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In Good Taste

Guide to Wine Alcohol Content

Guide to Wine Alcohol Content

How much alcohol is in wine?

As you finish a decadent glass of California Cabernet Sauvignon with your friends on a much-needed Friday night outing, you can’t help but notice that this glass just made you feel a bit differently than that Italian pinot grigio you had the other weekend. Curious, you check the ABV and see that it’s a whopping 14.5%! No wonder, that pinot grigio was more in the neighborhood of 11-12%. Interesting, so why are the ABV levels so different?

In this article, we’ll talk about all things ABV, including how alcohol content affects the wine, what determines the ABV level in wine, which wines have a higher alcohol content than others, and even what types of food to pair with your wine based on their ABV. Read on to become a more savvy consumer of wine!

What is ABV?

ABV, or alcohol by volume, is the amount of alcohol present in a body of liquid and is expressed as a percentage. For example, if a wine has a 10% ABV, that means that for every 100 mL of wine, 10 mL is pure ethyl alcohol, or if the ABV is 15%, there will be 15 mL of ethyl alcohol for every 100 mL. So, the higher the percentage, the higher the alcohol content in a given bottle. This is important to keep in mind when pouring yourself a glass if you’re trying to watch your alcohol intake. 

What is ABV? ABV, or alcohol by volume, is the amount of alcohol in a body of liquid and is expressed as a percentage

How Alcohol Content Affects Wine

Alcohol plays a crucial component in wine. Notably, it has an essential role in the flavor, body, and taste of your vino. Let’s take a closer look at why shall we?


You may have heard a sommelier describe a wine as having a good structure or flavor structure. This is a term that refers to a wine’s balance between alcohol, acid, sugar, and tannins. A good wine will have equal intensity in all of these categories. Otherwise, the wine lacks structure. If the alcohol overpowers the acidity, sugar, and tannins in a wine, it will be too “hot” and have a similar mouthfeel to liquor (think the burn of a vodka shot!).


Alcohol is more viscous than water, so a wine with more alcohol will have a fuller body than one with less. Wines with less alcohol will be lighter and more delicate. 


Alcohol tastes different to different people - it’s something that is literally in your genes! Who knew, right? Half of the population perceives alcohol as having a neutral flavor. One quarter thinks it tastes bitter, while the last quarter thinks it tastes sweet. 

What Determines ABV Levels in Wine?

Several factors affect the ABV level in wine, from the type of wine made to where the grape itself is grown. To better understand why these factors play into wine alcohol content, we first need to take a quick look at how alcohol is made in the first place. 

How Alcohol is Made

Before a wine is fermented, it starts as a grape juice called “must.” As the “must” ferments, a yeast found on the skin of the grapes called saccharomyces cerevisiae feeds on the natural sugars of the grape juice. The byproducts of this reaction are alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide. If left alone, the yeast would feed until the sugar is gone and the must is fermented to dryness. Therefore, the amount of sugar in the grape determines the amount of potential alcohol produced.

Before a wine is fermented, it starts as a grape juice called "must." A the "must" ferments, a yeast found on the skin of the grapes called saccharomyces cerevisiae feeds on the natural sugars of the grape juice

Any remaining sugar is called residual sugar, making the wine taste sweet. This sugar can be measured using the Brix scale, which measures the soluble solids content in a grape and is expressed in degrees. Each degree of Brix is 1 gram of sugar per 100 grams of grape juice. The more sugar in the grape, the more potential to have higher alcohol content. 

Sugar Levels and ABV

ABV in Red Wine vs. White Wine

Generally, red wines have a higher ABV than white wines. Part of this is due to the grapes used, but a more prominent role is a stylistic choice when making the wines. Remember when we talked about the structure of a wine’s flavor? Because red wines are fermented with the grape’s skin, they have more tannins. To balance the flavor and bring harmony to the structure, they need more alcohol.

