While the term “hot” in reference to wine may bring up visions of sipping mulled wine next to a roaring fire, it actually denotes that the wine is too high in alcohol. These wines usually have an alcohol level in excess of 14.5% and lack the depth of fruit needed for balance. The result for you, the consumer is an unpleasant burning sensation in the back of the throat while drinking.
This ‘hot” effect in wine is created during the fermentation process when yeast interact with overly ripe fruit. Being introduced to very ripe or overly fruit stresses out the yeast at the beginning of the fermentation process and then again at the end because of the high alcohol content derived from high sugar levels.
There are many ways in which savvy winemakers can avoid or minimize fermentation problems caused by over ripe fruit, the most obvious being harvesting before the grapes reach that point. Other ways include: selecting sugar and alcohol tolerant yeast, controlling fermentation temps, if the sugar is really high a spritzing with the water hose will help, and lastly waiting to inoculate with bacteria for malolactic fermentation.
We recommend feeling the burn at the gym and not while sipping a glass of wine. However there is always an exception to the rule, and this trait is actually acceptable in some port-style wines.