Why Vintners are Understating Alcohol Content on Wine Bottles

Ever sat down in a fabulous restaurant, ordered the house wine, asked the wait staff to leave the bottle and then read said label to see what its alcohol content was? Very few wine consumers would find themselves perusing the label.  Most are not interested in the alcohol content. They are looking for a nice bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner.

A recent study published by the American Association of Wine Economists found of the 129,000 bottles of wine they used, the average alcohol content was 13.6 percent instead of the 13.1 percent listed on the label. Of all the wines tested over 50 percent were found to have higher alcohol content than the bottle read.  Combine that with the fact that most bars are increasingly using large glasses.  250 ml glasses are not unheard of in some bars. That equals about one third of the content of a normal bottle. These super-strength bottles of wine have been blamed by some for an increase in drunkenness, rowdy behavior, ill health and even hospital stays.

Those who understate alcohol content the most would be wine makers in Argentina, Chile and the United States. However, according to the Daily Mail, all wine producing countries including Italy, Spain and France were known to understate alcohol content. So why do wineries do it? It is not illegal to understate the alcohol content. Some do it because they believe that it is to their advantage to do so. They want their wines to have sensory appeal rather than alcohol appeal. They want the wine to be associated with specific flavors rather than the alcohol content. It is doubtful that a restaurant patron will hear a customer ask about alcohol content.

How do wineries determine the alcohol content of their wines?  In its least common denominator it’s all simple subtraction.  Before the yeast is added a hydrometer reading is taken. Note this reading which should be between 1.060 and 1.120.  After fermentation take another reading right before the wine is bottled. This reading should fall somewhere between .090 and 1.010. Then you subtract the second reading from the first and find your nearest conversion chart to determine the alcohol content.  The charts should be available at every winery.

If wine consumers find themselves worried about the alcohol content in that fine bottle, perhaps, when the waiter brings that extra large glass they should decline politely and ask for a smaller glass.  It is doubtful that any restaurant would refuse a customer.