On the contrary, white wines have no tannins, so maintaining the right level of acidity is more critical. Winemakers usually try to go for high acidity and low alcohol in white wine, giving it that refreshing taste. Having high alcohol and low acidity in white wine is not ideal. Rosés, orange wines, and sparkling wines are structurally more similar to white wine than red, with similar ABV levels. 


The region where grapes are grown also affects the ABV level in wine. Wines with a lower ABV are from grapes grown in cooler climates where they struggle to ripen. These grapes have less sugar and, therefore, less potential to have a more considerable amount of alcohol in the first place. Wines with a higher ABV are made with grapes grown in warm, sunny climates where they ripen quickly and have higher sugar content. Examples of low ABV wines (10% or lower) would be sweeter Rieslings, some Grüner Veltliner from Austria, and sparkling wines and Pinot Grigios from Italy. Moderate ABV wines (11-13%) will typically be whites from New Zealand, Northern Italian Wines, and Bordeauxs and Boujalais from France. On the high end of the ABV scale(13-16%+), we have wines from California, Malbecs from Argentina, wines from southern France, and fortified wines. 

Wine Serving Size

The amount of alcohol in a given bottle of wine will determine its serving size. The typical serving size to keep in mind is 5 ounces, based on the assumption that the wine has an ABV of 12.5%. A serving of a lower ABV wine can be closer to 6 ounces, while a higher ABV wine serving may be as low as 3 ounces. This is good information to keep in mind because a standard pour of a low ABV white wine will feel much different than a standard pour of a high-ABV Malbec!

Alcohol Content by Serving

Food Pairings by ABV

Because what would a wine blog be if we didn’t give some food pairing recommendations?

If you’re enjoying one of those low alcohol Rieslings, pair it with some seafood, a charcuterie board, soft cheeses like brie or goat cheese, or mascarpone, as well as spicy foods! Riesling is one of the most, if not the most, food-friendly wines in the world! 

Food Pairings with Low ABV Wines

For wine in that moderate ABV range, you’ve got a lot of varied options. Salmon and shellfish are excellent choices, as are pasta dishes, poultry, and pork. 

Food Pairings with Moderate ABV Wines

When drinking a glass of bold California Cabernet Sauvignon with a high ABV, reach for food that has an equally bold flavor like meaty barbeque ribs, steak, aged cheddar, a decadent chocolate cake, or a rich creme brulee. 

Food Pairings with High ABV Wine


Nonalcoholic/Dealcoholized Wine

For those nights that you’re cutting back on your alcohol intake, or maybe you’re the designated driver for your crew, but you still want to partake in the festivities of wine, there are options for you! Beyond the world of traditional wine, there are nonalcoholic or dealcoholized wines.

Nonalcoholic wine is not just unfermented grape juice. It is a wine made with the normal fermentation process, but it then goes through an operation to remove all or virtually all of the alcohol. The alcohol is extracted through vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis, and the complex flavors of the wine are then blended back in. These wines have all the flavorful goodness you would expect without the alcohol. You designated drivers out there to deserve to have a tasty libation, too!

The ABV level of wine is an interesting topic with several factors. If alcohol is something you’d like to be mindful of when ordering your next glass of wine, keep in mind if it’s a red or a white and where the grape was grown. When it’s not a worry, enjoy that glass of California cab! If you need something on the lower end, embrace your lighter side with a sparkling glass of Prosecco. That way, you and your wine-loving friends can enjoy your chosen vino for the evening responsibly!

Rosé of Sangiovese


Sangiovese can be found in both the Chianti and Montalcino regions of Tuscany (it all sounds so romantic, right?) and is known for producing classic medium-bodied wines. Rosé wine is actually made from red grapes, and this is where the Rosé of Sangiovese comes to play. Crisp, fruit-forward, and easy-to-drink, it's everything you want in your bottle of Rosé and more.



