I've been discussing the merits of alcohol levels in tasting notes for some time.
Some publications are starting to print alcohol levels with reviews or recommendations. There are two big questions surrounding this decision. How would you, the consumer, use that information? And would it influence your buying decisions?
In some circles, the debate about alcohol levels is cut-and-dry: The 14 percent or lower alcohol level is acceptable; more than 14.5 percent might be excessive.
Those who argue that alcohol levels have risen too high in recent years, however, also seem to be the same people opposed to what they call excessive ripeness. By law, a wine with more than 14 percent alcohol is considered a dessert wine, and taxed at a higher rate. Those under 14 percent are officially table wines, which most of us consider the dry wines we drink to be, irrespective of the number on the label.
For critics and publications who conduct blind tastings, the alcohol level isn’t a consideration—just as price and case volume aren't—unless the taster thinks the alcohol isn't in balance with the wine.
It’s certainly easy enough to criticize a wine as being alcoholic if you use the information printed on the label. But printed alcohol levels are usually not what a wine’s true alcohol level is. Federal laws allow wines with 14 percent or more alcohol a 1 percent leeway (for wines under 14 percent alcohol, the leeway is an even broader 1.5 percent, but that number cannot exceed the 14 percent cutoff).
So why not, as wine reviewers, give consumers the best available information, even if it's only an estimate?
The main reason not to print alcohol levels is that they can be misleading and inaccurate. Independent lab tests have found that the true alcohol level in a particular wine often varies significantly from the level printed on the label.
Consumers will have to realize that the information is legally allowed to vary, and generally does. Publishing the level of alcohol printed on the label can give a false impression of precision and must be viewed with a significant grain of salt.
As I’ve written before, I’d rather know more about a wine than less. Printing alcohol levels might encourage wineries to be more accurate on their labels, although many vintners say that alcohol levels can and do change in the bottle, and that further testing would add another layer of compliance and likely add to the cost of making a wine. Plus, changing the label costs money, so some producers keep the same alcohol percentage on it as long as their wine is within the legal limit.
I'm curious about your thoughts on this subject. Would you like to see alcohol levels listed in wine reviews? And if so, how would that affect your purchases?
Aaron Meeker — Kansas City, KS — April 25, 2011 7:10pm ET
William Thomen — San Francisco — April 25, 2011 7:18pm ET
Roger Gentile — columbus ohio — April 25, 2011 7:37pm ET
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Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 26, 2011 11:01am ET
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Tracy Hall — Sonoma, CA — April 26, 2011 12:32pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — April 26, 2011 12:51pm ET
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John Svymbersky — Elgin, Illinois — April 26, 2011 6:30pm ET
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Jim Mcclure — DFW, Texas — April 26, 2011 7:00pm ET
Karl Mark — Geneva, IL. — April 26, 2011 9:08pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — April 27, 2011 5:04pm ET
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — April 28, 2011 12:19pm ET
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Anthony Dirocco — San Pedro, Ca — April 30, 2011 4:52pm ET
Bob Orenstein — Dallas,TX — April 30, 2011 6:21pm ET
Ian Tarrant — Ontario, Canada — May 1, 2011 1:53pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — May 2, 2011 8:36am ET
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Joshua Hull — Lancaster, Pennsylvania — June 13, 2011 1:55am ET
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