Let’s take a look at Alcohol; it’s what gives a wine its power. Alcohol is the hot feeling you get in the back of the throat. Alcohol will also be the first thing you get while smelling a wine with high levels of it. Historically the average alcohol percentage for a dry wine comes out around 12-13% alcohol by volume (abv). However, this is changing as the climate is heating up. Warmer summers mean higher sugar content in the grapes at harvest. A higher sugar content in the grapes means that in order to ferment the wine dry, those higher sugars turn into higher alcohol levels. Grapes grown in warm climates like Australia and most of California are producing wines with alcohol levels closer to 14-16% abv these days. In these areas it is becoming increasingly difficult to make dry wines because of the extreme sugar content of the grapes. Many wines are getting into the 17 plus percent abv. The joke in the vineyards is that these wines are called “Jesus wines” because they have to add water to the wine to bring that alcohol down to something we are used to drinking; they are turning water into wine. It is important to be aware of the alcohol content in wine; it dictates how the wine will taste and whether it will be sweet or dry. Some people seem to think that the higher the alcohol the better quality the wine. I would argue that a wine with high levels of alcohol will be too intense, easily covering up the delicate aromas, flavors and nuances that make a wine special.
See if you can distinguish high or low levels of wine in your next tasting. Let me know what you find.
Autumn Berry, Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW)