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What does “hot” mean in wine?

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Marianne Frantz, founder of the American Wine School, blames Paris Hilton for some of the confusion surrounding the term “mulled” wine tasting.

“In the early 2000s, Paris Hilton had just dropped her pop culture slogan, ‘It’s Hot,’ says Frantz. As a result, “calling a wine ‘mulled’ took on a different meaning … a sound of mulled wine.[ed] like a good thing.

To describe high-alcohol wines without invoking the Hilton connotation, Frantz began to use the phrase “Feel the Burn,” but she withdrew that phrase when it became associated with a political campaign. “If you can’t be smart, be clear,” she said.

For the sake of clarity, in wine tasting, the term “hot” refers to a wine that has the perception of too much or too much alcohol.

“The extra alcohol will not only warm the palate, but will end up with a burning sensation making the wine appear out of balance,” says Frantz. “Mainly in the reds, with abv [alcohol by volume] levels often exceeding 15%. “

Wines described as “hot” often share flavor profiles, such as overripe, cooked fruit or fruit compotes.

“One-dimensional, these wines generally lack balancing acidity,” says seasoned sommelier Wanda Cole-Nicholson. “They have a very heavy mouth feel and can even burn a little when consumed … Any mineral or earthy character is often drowned out by the heaviness of the alcohol and the swaggering fruit that drives the bus.”

Mulled wines tend to come from grapes that have “been picked at a higher brix for more phenolic maturity,” says Tonya Pitts, wine manager / sommelier at One Market and founder of Tonya Pitts Wine Consulting.

Brix is ​​a measure of the sugar levels in the grapes which indicates the potential alcohol level of the final wine. The more ripe the grape, the more sugar, the more alcohol.

Hot wines can also result from the climate. If the grapes are grown in a warm, sunny area without cooler nighttime temperatures, the fruit will “ripen the grapes to very high sugar levels, which will become high alcohol levels in the cellar,” Cole-Nicholson explains.

Without cooling temperatures to develop the acidity of the grapes, wines can taste alcoholic or flabby.

“Direct, intense sunshine develops dense, rich flavors, which exaggerate the ‘warmth’ on the palate,” explains Cole-Nicholson.

What does mulled wine mean
Wines described as “warm” can come from grapes grown in sunny climates / Getty

Some consumers, especially in the United States and other parts of the Western Hemisphere, are fans of the style, says Cole-Nicholson. If you fall into that camp, she advises to “select wines that also have an added element or something else to deflect the ‘warm’ character while still keeping that warm, opulent and fruity character as a favorite.”

Pitts agrees.

“Some people really like mulled wine; they like the higher level of focus, ”says Pitts. “The consumer perceives heat as a spice.

If you come across a bottle of mulled wine and fire isn’t your element, try to let it breathe.

“Decanting aerates the wine, which can make the wine more balanced by opening the fruit,” says Frantz. “Think of it this way: most wines are built with an acid core surrounded by other structural elements such as tannin and alcohol. It is the fruit of the wine that keeps them all in balance. As a mulled wine contains too much alcohol, aeration of the wine can increase the fruitiness of the wine, making the perception of alcohol less noticeable.

In the short term, letting the wine breathe will help relax, but there’s no way to break down the alcohol and the way it looks. Depending on the bottle, aging can help, says Cole-Nicholson.

“The fruit will integrate into the wine over time and gradually fade,” she says. “However, alcohol is here to stay.”

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, however. If the wine is initially unbalanced, the alcohol may be even more noticeable after the time in the cellar decreases its fruit intensity.

Another solution can be food and wine pairings. Hot wines, like reds from a warm climate, can accentuate spice levels when paired with certain dishes, says Frantz. So, avoid foods that will fuel the fire, such as spicy or peppered dishes. Instead, try pairing the wine with meat dishes that contain cream sauces or wine reduction. This will make the wine more fruity and may distract from the heat.


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