“I’m taking the easy route today, because I think that the term “hot” when used in a wine descriptor will not be that hard to understand. When writers use the word hot in a wine descriptor, it is nothing like referring to a woman or man as hot, we save the term “sexy” for that (that will be for another article). The word hot in relation to a wine has nothing to do with temperature either. So, what is a wine writer trying to convey to the reader when using the word “hot” as a descriptor?
Hot is used to indicate the level of alcohol that you sense on your palate when drinking the wine. Have you ever taken a gulp of wine and starting coughing (choking) because of the alcohol kick on the back of your throat? That would be considered a hot wine. You can also smell the alcohol on a wine if it is out of balance with the fruit. It is like someone muddled a little EverClear in the glass before you took a big sniff (and I hope you ARE smelling the wine before you put it in your mouth). A hot wine will be for the most part, a bombastic, fruit forward wine. However, there are exceptions (and these are few) where for some reason the wine is just rubbing alcohol on the nose and no fruit on the palate. Please avoid drinking that and save it for cleaning something off your boat hull or pavement in your driveway.
A mistake that can be made by some wine drinkers, is checking the alcohol level (abv, or alcohol by volume) on the label and making a judgement based on that. I have a good friend who will rarely even try a wine if the abv is 14.5% or above. The problem is that there are some pretty awesome wines that I have tried in the 15% range (and above) that I did not use the term hot in my notes. Why is that? Basically alcohol comes from sugar, so the riper the fruit, the more chance that the abv will be higher. Zinfandels grown in the hotter climate of Paso Robles or Amador county will often times be higher in alcohol because of the ripeness (more sugar) of the fruit. However, if the wine maker is worth their weight they will craft the wine in such a way as to downplay the effect of alcohol and bolster the expression of fruit. Don’t ask me how they do this, I am not a wine maker and I have never broached that subject with one (doesn’t mean I won’t in the near future). Last year, I tasted through a line-up of Mollydooker wines from Australia. They were all 15% abv or above and yet I never got the impression that they were hot in anyway. When talking with Sarah Marquis (one of the wine makers at Mollydooker) she said that it was the quality of fruit that made the difference. I am sure there is a little more to it then that, but the point is that someone would be missing out on a top-notch wine if they judged it merely by the abv on the label.
There is another step you can take if the wine comes across as hot or alcoholic on the nose and palate. Try and decant the wine for a half hour or more and see if the alcohol blows off. I have tried many wines myself that benefited from a little decanting to tone down the effect of the alcohol on the wine. Of course, the wine was still powerful and fruit forward, but the alcohol was not nearly as prominent. Actually, decanting is a practice that not nearly enough wine drinkers use. It is no doubt due to the fast-paced society we live in where getting it and consuming it quickly seems to take priority over patient enjoyment. That being said, I still encourage you to take a little time and decant your red wines if you want to enhance your experience. One simple method of decanting is to pour out half a glass of wine, put the cap or cork back on the bottle and shake it vigorously for 30 seconds or more. This will aerate the wine thus decanting it in a much quicker way. Try it sometime, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Some even pour the bottle in a blender and whip it up for about 15 seconds. This is referred to as hyper-decanting. I tried that one time with a friend on a very expensive wine that was just a little tight on the palate. It definitely opened the wine up, but it also gave it a creamy texture that I did not enjoy as much as my friend did.
Some like their wines hot, and that is o.k. Hell, I like a shot of Jack Daniels every now and then myself, and a wine that is hot and powerful fits the bill for me on rare occasions. However, if a wine is well made, it should not come across as hot on the palate. The alcohol should be integrated with the fruit in such a way as not to come across as alcoholic. The term “hot” is not complementary when analyzing a wine, and that will definitely affect my grade of that wine in my notes.
Some like them hot, some like them bold, some like them feminine and lighter and some even like their reds cold. That is the beauty of wine… it’s subjectivity. Cheers! Stan The Wine Man