JWL Issue #035: It's January, so what's Alcohol in Wine?

January 8, 2019

Happy New Year. I’m back after a two week hiatus over Christmas. It wasn’t all relaxing though, I launched An Introduction To English Wine over Christmas, which you can listen to on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. Please let me know what you think of it, early reviews have been good but am keen to hear from you the weekly readers.

So what have you been drinking over the past few weeks? Open anything special on Christmas or New Year’s? Hit reply and let me know.

How many of you are doing Dry January this year? There’s been quite a few articles about low or no-alcohol wines about at the moment, but I’ve not tried any specifically.

Personally, I’m a fan of lower alcohol wines these days anyway that I’m erring on the healthier side. Almost.

Wines this week are some choice highlights over the past few weeks. 


Under £10, Down The Line Shiraz Tempranillo is a budget winner. It’s an Aussie tempranillo blend which is what caught my eye, and its lashings of spice and red fruit don’t disappoint.

While in Oddbins, white chardonnay fans should really buy a bottle of Matchbook's The Arsonist Chardonnay. The body structure and flavour reminded me more of the Northern Rhône more than California. White flowers with an incredibly fleshy texture. Top notch chardonnay at a very good value price, though it's now out of stock at Oddbins. Keep an eye out just in case.

I was given the Virgin Wines advent calendar, of which I’ve still got plenty to taste my way through. One particular early highlight though was Les Arbousiers Syrah-Grenache blend. While the aroma of red cherries and black pepper were comforting in cold December, it was the balance of the wine that really brought good value for the price point. Virgin are selling 2019's vintage for £9.99 if you're looking to pick a bottle up. 


Alcohol in wine

Given the healthy new year, I thought I’d touch a little on alcohol within wine. 

Alcohol is produced when the sugars in grapes ferment. The ripeness of the grape affects how much sugar there is, which means that climate, and weather all affect potential alcohol level. 

If there isn’t enough natural sugar in a wine, winemakers can choose to ‘chaptalise’ the wines meaning they add more sugar into the grape juice before fermentation. As with all winemaker interventions, some winemakers choose to avoid this.

This means that a cool climate wine that’s 'naturally’ made might lean towards being naturally lower in alcohol (point in case: Tillingham’s Pet Nat from England at 10%). 

'Low alcohol’ wines are defined as those under 10% ABV. Medium sits between 10 and 15, and then 'high’ is 15 and above. 

The trend over the last 30 years or so has broadly been towards higher alcohol wines. Many cite the reason for this as Robert Parker, an American wine critic, whose preference for high alcohol wines combined with his influence have meant winemakers have chased those higher ABVs. Many Californian Bordeaux blends - and indeed many Bordeaux themselves now - fall into this 15+ category of wine. 

If you’re looking to reduce your alcohol intake this new year, rather than cut it out completely, explore some fantastic lower alcohol, and cooler climate wines where you can.

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