Can You Trust the Alcohol Levels Stated on Wine Bottles?

I recently finished a bottle with my meal while travelling alone.  Having found a comfortable hotel, I retired for the night, sleeping somewhere unfamiliar.

After my experience I would strongly recommend the wearing of sturdily fastened pyjamas as I woke up in the corridor at 5 am. Thankfully, it was the corridor of the hotel to which I had checked in some hours earlier.

Thus I have a suspicion that some of our wines that declare 14-14.5% alcohol have considerably higher levels, anecdotally, I hear, up to 16.5%!

I remember attending a vertical tasting at a famous burgundy house some years ago. The winemaker presented his flight of wines outlining in detail the challenges and variations of each vintage which made each of his wines so delightfully different. I noticed that all the alcohol levels were the same and asked the question, the winemaker shrugged and smiled saying that it was too much trouble to print a new label each year.

I have suffered from these cage fighters of wines, waking up innocently the following morning with my tongue out and stuck firmly to the side of my face, my memory partially erased and in general need of the human equivalent of a hard drive reboot. I have woken up in positions in my bed that voluntarily one doesn’t take up unless one has been the butt of some cruel student You Tube prank.

There is really little way of knowing when you open the bottle. Every student of wine understands the two warming fingertips on the back of the throat and can deduct to within a percentage or two the strength of the wine. On a social occasion this will become unimportant and the juice will be heartily consumed.

At present big, highly extracted, boomy, full bodied reds are very popular and carry  declarations of 14.5% Alcohol– the vinous equivalent of wearing your underpants outside your trousers!

 These wines could and very often have higher levels of alcohol.  You see, still light wines are classified for excise taxation purposes in many countries as a category normally up to 15.5% . So once the shape of the bottle and declaration are sound there is normally little reason for any authority to interfere.

My two greatest fears are; (Ask any scuba diver!) Beware of the great whites, massive intense chardonnays the type of wine that grunts bearlike when it plays tennis. And low level obscure Spaniards that claim Gran Reserva status without the elevated price tag. They indicate to you how dangerous they are by being sold in a wire cage.

You all know the consequences; don’t blame the wine you drank it and it was the alcohol alone that has sent  many a weakened man to the heaving bosom of the wrong woman.

So how do you know before you open it if it is too strong? Well you just can’t tell.

 I personally, use the following guidelines:

  • Obscure Spaniards in wire cages-we put dangerous animals in wire cages, this is a no brainer.
  • New World claims of Reserva with high alcohol levels, it’s not beyond imagination to translate “reserve” as pickled
  • 14.5% alcohol declarations from ripe vintages in hot places it’s probably higher.
  • The consistency of snuff and a port like heat on the back of your throat. Careful now!
  • A gift from an obscure country not known for exporting its wines with the alcohol level not declared.
  • A wine that comes in a vessel shaped like a Victorian sex toy or marine invertebrate.
  • A wine whose fresh stain looks like it has been there for decades.
  • A wine that when you open it all the flies that had been hanging around your food mysteriously disappear.
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About winephantom

The recession has hit hard, no more tipping the last 1/2 glass out of the champagne bottle because it's a tad too warm. My lender would be kicking down my door for his interest if he knew I was drinking at all. Now I spend my time with the €5-€10 bottles discovering some real value and encountering some swamp donkeys to be avoided. This blog is a Wine Diploma holding palate, forced to trawl the murky depths populated by the bare knuckle fighters of the "entry level" wine world, trying to reveal the real crackers. Tasting notes exposed!! Regular explanations of the rubbish that are tasting notes! Wine Waffle indeed! Stories and trivia about wine.
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