If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed a growing trend. Keep reading to learn the surprising reason why there’s more wine with higher alcohol levels.
If you’re still perusing the wares at your local winery instead of having it delivered right to your door, you might have noticed a trend. More and more wines have higher alcohol levels. At first, this might not seem like that big of a deal. Sure, if you’re watching your alcohol intake then you’ll have to have a smaller glass, but that’s not the end of the world–unless you really love wine like we do 😉
All joking aside, understanding WHY this is happening is pretty important. Plus, the same thing causing wine to have more alcohol is having other unexpected effects as well. Keep reading and learn the surprising reason why there’s more wine with higher alcohol levels.
Alcohol Levels Across the Wine Industry
Creating wine for the mass market is no easy feat. First, you have to produce enough grapes for a massive amount of wine, then you have to make that wine, safely ship that wine, and all while maintaining a consistent flavor that customers will love. Not to toot our own horn, but doing this without cutting any corners and still providing high-quality wine is pretty impressive. Especially when you consider all the different shortcuts someone might take to produce mass-market wine.
Winemakers have been relying on chemical additives, like Mega Purple, or even additional wine treatments for years. Winemaking is expensive, so these moves allow winemakers to save large batches that would otherwise be “flawed.” For tax reasons, or even just for traditional winemaking reasons, some winemakers are particularly concerned with the amount of alcohol in their wine.
In 2016, a report from the Journal of Wine Economics found that nearly 60 percent of the nearly 100,000 bottles of wine they tested had more alcohol than what was listed on the label. Regardless of why this information was misrepresented, it still means over the last several years, wine is becoming more and more alcoholic.
For most wine lovers, it’s about the overall experience. It’s about the expression of aroma and flavor, the body of the wine, and even the way it looks. If the amount of alcohol didn’t influence those things, then the only concern would be alcohol consumption. But alcohol does influence the overall experience, so it most certainly does matter.
Why There’s More Wine With Higher Alcohol Levels
The process of making wine all starts with growing grapes. As the grapes grow and ripen, they develop sugars that end up fermenting into alcohol. The more sugar a grape has, the more alcohol will end up in the finished product. So, if more sugar means more alcohol, why do grapes suddenly have more sugar?
Global warming. Higher temperatures mean that grapes ripen faster and have higher sugar levels. So, while there’s definitely a market for wine with higher alcohol levels, this change is mostly unintentional. Sweeter grapes are sometimes desirable, but increasing the alcohol too much can make it harder to pick up on more subtle nuances.
In particularly hot growing seasons in the past, compounds like tannins and anthocyanins haven’t developed correctly. This has led to flatter acidity and higher alcohol levels. Too much variation between daytime and nighttime temperatures have negatively influenced flavor and aroma in certain regions. Plus, heatwaves and excess heat have always been a danger as they can lead to flabby, dull flavors. With global warming creating these hotter conditions, more and more wine will start experiencing these issues.
Wine Enthusiast has even said, “This is already happening in some places. Wine growers in northern Italy have already seen sunburnt crops with increasing frequency…Growers in Priorat, Spain, reported devastating vine damage, scorched leaves and desiccated grapes when temperatures shot up to a record 107.6˚F.”
This brings us to another unexpected consequence of Global Warming. Not only is climate change impacting grapes, but it’s also having a major impact on overall wine regions. If you’ve read our article about Terroir, then you know certain locations impart unique characteristics on their wine. With changing temperatures, growing and harvesting seasons are shifting. This has made it trickier to grow wine grapes in traditionally successful areas, and easier to grow them in regions that were once undesirable.
What Can Winemakers Do About Climate Change?
While these new areas of wine growth are exciting and have, admittedly, transformed their local economies for the better, it’s likely this silver-lining will be short-lived. Unless the climate changes suddenly stabilize, temperatures will continue to increase and continue to change the world of wine. This means the wine industry will have to take action to adapt or counter these changes.
Seeing as how winemaking is already an expensive process, it’s unlikely vineyards will simply relocate to different regions. Relocating is truly NOT an option, especially considering the deep history most winemakers have with their land. With that being the case, most winemakers will resort to wine treatments, vineyard intervention, or even altering certain ingredients.
For a wine that’s simply too alcoholic after fermentation, reverse osmosis is a fairly common treatment that removes alcohol and water. The water can be added back in afterward which gives winemakers more control over the concentration of the end product.
Vineyard intervention can include anything from strategic irrigation techniques to specific farming practices. When it comes to the yeast winemakers use, some are considering the use of genetically modified yeasts to control alcohol production. All these options are viable, but when it comes to whether or not they’re successful only time will tell.
Help Support the Future of Wine
Our corner of the wine industry has always been about mindfully growing, harvesting, and crafting high-quality wine free of residual sugar and toxins. That’s why we practice dry farming and work so hard to create low-carb wine. We don’t know what the future will bring, but we know wine will always be part of our lives.
We want to take a moment to send some love to the Napa Valley Wineries damaged or destroyed by the recent wildfires. However, if wine history has taught us anything, it’s that winemakers are resilient. It’s the kind of craft that runs in your veins and gets passed down from generation to generation.
So, keep drinking wine. Keep sharing bottles with your friends and keep popping open bottles for celebrations. That’s how we’ll keep the wine industry alive–by drinking wine. So, consider buying a bottle for a friend, and if you’re feeling particularly in love with wine consider subscribing to the SECCO Wine Club. Join us in our journey to make wine, drink wine, and grow the wine community.