Alcohol content in wine; is it important?

Posted by Jay Lee & Peter Koff MW on 21st Jun 2019

Some people are quite sensitive to alcohol levels. It is difficult to assess alcohol content by tasting or smelling. The perception of alcohol is often more about style and balance than absolute alcohol level. A delicate white wine with a subtle aroma and 13% alcohol can seem “hotter” (more alcoholic) than a powerful, full-bodied, heavily oaked red wine of 14.8%

Alcohol levels do not particularly influence the wine’s taste but they do appear to contribute to wine’s body and mouthfeel. Higher alcohols can also add to the perception of sweetness on the palate. If the overall balance is good, even high alcohol levels may not be obvious.

In the USA wine labels are not always that useful for communicating the alcohol level because, for alcohol levels at or below 14%, the law allows the stated alcohol to differ by as much as 1.5% from actual. It is therefore legal in the USA for a label to state a wine’s alcohol as 11% to 14%. In rare cases the alcohol level is not stated on the label but rather you will see something like; “…. Red California Table Wine.” The use of the term “Table Wine” means the wine has 14% or less alcohol.

Wine’s alcohol content is important. It even plays a role for wine aging. However, balance is more important. Alcohol is only a part of the picture!

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