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I bet if you were to ask 10 people you know that drink wine on a regular basis if they had any idea how much alcohol was in wine, I would venture to say less than half of them would even know. That is probably because they have not read the label on the bottle of wine that they drinking from. It is far more likely that they know that it takes two or three glasses of wine to get a decent buzz to go along with their meal.

To help the consumer to be able to determine how much alcohol is in the specific wine inside the bottle, winemakers are required to print the actual alcohol content on the outside label on every bottle that they produce for sale. 

How is the alcohol content in wine expressed?

When it comes to the alcohol content that is found in a bottle of wine these days, you only have to look at the label on the bottle. The amount of alcohol that is contained in the wine is printed on the outside of the bottle on the label and is represented by a percentage of alcohol by volume. Typically, the alcohol content of a bottle of wine ranges between 5% and as high as 20%, with some values going higher. With that, wine falls smack dab in the middle between the alcohol content of a bottle of beer and shot of distilled spirits.

Which wines have the lowest alcohol content?

The strength of wine on the market generally refers to the amount of alcohol by volume (ABV value). If you are concerned about an excessive amount of alcohol in the wine you are drinking then you might want to consider one or more of the types of wine on the list below. Low alcohol content wine is generally considered any wine that has an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) between 5% and 12%.

Top 6 examples of low alcohol by volume

  • Moscato d’Asti 5.5% ABV (lightly sparkling sweet white from Italy)
  • Brachetto d’Acqui 6.5% ABV (lightly sparkling sweet red from Italy)
  • Kabinett Riesling 8% ABV (light sweet German Riesling)
  • Spätlese Riesling 8.5% ABV (rich sweet German Riesling)
  • Alsace Blanc 9%–10% ABV (France)
  • Muscadet 9.5% ABV (France)

Which wines have the highest alcohol content?

The other end of the wine spectrum is varieties of wine that contain much higher levels of alcohol by volume and therefore considered to be much stronger wines. These wines generally would range between 12% to 20% ABV.

  • Most Shiraz — 14-15% Of course, the Australians make a great, high alcohol content wine. ...
  • Red Zinfandels — 14-15.5% One word is commonly used to describe red Zinfandels: bold. ...
  • Muscat — 15% ...
  • Sherry — 15-20% ...
  • Port — 20% ...
  • Marsala — 20% ...
  • Madiera — 20%

What dictates the alcohol level in a specific wine?

Wine making is a very precise science, specialized recipes are followed in order to transform wine grapes into a great tasting beverage. The process of creating wine from grapes is called fermentation and has been used centuries basically unchanged. The amount of alcohol that is contained in wine is a direct correlation to the level of sugars that are found in each of the grapes at the time they are harvested. 

The sugars in the grapes are consumed by the yeast that is added during the fermentation process. There are a number of factors that go into determining the sugar content of the grapes that go into the wine. The two biggest factors that go into determining the level of sugars in the grapes, is the style of the grapes, the climate and soil conditions. The last piece of the puzzle that determines the final level of alcohol by volume is the actual fermentation process being used to make the wine in the first place.

Can wine alcohol content be manipulated?

Wine making is an exact science and therefore manipulating the amount of alcohol in a batch of wine can either be raised or lowered depending on which direction that you are wanting to go. Since the ripeness of the grapes when they are harvested is what makes the difference in the amount of alcohol that ends up after the fermentation process is complete.

The alcohol level can easily be raised or lowered in order to produce a certain type of wine which is dictated by the alcohol content inside the bottle. By harvesting grapes, a little early will tend to reduce the final alcohol content. If you use grapes that are riper you will ultimately end up with a much stronger wine (higher alcohol level).

Is there a negative side to making higher alcohol level wine?

When it comes to making wine stronger or with higher alcohol content there are pluses and minuses. The higher alcohol content wines are more acidic in order to help balance out the taste. For wineries these days there is a definite balancing act to decide which way they are wanting to go when it comes to the alcohol level of their wine. One factor that is responsible for producing higher alcohol levels in wine is the higher temperatures when the grapes are growing and reaching ripeness.

The unexpected side effect of alcohol content

The government determines the taxes that are owed by a winery based on the alcohol content of the wine that is being produced. That means the stronger the wine (higher alcohol level) the more that will be demanded by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. There is a specific formula to determine how exactly the winery would be expected to pay depending on the samples of the wine being made.

The exact number being charged per gallon changes and you would need to consult the latest tax tables to find the exact amount that would be expected. Using 2017 numbers, wine containing up to 14% ABV is taxed at a rate of $1.07 per gallon. The wine that has an alcohol content 14% to 21% is taxed at a rate of $1.57 per gallon and anything above 21% goes up dramatically to $3.15 per gallon.
October 12, 2019 by Last WineDown