Wine making you a little bit tipsier these days?
It’s not your imagination. According to the Department of Food and Agriculture, the alcohol content in wine has increased significantly over the past decade and it’s not by accident.
“There’s pressure on winemakers from critics for intense flavors, and that means riper grapes,” explains Marnie Old, the director of wine studies at the French Culinary Institute, in New York City “So during the past few years, winemakers have been leaving grapes on the vines well after they would typically be picked, and that translates into fuller-bodied wines and more alcohol.”
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, the amount of alcohol in a non-fortified wine is a function of the ripeness of the grapes. The riper the grapes, the more sugar they contain, and the more alcohol potentially can be derived from that sugar. Grape ripeness tends to be higher in warm climates, when the grapes are harvested late, in vineyards with small yields of grapes or in vineyards outfitted with sophisticated trellising that maximizes the grapes’ exposure to sun. Adding sugar to the grape juice also results in higher alcohol in the finished wine.
Regardless of how it got that way, not everyone is thrilled with the quicker onset of their buzz. Some fine dining establishments argue that wines with lower alcohol tend to go better with food, and some have stopped stocking California reds altogether. To help you navigate the world of alcohol-rich wines, we’ve broken down the content level by variety:
Very Low (less than 12.5 percent)
Sparkling: Italian Asti, Italian Prosecco.
White: French Vouvray and Muscadet, German Riesling, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish Txacolina.
Rosé: California White Zinfandel, Portuguese rosés.
Moderately Low (12.5 to 13.5 percent)
Sparkling: California sparkling wine, French Champagne, Spanish Cava.
White: Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Australian Riesling, French Alsace white, French Loire and Bordeaux whites, French white Burgundy, Italian Pinot Grigio, New York Riesling, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, South African Sauvignon Blanc, Spanish Albarino.
Rosé: French rosés, Spanish rosés.
Red: French Beaujolais and Burgundy, French Bordeaux, Italian Chianti, Spanish Rioja.
High (13.5 to 14.5 percent)
White: Australian Chardonnay, California Chardonnay, California Pinot Gris, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Viognier, Chilean Chardonnay, French Sauternes, South African Chenin Blanc.
Red: Argentine Malbec, Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Pinot Noir, California Syrah, Chilean Merlot, French Rhône red, Italian Barolo.
Very High (more than 14.5 percent)
White: French Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise (fortified), Portuguese Madeira (fortified), Spanish sherry (fortified).
Red: California Petite Sirah, California Zinfandel, Italian Amarone, Portuguese port (fortified).