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Wine Without Pretense: Gulping Champagne fast equals quicker intoxication
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I subscribe to an online wine news service that delivers a couple of times a week some fascinating stories or statistics about happenings in the giddy world of wine. I’m passing along some condensed versions with my own comments.

In my wine education classes, when I talk about Champagne/sparkling wines I’m frequently asked why folks seem to become more intoxicated by the bubbly than from still wines (wines without the bubbles.)

I suspected the carbon dioxide that creates those magical little bubbles might be responsible. Now I know. Boris Tabakoff, pharmacology professor at the University of Colorado, said the carbon dioxide is the culprit and causes alcohol to be absorbed into the blood stream faster than it is in still wines.

“The carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages like Champagne helps absorb the alcohol,” Tabakoff told ABC News. “You get a faster rate of absorption and higher blood alcohol levels if you drink Champagne as opposed to something noncarbonated.”

And to address the usual follow-up question, yes, the quicker rate of alcohol absorption leads to a worse hangover the next day.

Cheers!

* * *

While it might not be the time of year to be discussing sunscreen — at this writing in early January, it was 12 degrees on my back deck at 8 a.m. — in Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, it’s hot and sunny. Perhaps too hot.

This is one of the hottest years on record Down Under. Just as too much hot sun can cause humans to be uncomfortable or worse, too much sun can damage wine grapes. To prevent sunburn damage to the grapes, some winemakers are spraying them with a sunscreen solution. While grapes do need heat to ripen and develop sugars, too much attention from Old Sol can damage them and cause them to shrivel.

At Tyrrell’s vineyard in the Hunter Valley, where temperatures can exceed 113 degrees, they are spraying the vines with a special sunscreen solution.

Bruce Tyrrell, chief executive of Tyrrell’s Wines, recently said, “Your vineyard gets this funny white-blue color, and you look on the berries and there is a little coating on them ... and it gives it some protection.”

Of course, it gets washed off before the berries head for the production area.

Aussie winemakers are facing the gloomy prediction that climate change will make these heat waves the rule rather than the exception. That means added costs, extra work and higher prices for Aussie wines.

* * *

Climate change is threatening the wine industry. Scientific data show 2014 was the hottest year on record on planet Earth. According to an article in Scientific American magazine, if we stay on our current trajectory, Earth’s average temperature will rise from 4.7 to 6.9 degrees in a few generations. That’s a lot!

Heat and sunlight in the right increments at the right time are vital to making healthy grapevines and good wine. Wineries already are responding to the challenges of a warming Earth. Remember the sunscreen on the Australian grapes?

Heat helps build the sugars inside the grapes. With a steady, predictable climate, winemakers and vineyard managers can plan ahead to estimate roughly when the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes will be ready to pick. Since grape growing is essentially farming, any quirks flung down by Ma Nature can blow those plans to smithereens. Get rain at the wrong time and the grapes absorb too much water. Get an extended period of high heat and they build up too-high sugar levels, resulting in high-alcohol wines.

Wineries are already seeing the encroachment of higher-than-normal temperatures. And they are responding. Some are changing the trellising patterns, those wires that stretch from post to post in the vineyards and allow for air circulation in the vines. Some wineries are dropping some of those wires to provide more shade to the fruit.

But it already is apparent what climate change can do — and is doing — to wine. Cooler climate areas are warming up. Grapes that do well with cooler temperatures and shorter growing seasons, grapes such as pinot noir and riesling, are being stressed.

One prominent winery owner joked, “I’m just afraid that in 20 years the Napa Valley will be in Oregon.”

Let’s hope he’s not prophetic.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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