There has been a long history of consumer appreciation for high alcohol content in wines. For many, it’s all about perception. Some will argue that a wine with a higher alcohol content has more quality than a wine with a lower alcohol content. That’s not necessarily the case. Many different factors go into the quality of a wine, with the alcohol content being fairly low down on the list of things that make a wine good.
Others will argue that a high alcohol shows that the wine is more complex and thus should be treated with more care. This is certainly true when it comes to consumption. Drinking a wine with a high alcohol volume will result in you becoming intoxicated quicker, which means you need to be more wary about just how much you consume. But, a high alcohol volume does not mean that more care has gone into the wine. In many cases, the volume just comes from the production methods the winemaker has used.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Alcohol Levels in Current Wines
As we mentioned, there has been a trend towards higher alcohol volumes in wines for quite a while now. 20 or 30 years ago, it was more likely that you would see wines falling in the 11% to 13% range. However, more recently you will see a lot of supermarkets and wine stores lining their shelves with wines that reach or even exceed 15% in volume.
So, why is that? The reasons we mentioned above certainly play a part. You cannot underestimate the important role that perception plays in the wine industry. If enough people say something is good, there is a high likelihood that at least a certain portion of people will follow the crowd, which leads to surges in popularity for different wines and trends.
But the reason for increasing alcohol levels actually goes much deeper.
Climate change has been playing a big role in how much alcohol content modern wines contain. On a general level, more sun and hotter weather leads to ripe grapes that are high in sugar content. This combines to create higher alcohol levels in wines that may previously have fallen below the 13% mark.
As such, climate is playing as much a part in the trend towards higher levels of alcohol in wine.
What Does This Mean for Producers?
You wouldn’t think that high alcohol volumes in wine would mean much to producers. But, that’s not the case. The fact is that producers face higher alcohol taxes if their wines contain certain volumes of alcohol. In fact, in the United Kingdom, wines with a 15% alcohol volume cost much more for consumers than wines with low alcohol volumes because of this task.
This is a trend that you will see all over. High alcohol volumes result in higher taxes, which increases the price of the wine. You could even argue that this lends to the prestige status that wines with high alcohol volumes tend to enjoy. There’s an often-repeated myth that expensive wines are better wines. A high alcohol content forces the wine to be more expensive, which can create the perception that the wine is of higher quality.
Of course, producers have to swallow these high tax rates, so it’s not just consumers who suffer. Some even believe that certain winemakers declare lower alcohol rates for their wines to avoid paying this tax, though the fines for any company caught doing this would surely be high enough to dissuade most from the practice.
That leaves producers in a rather difficult position. Current climates lead to the growth of grapes that create wines with high volumes of alcohol. Producers have to sell these wines or else they have no product. These wines face higher taxes, which means both producers and consumers end up spending more than they might otherwise have done.
The Style Choices
Of course, we shouldn’t just assume high alcohol content comes from climate. Sure, some producers want to avoid high volumes, but others are more than happy to welcome them. A high alcohol volume can be a great selling point. Plus, even a small change in percentage will affect the texture and composition of the wine, which is something that many winemakers want to accomplish.
That’s where method comes into it, and it’s surprisingly simple. The general rule goes that grapes harvested towards the end of the year tend to produce wines that have higher alcohol volumes. This stands to reason because such grapes have been allowed to ripen for longer and thus have the sugars to generate more alcohol.
It takes a deft hand to accomplish the right balance in a bottle of wine, regardless of the alcohol content. However, high alcohol contents tend to require more balancing because the alcohol itself alters the flavours of the wine.
So, it’s a trade-off. High alcohol content meets current consumer expectations and has a certain perception about it. However, it also leads to higher taxes for producers and consumers, plus the producer will often need to put more work into balancing the wine. Of course, this extra work adds to the perception, as it ensures the wine meets the quality standards that some have assigned to wines with high alcohol contents.
It’s Your Choice
In the end, it’s entirely your choice. You can still find plenty of wines with lower alcohol volumes. In fact, some producers go out of their way to create wines with low volumes. There’s an Italian organic wine from a producer called Giol that is as low as 5.5% in volume.
A wine’s quality is not defined by the amount of alcohol in the wine. It’s just one of many different factors. In the end, it still comes down to the work of the producer, the quality of the grapes, and so many other factors.
As always, you should take care to drink responsibly, especially when consuming wines with high alcohol volumes. If current climate changes continue, we may be seeing even more high volume wines in the future.