The sale of wine reaching a minimum of 14 percent alcohol has tripled in the last decade. (This is according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau.)

Is there anything controversial about this statistic? Yes. No. Maybe.

Detractors claim that wine with high alcohol is out of balance and doesn’t pair well with food. But they say the more critical issue is that these wines are the culprit behind DUIs (Driving Under the Influence), car accidents and injuries.

Proponents say HOLD YOUR FIRE. They say, on the contrary, these wines have no ill effects. They say they are not to be blamed for madcap party animals or roadway catastrophes.  What’s more, they say they are balanced and pair well with food.

Joel Peterson, founder of Sonoma’s Ravenswood Winery, said the increase in high alcohol wines is “neither good nor bad.  Unless you’re a moralist with an agenda or someone who is clinging to the controversy to be found in the hypothetical old world vs. new world wine paradigm.  The advent of these ripe, intense wines is the result of the fusion of a number of factors.”

Most agree that these factors boil down to: 1) demand for riper wines; 2) wine critics influence; and 3) a warmer climate

What should consumers know about the alcohol percent listed on the label — is there a story behind the story?

Duane Dappen, president and winemaker of D-Cubed Cellars in St. Helena, said: “People should taste wine first and ask the alcohol level after. A number printed on a label will not allow you to know if a wine is enjoyable – if it’s ‘hot’ or the alcohol shows or if the wine is balanced. There is no magic number for a balanced wine.”

At the upcoming ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) Dappen suggests we Sip First, Ask Later. There will be hundreds of wines, with alcohol levels of 14 percent and higher. The public tasting is from 2 to 5 p.m. at Fort Mason in San Francisco on Jan. 30.

In the meantime, are you a detractor or a proponent of high alcohol wines? What camp do you fall into and why?