Wine: From the Lightest to the Strongest

It’s a tiniest fact that the largest wine maker E. J.Gallo established their fortunes on the popularity with their White Wine, Thunderbird. The wine was made to appeal to a younger market but has now gained an elitist reputation as it is a “bum wine.”

The Lightest to the Strongest Wine

What made Thunderbird so successful? huge success? Well, simply put, it has 20 percent Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Let’s examine what the alcohol content of wine, starting with the lightest and ending with the most powerful. The truth is that wine’s alcohol content varies in a wide range from to 5.5 percent to as high as 23 percent ABV. There are various factors that impact the amount of alcohol in wine, including the type of wine, the quality and the climate in which the grapes are cultivated.

How many glasses of wine should we be drinking?

The standard can be said to mean that an ounce wine is equivalent to one standard drink. Women are given one glass per evening, while men receive two. This makes an assumption of a wine that has 12.2% ABV. If you’re drinking a high-alcohol wine, such as Port as well as Thunderbird (at 20 percent ABV) The recommended serving size is approximately half. It’s a good idea to go with the less alcohol-laden wine in particular in the case of drinking.

You can consume more light-alcohol wine to get the same effect as drinking one glass of high-alcohol wine.

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Shop Now Low Alcohol Wines

At 10 percent ABV limit, most wines are lighter with body, and sweet. German Kabinett Riesling (at eight percent ABV) along with Italian Moscato Asti (at 5.5 percent ABV) are two typical examples of wines with low alcohol levels.

The reason the wines are sweet comes from the leftover grape sugar present in the wine once the alcohol level is at the desired level. The remaining sweetness in wine is known as the residual sugar (RS) and is derived due to the sweetness of the grapes at the time of harvest.

  • Moscato d’Asti 5.5 ABV 5% (lightly shining sweet white wine from Italy)
  • Brachetto D’Acqui 6.5 ABV 6.5 % (lightly bright sweet red wine from Italy)
  • Kabinett Riesling 8% ABV (light sweet German Riesling)
  • Spatlese Riesling 8.5% ABV (rich sweet German Riesling)
  • Alsace Blanc 9%-10% ABV (France)
  • Muscadet 9.5% ABV (France)


Medium-Low Alcohol Wines

Wines with a range of 10-11.5 percentage ABV are typically made when grapes that are less sweet are used to create wine. It’s commonplace to find white wines that have moderately low alcohol coming from regions with cooler climates such as France, Northern Italy and Germany.

There are also sparkling wines that fall into this category due to the fact that winemakers pick their grapes a bit earlier in the season, to ensure that the wines remain fresh with a higher acidity that complements the bubbles.

  • Muscadet (France)
  • Touraine as well as Cheverny (Sauvignon Blanc, a wine from Loire, France)
  • Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Soave (Italy)
  • Gavi (an Italian wine region which produces white wines using the grapes of Cortese.)
  • Pinot Grigio (Italy)
  • Gruner Veltliner (Austria)

Medium Alcohol Wines

If you’re in the US it is possible that these numbers are somewhat low, however for all of the world 11.5%-13.5 percent ABV is the norm. In reality the US most common portion of wine is one glass (5 8 oz) of wine with a moderate alcohol content.

The majority of European wines fall into this category and also American cheap wines.

  • Bordeaux (Cabernet-Merlot mix from France)
  • Bourgogne (Pinot Noir or Chardonay from France)
  • Champagne (France)
  • Cote du Rhone (France)
  • Beaujolais (France)
  • Chianti (Italy)
  • Dolcetto (Italy)
  • Barbera (Italy)
  • Nebbiolo (Italy)
  • Rose Wine
  • Sauvignon Blanc (California)
  • Value Reds (California)
  • Red Wines (Chile)
  • Riesling (Washington)
  • Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir (Oregon)


Medium-High Alcohol Wines

This is the variety in dry American wines as well as other warmer climate regions such as Argentina, Australia, Spain and Southern Italy. The warmer climate regions will produce more sweet grapes, which can increase the alcohol content potential of the wine.

  • Chardonnay (California and Washington)
  • Viognier (California)
  • Petite Sirah (California)
  • Pinot Noir (California)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (California and Washington)
  • Zinfandel (California)
  • Grenache aka Garnacha (Spain and Australia)
  • Shiraz (Australia)
  • Pinotage (South Africa)
  • Malbec (Argentina)
  • Barolo (Italy)
  • Amarone della Valpolicella (Italy)
  • Brunello di Montalcino (Italy)
  • Nero d’Avola (Italy)
  • Chateauneuf-du-Pape (France)

High Alcohol Wines

High alcohol wines are produced in either by either fortification or naturally. Fortified wine is made when an unflavored spirit (usually an alcoholic grape brandy) adds to the wine to increase the amount of alcohol in it.

The initial reason of fortifying wine was to maintain the taste of the wine during the time of exploration. Dessert wines that are high in alcohol such as Port, Marsala, Madeira and Sherry are typically fortified as are aromatic wine (aka vermouth).

It’s more difficult to find an alcohol-free wine that is natural however, they are available due to the advancement of the advancement of science!

  • Shiraz ~15.5% ABV (Australia)
  • Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre 15.5% ABV (California and Australia)
  • Zinfandel up to 16% ABV (California)
  • Late Harvest Dessert Wine 15-17% ABV
  • Sherry 15-20% ABV (Spain)
  • Port and Tawny Port ~20% ABV (Portugal)
  • Banyuls and Maury ~20% ABV (France)
  • Madeira ~20% ABV (Portugal)
  • Marsala ~20% ABV (Sicily)
  • Aromatized Wine (Vermouth) 20% ABV
  • Other Fortified Wines


Have Wines Become More Alcoholic?


The reason that wine is naturally higher in alcohol has a great deal to do with the science. For instance, in the 1950’s, yeast was not able to survive at the presence of alcohol levels higher than 13.5 percent ABV. In reality it was not uncommon to experience the phenomenon of “stuck fermentation” where yeasts were killed before all the sugar contained in grape juice was transformed to alcohol. ( This is how white zin was created!).

We’ve created extremely robust yeasts that are able to withstand the presence of alcohol levels up to 16.5 percent ABV. This could be the reason why we’re seeing a greater number of high-alcohol beers now than ever before.

Another possibility could be due to the changing climate. The sweeter and more ripe it is, the more the volume of alcohol (because yeast transforms sugar to alcohol). Of course it is difficult to prove since there are a myriad of factors.

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