Wine 101

A Guide to the Alcohol Content in Wine

Know how much alcohol is in your favorite varietals.

Bottles of wineJames Merrell

The alcohol content of wine has spiked considerably. “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, and a coauthor of He Said Beer, She Said Wine (DK Publishing, $25). “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.” Thanks to scientific advances in farming, it’s now less risky to postpone a harvest. Warmer climates also play a role, so a Riesling from California is going to be much more potent than a traditional one from a cooler climate, like Germany. 

 

Very Low (under 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).
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