Alcohol Levels in Wine: What's All the Fuss?

April 29, 2011

This week, the San Francisco Chronicle and the British wine magazine Decanter both announced that they would start printing the alcohol content of reviewed wines. Alcohol by volume (ABV) has become a contentious topic in the wine world as current fashions and hotter growing seasons have led to wines that contain more alcohol.

Health concerns are one reason these publications will be divulging alcohol levels. The higher the ABV, the more swiftly a drinker will become intoxicated. This information is particularly valid for those who wish to pair multiple wines with different courses throughout a meal and not end up with a headache the next day.

Alcohol also contributes to the body of a wine, and more alcohol makes wines feel richer and heavier in the mouth. Some wine lovers assert that higher alcohol wines have no place at the table, as they can dominate food and lack finesse. Others believe that if it tastes good, it is good, ABV be damned.

There are legal ramifications to alcohol levels in wines as well. In the United States, any wine over 14% ABV is considered a dessert wine and is subject to higher taxation than a wine below that level. But for consumers the important thing is having as much information as possible, and including ABV - which is, as Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné wrote, the only technical information required by law on a wine label - in reviews will help readers to be well-informed.

Photo by Bayhaus