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How Alcohol Content Affects Wine

March 30, 2020

How Alcohol Content Affects Wine

There are many qualities that wine lovers look for when purchasing or collecting wines, whether it be the location, year, or blend of grapes in the bottle. However, another factor to consider is the alcohol content, or alcohol by volume (ABV), of the wine, as this can vary greatly across varietals. Below, we’re discussing everything you need to know about alcohol content in wine and how it could affect the flavor and quality of your bottle.

Wine’s Alcohol Content Throughout History

Up until the 1950s, the yeast used in wine production was not able to survive in alcohol levels higher than 13 percent. In fact, common lore has it that White Zinfandel was invented (or at least popularized) around 1975 due to the “stuck fermentation” of the yeast dying off before the sugars were fully consumed. This left the wine with a lighter color and sweeter taste. As the years progressed and winemakers began to understand more and more, a new strain of yeast was developed that could withstand higher alcohol levels.

ABV & The Aging Process

The ABV of wine is not affected during the aging process, as the sugars have already converted to alcohol. However, the taste of the alcohol may become smoother and more understated the longer the bottle is aged. During the aging process, the phenolic compounds in wine link together, which mutes some of the primary flavors, including the harsher alcohol taste. Subsequently, the subtler notes and flavors are brought to the forefront.

Differences in Lower and Higher Alcohol Wines

How much alcohol is in wine? The alcohol content in wine varies depending on the type you choose. This is because, as the yeast in the wine converts the sugars to alcohol, the winemaker can decide when to stop that process, resulting in a higher or lower ABV.

Lower alcohol wines are classified by an ABV of less than 10 percent. They tend to be more balanced, pair well with a wide variety of foods, and due to the low alcohol content, can be consumed in larger quantities. Low-alcohol wines are typically sweeter due to the sugar leftover from the fermenting process (also called residual sugar).

Higher alcohol wines have an ABV of 10 percent or higher. They are notorious for scoring better in wine competitions due to their intensity and fuller body. Although rare, wines above 15 percent do exist. These include Madeira (17 to 22 percent ABV), Port (20 percent ABV), and Sherry (15 percent ABV).

It’s important to pay attention to the higher alcohol content in wines, as the bottle can “turn” due to the presence of bacteria. Specifically, acetobacter is a common culprit that turns your wine into acetic acid, which has a pungent, vinegar-like odor. To combat this, most winemakers add sulfites to the wine mixture.

Expand Your Wine Collection with Help from Cellaraiders

Both low- and high-alcohol wines can be an excellent option for your wine collection, depending on your preferred flavor palette. For more information about wine alcohol content or how to choose the right bottle for your cellar, contact Cellaraiders today. Our expert team can offer advice and recommendations for various styles of wine to fit your needs, as well as storage tips to ensure your wine collecting experience is successful.