What’s the big deal about alcohol percentage in wine?

Many a debate has been had regarding the increase in alcohol percent in wine over time. Some like the higher alcohol wines, some hate them, and others don’t care what the alcohol percent is as long as the wine is well balanced.

According to a study conducted by the American Association of Wine Economists looking at data from 1992-2009, average alcohol in wine increased 1.12%.

The wine geeks among us talk about fruit bombs and the Parker effect but the more casual wine lover may just want to know if it drinking the higher alcohol wine is okay or if they are in danger of passing out on the cheese tray (note – I’m not addressing how high alcohol wines affect driving – not my area of expertise).

Found on the wine label, the alcohol percent tells us how much of what we are drinking is pure alcohol. To figure out how much is in your glass of wine, multiple the ounces (5 ounces in a standard pour) with the alcohol percent (ABV).

In a glass of a moderate 13% ABV wine, 0.65 ounces is alcohol. Move this up to a hefty 15% ABV and you get 0.75 ounces of alcohol in your glass. A difference of 0.10 doesn’t sound like much but make your glass a bottle (25.4 ounces) and the difference would be an extra 0.51 ounces, almost an extra glass of wine.

Putting this into another perspective, a typical shot glass with 1.5 ounces of vodka at 38% ABV will give you 0.57 ounces of alcohol. Most people consume wine at a very different rate than they do a shot, which is why that shot hits you much harder than a glass of wine consumed over time.

Multiple factors play into how alcohol is absorbed by each of us – genetics, gender, weight and lean mass, how often you consume alcohol, whether you are eating, and the period of time over which you are drinking.

For me, drinking a glass or two of a higher ABV wine probably wouldn’t make a difference. How about if I had a bottle? The ABV may make a difference, but in reality I’m pretty much done after 2 or 3 glasses.

Regardless of whether it’s 13% or 15% alcohol, having the 4th or 5th glass would probably result in me passed out on my dessert.

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