How Much Alcohol is in Wine?

Whether you love a low-alcohol sparkling wine like Moscato d’Asti or a boozy fortified wine like Tawny Port, the amount of alcohol in your favorite sippers plays a more significant role than you might think.

In fact, alcohol levels play a critical role in a wine’s taste

Whether you love a low-alcohol sparkling wine like Moscato d’Asti or a boozy fortified wine like Tawny Port, the amount of alcohol in your favorite sippers plays a more significant role than you might think.

In fact, alcohol levels play a critical role in a wine’s taste and structure. 

In this article, we’re breaking down the alcohol content in wine, where it comes from, and why it’s essential. 

How Much Alcohol is in Wine?

What is the Alcohol Percentage in Wine?

When looking at a bottle of wine to purchase, you will notice a small number on the wine label next to a percentage. You will also see three letters, “ABV,” which means “alcohol by volume.” This number represents the amount of alcohol making up the total liquid. The higher the number, the more alcohol in the wine.

The amount of alcohol in a 5-ounce serving size, about one glass, can average between 5-7%, depending on what you’re sipping.

Now that we know what alcohol percentage is, let’s examine where a wine’s alcohol content comes from.

Where Does Wine Alcohol Come From?

A wine’s alcohol comes from two sources:

  1. The fermentation process in winemaking
  2. Alcohol added by the winemaker

The Wine Fermentation Process

All wine grapes produce a certain amount of natural sugar content that converts to alcohol during fermentation. After fermenting for a specific time, the grape juice (or “must”) produces a natural yeast that consumes the sugars, converting them into alcohol. The more sugar in the wine’s juice, the higher the alcohol content will be. 

Where does wine alcohol come from?

Added Alcohol

In the case of fortified wines like the dessert wine, Port, a spirit like Brandy is added to the wine towards the end of the winemaking process. This adds flavor and body to the wine, but we’ll discuss that later. 

For now, let’s look into the average alcohol content of wine.

Average Alcohol Content

On average, the medium alcohol content lies between 11-13%, depending on the type of wine. For example, red wines tend to have a higher alcohol by volume (ABV) than white wine. This is because red wines have higher tannins, the astringent taste that makes your mouth pucker when you sip. 

Alcohol helps balance highly tannic red wines like Tempranillo and Sangiovese. Below is a rundown of alcohol percentage from low to high:

  • Low-alcohol wines: Any wine with an ABV of 10% or under. Some examples include Sweet Riesling (9%), Muscadet (9.5%), Lambrusco (8%), and Moscato d’asti (5.5%).
  • Medium alcohol wines: The alcohol content for these wines shouldn’t be any higher than 11%. These include Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, and Champagne.
  • High-alcohol wines: A high-alcohol wine is anything over 13% ABV. This includes Syrah (15%), Zinfandel (14-16%), Marsala (20%), and Port (20% and above) to name a few.
The alcohol content in wine does more than make it stronger; it can even affect its taste.
Alcohol content in red wine

How Wine’s Alcohol Content Affects its Taste

Since higher-alcohol wines usually come from grapes with more natural sugars, a high alcohol content may trick your brain into thinking that the wine tastes sweeter. Higher ABV wines like Ruby Port and Tawny Port are incredibly sweet, a testament to the Brandy added after fermentation. 

The alcohol content also contributes to a wine’s structure. Robust wines like Cabernet SauvignonMerlotSyrah, and bold Chardonnays have a higher alcohol content. As mentioned above, if a wine is too bitter or has too many tannins, alcohol brings harmony to the flavor profile. 

Now that we know how alcohol content affects wine taste, let’s find out what food pairings work best with wines according to alcohol content. 

Best Food Pairings Depending on Alcohol Content

Alcoholic beverages like wine contain low, medium, and high amounts of alcohol. A low-alcohol white wine is more refreshing and light compared to a robust, high-alcohol red wine, which is richer and heavier in structure and flavor.

Best Food Pairings Depending on Alcohol Content

Low-Alcohol Wine Pairings

Low-alcohol wines like Moscato and Lambrusco taste lovely with light summer meals like fresh fish and simple salads. Break out the charcuterie board and fresh fruit, as soft cheeses and strawberries are also excellent companions. 

Medium-Alcohol Wine Pairings

Medium-rich meals like salmon, chicken, and pasta in light white sauce or red sauce are great choices for wines with a middle-of-the-road alcohol content, like Pinot Noir. Heartier shellfish, like buttered lobster, taste decadent with medium alcohol Chardonnay.

High-Alcohol Wine Pairings

Rich desserts and barbecue ribs are a match made in heaven for wines like Zinfandel and Port. Rich, gooey chocolate lava cake is decadent with Merlot or Tawny Port, whereas Zinfandel is best for baby back ribs.

Show Appreciation for Alcohol Content

Alcohol content is much more than what it sounds like. As we’ve learned from this blog, alcohol provides flavor depth, structure, and balance for red and white wines. 

Visit our wine shop to find low, medium, and high-alcohol wines suited to your taste.

Learn more about the wines you love at our Macy’s Wine Shop Blog.

Let Macy’s be your one-stop shop for all things wine!