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Alcohol Content in Wine

by Staff Writer - C. Barnett | July 09, 2011

The level of alcohol in a wine is usually printed on the wine label. This provides an indication of the wine’s style. Alcohol in wine I created through the process of fermentation. During the growing season, as the grapes develop and ripen, sugar I formed inside the grapes. If the growing conditions are favorable, the natural sugar content of the grapes build up to a high level. The higher the sugar level, the higher the potential alcohol level. You may want to familiarize yourself with the alcohol percentages of your favorite wines.

There are several methods of measuring the alcohol contents of various beverages. Details are noted in each item below.

  • ABV: Alcohol by VolumeThis is a standard measuring unit for wine. The measurement represents the amount of volume consumed by ethanol (a colorless volatile flammable liquid that is the intoxicating agent in liquor) compared to the entire volume of the drink. It is expressed as a percentage. (example: Port Wine is 20% ABV)
  • ProofThis term is used among the strongest spirits. To compute a liquors proof you simply multiply the ABV by 2. In theory, the highest possible strength of any drink is 200-proof. In reality, the maximum for distilled spirits is 191-proof because not all of the water can be distilled from ethanol.
  • ABW: Alcohol by WeightThis is similar to ABV but instead of the volume consumed by the ethanol its mass is used instead. This measurement is a expressed as percentage of total mass. Beer brewers often used this measurement in states that require limits on strength of beer sold in food markets. (Heineken is 5.4% ABW)

How Much Alcohol is in Your Favorite Varietals?

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The alcohol content of wine has spiked considerably. There is more pressure on winemakers for intense flavors, and that means riper grapes. 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. Warmer climates also play a role, so a wine grape from California is going to be much more potent than a traditional one from a cooler climate, like Germany.

Very Low ABV (under 12.5 percent)

  • Sparkling: Italian Asti, Italian Prosecco.
  • White: French Vouvray and Muscadet, German Riesling, Spanish Txacolina.
  • Rosé: California White Zinfandel, Portuguese rosés.

Moderately Low ABV (12.5 to 13.5 percent)

  • Sparkling: California sparkling wine, French Champagne, Spanish Cava. White: Australian Riesling, French Alsace white, French Loire and Bordeaux whites, French white Burgundy, Italian Pinot Grigio, New York Riesling, Oregon Pinot Gris.
  • Rosé: French rosés, Spanish rosés.
  • Red: French Beaujolais and Burgundy, French Bordeaux, Italian Chianti, Spanish Rioja.

High (13.5 to 14.5 percent)

  • White: California Chardonnay, California Pinot Gris, California Sauvignon Blanc, California Viognier, Chilean Chardonnay, French Sauternes, South African Chenin Blanc.
  • Red: Australian Shiraz, California Cabernet Sauvignon, California Pinot Noir, California Syrah, French Rhône red, Italian Barolo.

Very High (more than 14.5 percent)

  • White: French Muscat (fortified), Portuguese Madeira (fortified), Spanish sherry (fortified).
  • Red: California Petite Sirah, California Zinfandel, Italian Amarone.

Nearly all wine labels state the alcohol content by percentage of volume (ABV). A wine label that says 10% ABV shows the wine is 10% pure alcohol by volume. The alcohol level printed on the label may provide an early clue to the wine’s style. It is one of the factors that becomes part of the wine tasting experience.

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