Updated: Nov 26, 2021
Where does alcohol come from?
In order to create alcohol, we need to have sugar (from the grapes) and yeast for fermentation. Yeast naturally occurs in the air around us but winemakers can also use yeasts cultured in labs (most do).
Sugar (grapes) + Yeast > Carbon Dioxide + Alcohol
The more sugar the grapes have the higher the potential alcohol of the wine – this depends on many factors including but not limited to the grape variety, the climate and the winemaker.
This can also be linked to the sweetness of the wine, as a winemaker can leave residual sugar behind as desired.
Alcohol levels in wine
A standard glass of wine contains between 11–14% abv. Although there are many wines outside of this range.
Low – up to 11% abv – these wines tend to be from cooler climate regions such as Austria (Grüner Veltliner Steinfeder) or Germany (Riesling Kabinett and Spätlese) and can be light in body and sweet. Some sweet sparkling wines also come from the North of Italy (Moscato D’Asti).
Medium 11% - 13.9% - as you might guess these tend to come from a moderate climate – lots of sunlight but also cooler temperatures. Think New Zealand (Sauvignon Blanc), France (Loire, Burgundy and Beaujolais) and the North of Italy (Gavi and Soave).
High above 14% - I’m sure you’ve seen the trend by now – these are wines from warmer climates with long growing seasons so the grapes can be left on the vines to achieve full ripeness. South of France (Rhone and Languedoc Roussillon), California (Cabernet and Zinfandel), Australia (Shiraz and Cabernet) and Fortified wines (Port and Sherry).
What does alcohol do to the flavour of the wine?
Higher alcohol will give a more viscous character to the wine as well as a feeling of warmth.