Wines now have higher alcohol level than labels claim

The rise of mighty merlots, stongking sauvignons and potent pinots has been a defining feature of our recent love affair with wine.

And as the taste has got even bigger, so too has the alcohol content.

New research has revealed the modern breed of wine is even more powerful than is claimed on the label.

A study carried out for the American Association of Wine Economists found growers routinely and knowingly understated the alcohol content of their wine to appeal to consumers’ tastes for “more intense, riper flavours”.

With some brands now boasting 15% or even 16% alcohol by volume, varieties from New World producers in Australia and the Americas-where the hotter climate produces stronger wines-had to mark down their product to make it appear weaker than European wines.

The authors found label claims on average understated the true alcohol content of Old World wines from traditional producers in Europe by 0.39%; and New World wines were often understated by an average of 0.45%.

Each extra percentage point of alcohol in a drink corresponds to an additional 0.8 units per bottle-the equivalent of 20% of the recommended safe daily levels for men.

Based on more than 90,000 samples taken between 1992 and 2009 by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the report said that the phenomenon was a product of the drive for a bigger taste. It said errors in labelling were “not made unconsciously”.

“This speculation is based in part on informal discussions with some winemakers who have admitted that they deliberately chose to understate the alcoholic content on a wine label, within the range of error permitted by law, because they know it would be advantageous for marketing the wine”.

Guy Woodward, editor of ‘Decanter’ magazine, said it was right for drinkers, to be cautious about label claims.(Ref Jonathan Brown, Independent News Service, London, 31/5/2011)