When deciding what wine to drink, most of us keep in mind the alcohol content. Because if you're pouring and going to be enjoying yourself, making sure you know how much you're drinking is what some of us might call responsible drinking. Different wines call for different pours; for example, a dessert wine should not be served the same way as a dry wine due to its high alcohol content.
Today, we have become more efficient at creating a wine with higher alcohol content. As such, there are many different aspects of wine creation that lead to the amount of alcohol in wine. Below, we have discussed everything you need to know about wine and its alcohol content.
What Is Alcohol Content and What Does It Mean>?
Let's start with the basics. The quantity of alcohol in any given glass of wine is equivalent to its percentage by volume. This unit is often referred to as ABV, which stands for a drink by the work. Alcohol levels found in wine are directly related to the amount of sugar developed in grapes during harvest time. Alcohol in wine is produced by fermentation. Yeast is added during wine fermentation, which creates a chemical reaction and transforms the grape sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide, which create alcohol. Because sugar is a big deal when making alcohol, grapes with lower sugar levels have less alcohol. In contrast, the more sugary the wine, the higher the potential alcohol.
While in the USA, we use ABV, other countries use their own systems. For example, in France, alcohol by volume is referred to as Gay-Lussac. This is named after French chemist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac. There is a slight difference in ABV and Gay-Lussac because the Gay-Lussac convention utilizes the International Standard Atmosphere value for temperature.
Now, we're sure you're curious why different grapes have different sugar levels. Many various factors affect a wine's sugar level. For example, some wine grapes are naturally higher in sugar than others. Like how some people have higher metabolisms, it's not fair, but they can't help it either. Other factors that affect wine's grape content include when the grapes are harvested. The riper a grape gets, the higher its sugar level will be!
Wine regions also play a factor in grape's sugar levels. Wine regions with cooler climates produce wines with lower sugar levels and, therefore, lower alcohol content. This explains why an American Riesling has a higher alcohol content than one made in Alsace, France. Alas, because we humans are brilliant, we have found ways to alter the amount of alcohol in the wine chemically. Decreasing the amount of alcohol in the wine is a process known as "reverse osmosis." Essentially, it involves machinery that separates the water and drinks from wine and pumps it out. The wine produced via this method is extremely low in alcohol and occasionally even alcohol-free. Pro tip: if you're trying to reduce your alcohol intake or watch it more closely and prefer a more natural method, opt for wines produced in places with a cooler climate, such as New Zealand, Germany, and Northern France.
The average glass of wine sits at around 11% to 13% alcohol. On the other hand, bottles range from as little as 5.5% ABV to 20% ABV. If you're not sure what the ABV is in the wine you are drinking, here is one way you can tell: (typically) wine with a higher ABV will taste like heat in the back of your mouth or throat; it will taste warmer and bolder!
In the past few years, the alcohol content in wine has grown significantly. This is because winemakers leave grapes on the vines far after they would have traditionally been picked and, therefore, producing fuller-bodied wines with much more alcohol.
Low Alcohol Wines
Wines with naturally low alcohol content are produced in New Zealand, Germany, or Northern France. This is due to their incredibly mild climate. To be a wine with low alcohol content, wines are typically under 12.5% ABV. These include sparkling wines such as Italian Asti and Italian Prosecco. White wines include French Vouvray, German Riesling, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish Txacolina. Looking for a rose with a low ABV? Opt for a California White Zinfandel or a Portuguese rose.
As you've likely noticed, there are no red wines on this list. While there are exceptions, red wines usually have more alcohol by volume than white wines. This is because when it comes to red wine, grapes are harvested later, and therefore, they are much riper and full of more sugar. The riper the grapes, the higher the sugar content three is for the yeast to convert into alcohol during fermentation!
Medium Alcohol Wines
Wines with a medium alcohol content usually sit around 12.5% to 13.5%. These include sparkling wines, such as Champagne, Spanish Cava, and California sparkling wine. White wines include New York Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Australian Riesling, French Alscare white, and the French Loire. Are you craving a rose? French and Spanish roses sit in this medium alcohol content. Lastly, red wine does fit into the medium alcohol content and includes Spanish Rioja, French Bordeaux, Italian Cianti, and French Beaujolais.
High Alcohol Wines
These wines are typically 13.5% to 14.5%. Here is a breakdown of the different types: California and Australian Chardonnay, California Sauvignon Blan, Viognier, Pinot Gris, French Sauternes, and South African Chenin Blanc. Opting for a red? Choose from Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, Italian Barolo, California Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah.
Extra High Alcohol Wines
If you're looking for a wine that has a very high alcohol content, here are a few that are more than 14.5%. White wines include fortified French Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, Portuguese Madeira, and Spanish sherry. As for reds, these include California Sirah and Zinfandel, Italian Amarone, and fortified Portuguese port. Port Wine can end up with percentages as high as 20%, making them the seemingly most potent wine out there. It is said that some wines can go up to 21%, depending upon the individual bottle of wine.
The alcohol content of wine fluctuates depending upon the individual wine. There are winemaking differences in the fermentation process that cause the wine to have different percentages of alcohol content. There can be a difference of up to 1.5% from what is printed on the label due to slight inconsistency.
Enjoy a Drink (Responsibly, Of Course!)
At the end of the day, the amount of alcohol you do or do not consume is entirely up to you! All we care about is that you're safe and looking after yourself! (Oh, and maybe drinking Bev from time to time...!)