Is The Alcohol Level Of Wine Going Up?

Posted: Dec 18, 2017

As the end of the year approaches, I've been looking through my inbox and at recent Free Range online chats by the Food team to see what's on readers' minds. Along with a few questions, some have offered good advice.

High alcohol levels: The rise continues to concern readers. "Over the past few years the wine alcohol has been going up and up," one lamented. "It used to be 12.5, then 13 now there are some that are 15 percent, bordering on fortified territory. Any inside scoop on this?"

I wrote about this issue a few years ago, when I started listing the alcohol levels on my recommendations. Levels have indeed crept up. It's easy and convenient to blame climate change (warmer weather = riper grapes = more sugar = more alcohol), but it's probably more because of improved viticulture. Vintners have become better at ripening grapes. That's why we rarely have really bad vintages now; even in rough weather years, they know how to make good wine. Not that vintage isn't important, but it is less so than it used to be just a decade or two ago.

About 11 years ago, I asked a Sonoma County vintner why he and his colleagues were making higher-alcohol wines. His reply: "Because we can."

Consumer preference has something to do with it, too. Certain prominent wine critics highly praised opulent wines, and that helped drive the style. Now, you see many writers (myself included) favoring more moderate levels. The market, and the winemakers, are responding. You just have to seek out those more moderate wines among the behemoths. The search, from shopping to drinking, is a lot of fun.

By Dave McIntyre
December 15, 2017

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