Alcohol in Wine Explained

This is blog post 4 of 5 about the different component of structure. We've been using the S.T.A.A.F. acronym:

  1. Sugar Content
  2. Tannins
  3. Acidity
  4. Alcohol
  5. Fruitiness

If you need a refresher...

Structure is the foundation of a wine. Just like a house, a wine cannot be great, let alone good, if there's not solid framework to build upon.

What does alcohol contribute to the wine?

  • Because it's more viscous than water, alcohol adds texture and body to wine.
  • High alcohol wines may seem heavier in the mouth (full body)

How do you taste alcohol in wine?

  • It's more of a feeling than it is a flavor or taste...
  • High ABV wine triggers pain receptors creating a hot, burning sensation after swallowing/sipping. 
  • Did you ever drink vodka thinking it was water in your younger years? That burning sensation is ALCOHOL.
  • You can also feel those pain receptors in your nostrils sometimes when you smell a high-alcohol wine. Kind of feels like your singing your nostril hairs.
  • This sensation is described as "hot"

Alcohol levels in wine:

  • Low Alcohol Wine = below 12% ABV
  • Medium Alcohol Wine = 12%-13.9% ABV
  • High Alcohol Wine = 14% or more ABV

How is alcohol created in wine?

  • Yeast + sugar = Alcohol + CO2
  • Yeasts metabolize grape sugars converting the sugar into alcohol. Carbon Dioxide is a byproduct of this process which is typically released into the air, unless trapping it in the wine for sparkling wine production.

How does climate affect ABV in wine?

  • Warmer Climates = Riper Grapes = Higher Sugar Levels = Higher Alcohol Levels
  • The riper the grapes, the more potential sugar there is to be converted into alcohol
  • Cooler Climates = less ripe grapes = lower sugar levels = lower alcohol levels

Alcohol and Acidity Have an Inverse Ratio

  • Warm/Hot Climate = high alcohol, low acidity
  • Cool Climate = low alcohol, high acidity

What kind of alcohol is in wine?

  • Ethanol is the main type of alcohol in wine. 
  • Small trace amounts of other alcohol types are also created during the fermentation process

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