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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Why do Zinfandels tend to have higher alcohol levels than other reds?
—Mark W., Decatur, Ala.
Because fermentation converts grapes’ sugar into alcohol, higher alcohol levels are a result of higher sugar levels, which are a result of very ripe grapes. Zinfandel grape bunches are known for ripening unevenly—instead of all the grapes turning from green to purple to perfectly ripe all at the same time, some grapes in the same Zinfandel bunch might stay green while others are already ripe.
That means that Zinfandel winemakers might let the bunches hang for a long time to let all the grapes ripen. What sometimes happens is that by the time all the grapes are ripe, some of the grapes are really, really, really ripe—even pushing toward raisins. That raises the sugar level of the bunch, and thus the alcohol.
Higher-alcohol wines are also a style choice of some producers, and high-octane Zins are popular among some. Of course, not all Zinfandels are higher alcohol, and plenty are made in more elegant styles, too.
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