Why do we have an alcohol problem…?

DSC03485

Rising sea levels are often discussed in the media, alongside the demise of the polar ice-caps, disappearing islands, and perhaps one day, for Venice to vanish. A problem which gets much more press in the wine industry is not the rising of sea levels, but the rising alcohol content in wine.You may be wondering how big, boozy, full-fruit-flavours could ever be a problem? And surely that’s the popular style? You are quite right for asking these questions, and some of it is down to style, but the real problem is to do with nature rather than nurture.

As temperatures rise, so do sugar levels and therefore so does the alcohol. In the warmer wine regions of the world, the ABV of a wine will very often be 13.5% and upwards. Although many consumers don’t mind this level, there are many more who do.

Not only are wines generally rising in alcohol, but the labeling of strength is less clear than you might imagine. European law states that the strength on a bottle of wine can be up to 0.5% above or below the actual amount. This may not seem much, but 13.5% wines become 14% and 14.5% become 15% and so on…

Two weeks ago (22.11.12) thedrinksbusiness.com wrote an article about the major Chilean winery ‘Cono Sur’. In the article, wine maker Matias Rios tells how alcohol levels are the biggest challenge for their winery to make top quality Pinot noir. Mr. Rios now has a challenge on his hands to reduce alcohol.

When making wine, it is paramount that the wine is in balance. This means that the acidity, the sweetness, the fruit and also the alcohol, is all in harmony with one another. You can find wines of 15% which have no hint of alcohol or heat on the nose, because they are well-balanced. On the contrary, you can find 12% wines which smell like methylated spirit. The challenge at Cono Sur is particular because Pinot Noir does not have the big body of say, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon which has enough structure to support heady-alcohol flavours.

From a style point of view, high alcohol, full-bodied styles are very popular, but the question is what will happen if alcohol content continues to rise in the future, or if fashion returns back to less boozy more elegant styles? If and when this time comes, wine makers will be looking for advice from such producers as Cono Sur.

By Wine In Madrid