ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I'd like to know if the alcoholic content of wine varies year to year, or if it depends on the winemaker.

—Sheryl M., Philippines

Dear Sheryl,

Both. The amount of alcohol in wine depends primarily on the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest, because yeasts turn sugar into alcohol. Some years, the grapes are very ripe, so the wines have more alcohol. If the growing season is cool or wet, the grapes have less sugar when they're picked, so the wines have less alcohol. That's nature at work. However, winemakers have an impact on alcohol levels, too. They may add sugar during fermentation (where it's legal) to boost alcohol, or remove it through advanced technologies such as reverse osmosis. The goal is always to produce a wine that's balanced in structure and flavor.

—Dr. Vinny

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