Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday: Alcohol Content in Wine

We Winos all know the feeling of the perfect wine buzz.  It’s a happy place… it’s usually when we feel a little more relaxed and at ease, the stories are funnier, and “just one more glass” sounds like the perfect amount.  (I’m pretty sure we all know the impact of “just one more glass” as well, but we’ll not worry about that today.)

So why do some wines have a higher alcohol content than others? And does one type of wine consistently have more alcohol content than another?  These are things about which I have wondered, but my lovely Cousin, let’s call her the Fresh Girl, had posed these questions that perhaps W2WK could answer.

Turning to one of my trusty resources, The Wine Bible, the author initiates the discussion regarding alcohol and wine with a fine comment that I thought you’d all enjoy:

“Alcohol is a critical constituent in wine not because of the genial mood it can evoke (although that’s surely part of its charm), but rather because of the complex role it plays in the wine’s ultimate quality.”

Oh the many charms of wine!

In general, a wine has a higher alcohol content when it is made from ripe (or more ripe) grapes than wines made with less ripe grapes.  The riper the grape, the more sugar there is in the grape, resulting in higher alcohol content.

The alcohol content impacts the body and texture of the wine.  Wines with high alcohol are “full, round, and supple; sometimes they can even seem almost thick and chewy”, like red Zinfandels. Whereas wines with low alcohol content are much lighter – like Rieslings. (The Wine Bible) If you were to compare two wines side by side, the wine with the higher alcohol content will likely be considered the better one.  But this is mostly due to the fact that the grapes used to make the wine were more mature (which means riper, and more sugar, and therefore more alcohol).

The amount of alcohol in wine also impacts is flavor and aroma.  The flavor of alcohol is somewhat sweet, which allows a wine to also have a high level of acidity but still maintain a balance in the taste.  Higher alcohol content wines will be able to handle higher acidity levels because the increased sweetness (due to the higher alcohol) will balance the acidity.  (And acidity is a topic of a future post on Thoroughly Wine Know Thursday).  Generally, if the alcohol and acidity don’t maintain a good balance, it’s the same satisfaction of a cup of weak coffee. And no one wants a weak cup of coffee.

The following are ranges/averages of alcohol content in various wines as provided on alcohol

Type of Wine, % Alcohol by Volume

Sparkling Grape Juice, < 0.1%

Wine Coolers, 4–7%

Table Wine, 8-14%

Shiraz, 10-14%

Rose, 10.5%

White, 10.7%

White, 11.0%

Red, medium, 11.5

Sparkling White, 12.0%

White, 12.4%

Cabernet, Pinot Noir, 11–14%

Dessert Wine, 14-20%

Zinfandels, 17-22%

Vermouth, 17-22%

Syrahs, 17-23%

Port Wine, 20%

Hopefully you now have a little more Wine Know about why certain wines have a higher alcohol content than other wines.  Any more specific questions out there that I could research for you!?

(Sources: The source for all Wine Know in this post is The Wine Bible, unless otherwise stated!)


  1. Ms. Bique says:

    That explains my addiction to Syrahs, but I think the most important thing I learned in this post is that Vermouth is a wine…I don’t know what I thought it was, but wine never crossed my mind.

    • Ha! I was surprised by that percentage in Syrahs as well. And I took a note to read up (ad post about) Vermouth and why it is in the “wine” category. Stand by for more info:)

  2. Ms. Bique took the words right out of my mouth.. 🙂 I was a little disappointed in myself, but at the same time a little smug, to learn that one of my fav go-to’s (Syrah) is quite high on the alcohol content scale. Maybe that’s why I can only have a glass or two of Syrah and then feel like I have to chug the light whites?? Wine Know, you know all! and molto grazie for the shout out!!

    • Fresh Girl and Ms. Bique really do need to meet one another. I feel a potentially strong chemistry between you two. Clearly, your first meeting should include some Syrah.

      (I am also going to keep watch on the alcohol content noted on the bottles of Syrahs I buy in the future.)

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