When it comes to wine, there are a lot of different styles and types to choose from. But what about alcohol content? Believe it or not, the alcohol content in wine can vary quite a bit. In this blog post, we’re going to take a look at wines with high alcohol content. We’ll discuss what kinds of wines tend to have high alcohol content, as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of drinking these types of wines.
Although it may not seem like it, wine has been steadily becoming more alcoholic over the past two decades. The average alcohol content in wine from New World producers increased from 12% to 15%, with some winemakers even making wines close to 20% alcohol by volume.
For comparison, beer generally contains 4% to 6% alcohol while vodka has a whopping 40%.
Discover the Unique Process of Making High Alcohol Content Wine
For those of you new to the discussion, here’s a bit more background – as grapes grow on their vines, they gradually collect sugar. Grapes that are grown in cooler climates will have less sugar and usually make wines that are more acidic and have lower alcohol content. In contrast, grapes grown in warmer climates will make fruity wines with full-bodied flavor. Additionally, the longer grapes stay on the vine, the higher concentration of sugar they’ll contain.
There is a downside, though. The yeast that’s used during fermentation is living, and it will only live for so long – no matter how sweet the grapes are. Most natural yeasts die with an alcohol content of around 13 to 15%. This inhibits their ability to convert sugars into alcohol. If a winemaker wants to create a wine with high alcoholic levels, they need to use methods other than natural fermentation.
If you’re looking to get a little extra “kick” out of your wine, here are some methods for upping the alcohol content.
Generally speaking, there are two ways to make potent wine: by fortifying it or allowing it to ferment (naturally). The strongest wines always utilize the former method.
There are two processes for making fortified wine- adding a distilled spirit into the wine during fermentation, or killing the yeast early. In America, grape-based spirits like brandy are used. The later you add the spirit in to process, the drier it’ll be. Adding higher alcohols earlier will kill off yeast and leave a sweeter final product because there’s still sugar left in grape juice.
If winemakers want to create a high-alcohol wine that still tastes good, they have to go through extra steps in the natural process. This is what professionals refer to as “taming” or balancing the flavor of the wine.
As referenced earlier, yeast has been bred (no pun intended) to survive in environments with up to 13% ABV content (Alcohol By Volume). If the percentage surpasses this amount, the yeast dies and no more sugar gets turned into alcohol. In recent times, we’ve managed to create yeast that can live in areas around 20%, though these are few and far between – generally speaking, any vintner that can get 16% out of their process should consider themselves lucky.
Maintaining a balance between wine’s alcohol content and the flavor is the key to “taming” it. To enhance its taste, winemakers typically use more grapes and/or other fruit per bottle than they would normally- perhaps 3 to 5 pounds instead of 2 or 3. However, there isn’t much else they can do (that we know of), as many wineries like to keep their methods top secret. We can only assume that some labs are involved in getting the perfect drink.
Types of Wines with High Alcohol Content
There are a few different types of wines that tend to have high alcohol content. These include red wines, dessert wines, and fortified wines. Let’s take a closer look at each type:
Red Wines: Red wines are made with dark-colored grapes that have been fermented with their skins on. The skins of the grapes contain high levels of tannins, which give red wines their signature dry, astringent taste. Red wines also tend to have higher levels of alcohol than white wines.
Dessert Wines: Dessert wines are sweet, full-bodied wines that are typically served after a meal. These types of wines are made by allowing the grapes to overripen on the vine or by stopping the fermentation process early so that some residual sugar remains in the wine. Dessert wines tend to have very high levels of alcohol, often upwards of 15% ABV.
Fortified Wines: Fortified wines are made by adding a distilled spirit, such as brandy, to wine. This fortification process increases the alcohol content of the wine, often to 15% ABV or higher. Fortified wines include popular styles like Port and Sherry.
Benefits of Drinking Wines with High Alcohol Content
There are a few benefits to drinking wines with high alcohol content. First, these types of wines tend to have more robust flavors and aromas than lower-alcohol wines. This is because the higher alcohol levels help to extract more flavor from the grapes during fermentation. Second, high-alcohol wine can help you feel fuller faster, which is ideal if you’re trying to watch your weight. Finally, many people believe that high-alcohol wine has health benefits, such as improved heart health and increased cognitive function.
Drawbacks of Drinking Wines with High Alcohol Content
Of course, there are also some drawbacks to drinking high-alcohol wine. First and foremost among these is the risk of alcohol poisoning. Because these types of wines have such high alcohol levels, it’s important to drink them in moderation and be aware of your limit. Additionally, high-alcohol wine can cause dehydration and headaches if you drink too much too fast. Finally, these types of wines can be difficult to pair with food because their strong flavors can overwhelm delicate dishes.
Wines with the Highest Alcohol Content
Wines with higher alcohol levels come from hotter climates. More sugar develops on the vines through sunlight and heat, so growers can pick them when they’re at their ripest. The amount of sugar in grapes correlates to how much alcohol is in wine.
- Wines from sunny California are typically ripe and full-bodied due to the state’s long, hot days. These characteristics often lead to the higher alcohol content in Californian wines, which can be as high as 15%. Some of the most popular types of wine made in California include Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, and Chardonnay.
- Wines produced in the sunny south of France are often high in alcohol content, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the blended reds hailing from Languedoc and Rousillon.
- Amarone Della Valpolicella is an Italian wine that is made with dry white wine grapes that have been dried in the sun after harvest. This drying process concentrates the sugars and creates a dry wine with up to 16% ABV.
- The rest of the world’s high-alcohol wines are fortified and contain spirits. These types of wine range from Marsalas in Sicily, to aged ports and Madeiras in Portugal, to various styles of dry or sweet sherries from Jerez, Spain. The lightest beverage would be a fino with 15% ABV while the richest would be a Pedro Ximénez sherry at 25% ABV.
Wines with high alcohol content can be delicious and full-flavored — but they should be consumed in moderation due to their potential risks. If you’re looking for a robust red or a sweet dessert wine, keep an eye out for labels that list the wine’s alcohol content by volume (ABV). And when in doubt, always err on the side of caution when it comes to how much you drink!