-Searcher.com.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to learn more about Malbec and find listings for dozens of Malbec-based wines.

Learn about Argentina’s Mendoza region at this Wine-Searcher link.


Wine Focus September 2023 –
Benchmarks of Syrah

Our Wine Focus for September turns to Syrah. Northern Rhone, anyone? Hermitage? Côte-Rôtie? Maybe the “humble” St Joseph or Crozes-Hermitage?

Syrah is one of those grapes that gets relatively little respect, yet produces some stunning wines. As with everything, it can be misused, and it can produce some pretty scary wines as well. The Shiraz boom of the late 1990s may very well have permanently tainted one of the most noble grapes in the entire world of wine.

But let’s rehabilitate Syrah! Find a bottle that you like, taste it, and loin us in the WineLovers Discussion Group as we talk about Syrah this month.


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher

Wine-Searcher.com is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, Wine-Searcher.com offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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