What dictates the alcohol content in wine?
Low and no alcohol is on the up, so I thought I’d answer this question about alcohol content in wine.
Alcohol is produced when the sugars in grapes ferment. The ripeness of the grape affects how much sugar there is, which means that climate, and weather both affect potential alcohol level.
If there isn’t enough natural sugar in a wine, winemakers can choose to ‘chaptalise’ the wines meaning they add more sugar into the grape juice before fermentation. As with all winemaker interventions, some winemakers choose to avoid this.
This means that a cool climate wine that’s ‘naturally’ made might lean towards being naturally lower in alcohol.
'Low alcohol’ wines are defined as those under 10% ABV. Medium sits between 10% and 15%, and then 'high’ is 15% and above.
The trend over the last 30 years or so has broadly been towards higher alcohol wines. Many cite the reason for this as Robert Parker, an American wine critic, whose preference for high alcohol wines combined with his influence have meant winemakers have chased those higher ABVs. Many Californian Bordeaux blends - and indeed many Bordeaux themselves now - fall into this 15%+ category of wine.
Cool climate wines like those from England, will often lend themselves to being lower in alcohol.