If you find ever-stronger wines hard to handle, choose bottles from cooler climates

How to Drink Better: German and Australian Riesling and Italian Pinot Grigio are usually lower in alcohol

So many wines have a high alcohol content now, but I like lower percentages. Is there a rule of thumb that will help me choose? I like both red and white wine.

The alcohol content of both red and white wine has been rising in recent years. Twenty years ago, most wines were 12-13 per cent alcohol and wines at 14.5 per cent were rare. These days, it seems that the majority come in at 13.5-14.5 per cent and some at a whopping 15 per cent.

There are two reasons for this increase. The first is climate change. As grapes ripen they accumulate sugars which turn into alcohol during fermentation. So the riper the grape, the higher the alcohol. The inverse is also true. But as average temperatures rise, so too do alcohol levels.

The second reason is changing consumer tastes. Here in Ireland and around the world, a majority of wine drinkers seem to prefer riper, smoother more full-bodied wines, which will have more alcohol. I know of one Irish retailer who did a blind tasting with consumers. While a majority said they preferred lower alcohol wines, almost all chose a high alcohol wine as their favourite.


If you are looking for lower alcohol wines, there are a few things to remember:

Legally, every bottle of wine must include the alcohol content on the label. Some restaurants helpfully include this information on their wine list. However, in the EU, producers are allowed 0.5 per cent margin of error either way, so a 12.5 per cent wine could actually be 13 per cent – or 12 per cent (the tolerance is even greater in Australia and the U.S.).

Overall it is worth remembering that wines from warmer climates tend to have more alcohol (although in recent years some are harvesting much earlier to keep alcohol levels down) and in general wines from cooler regions tend to be lower in alcohol.

Some grape varieties tend to have more alcohol. In general refreshing white wines such as German and Australian Riesling, Muscadet and Italian Pinot Grigio are usually lower in alcohol. Wines made from southern Rhône-style blends that include Grenache/ Garnacha, as well as Nebbiolo from Piemonte, many New World wines, and wines labelled appassimento tend to be higher in alcohol.

If you are worried about taking too much alcohol on board you can always match your water consumption with that of your wine. Or, you can always add a tablespoon or two of water, or even a block of ice to your wine.