Big, bold, and full of flavor—exactly what you’d expect an Italian wine to be! This classic Italian grape produces some of Italy’s most straightforward red wines and is often used as a blending grape. Not here, though. We let Montepulciano do the heavy lifting as a heavy red wine and shine on its own. If you enjoy the smell of leather bound books, nibbling on dried fruit, and complementary notes of bitter, dark chocolate and sweet plums, you will love this Italian wine. No need to pair it with any certain dish—Montepulciano tastes great with all the Italian classics.

Cabernet Sauvignon


If Pinot Noir is the light and juicy queen of reds, Cabernet Sauvignon is her bolder, heavier, meatier sister. Often referred to as just “cab,” it’s the wine of France’s Bordeaux and California’s Napa Valley. There’s nothing subtle about Cabernet Sauvignon—high in alcohol, full-bodied and robust, you can usually find this red served with a ribeye, New York Strip, or filet mignon (re: carnivores love cab). Classic cabs usually offer tasting notes of chocolate, coffee, and darker fruits like prunes and plums. The Unprecedented Cabernet Sauvignon is as classic as they come, and we highly recommend letting the bottle sit and mellow until your next red meat and potatoes dinner!

Pinot Grigio

La Pluma

If you’re looking for more zest in your life, a bottle of Pinot Grigio can provide that. We included a classic Pinot Grigio in the La Pluma collection because we’re all about light and easy here, which is exactly what this grape from Italy is. It has that dry sense of humor that seems so effortless with a punchy acidity to keep you on your toes, all while offering notes of lemon, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle. Long story short; when it’s been a heavy day and your soul is seeking light things only, you’ll be happy to have this bottle on hand.

Pinot Noir


We couldn’t create the In Good Taste Unprecedented collection without the Golden Retriever of wines: Pinot Noir. Pinot is likable, it’s easy, and its natural state of being is simply charming. It’s an incredibly easy red wine to love, which is why so many people do. The grape itself is from the Burgundy region of France, but has made its way to California, Oregon, Australia, Italy, Argentina, and Germany since. Our Pinot Noir has no surprise twists—it’s a classic light red with just the right amount of sweetness to keep you coming back for another glass (or two).

Coteaux Bourguignons


The Burgundy region of France is home to their best Pinot Noirs, but we took the grapes into our own hands to create something extra special with our Coteaux Bourguignons. It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which results in a French red that’s light in body but full in flavor. The ripest blueberries and freshest herbs can be easily detected in this French burgundy blend. May we suggest pairing it with some creamy brie and freshly baked bread? It’s a oui-ning combo.



A little sweet. A little tart. A little salty? You truly get it all with this white Italian wine. If you're into that biting acidity, Verdicchio will probably be high on your list of most-loved wines from our Andiamo collection. Citrus fruits like mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit are at the forefront, but what really sets this Italian wine apart is its distinct notes of almond. While our Verdicchio can start out tasting a bit tart, the more you sip, the smoother it becomes. In fact, we suggest approaching it as an aperitif (Italian for an alcoholic drink sipped before a meal to stimulate the appetite) to experience its full effect.


Côtes du Rhône White


This was one of our first French wines to join the Passport collection and one sip will explain why. Some background on the Rhône Valley in France: While this region is known for its dark, juicy reds, a very small amount of special white wines are made in the Rhône Valley. Our Côtes du Rhône is packed with French-perfected, floral flavor and Old-World charm. Its natural tang paired with the weighty Marsanne grape and aromatic Roussanne grape results in a crisp, savory sip that’ll transport you to a sunbathing chair by the Rhône itself.


Bordeaux Rouge


When you picture medieval folk sitting around a feast with goblets of wine, chances are they were drinking Bordeaux. This wine has been made in France since forever and is arguably the most classic French wine out there. Bordeaux is known for its full body, smoky notes, and rich, oaky taste. If you love cabs, chances are you will adore Bordeaux. For our Passport wines, we had to include this classic French red for you to sip and enjoy to your heart’s content. Best savored over a rich meal like lamb ragu, ratatouille, or BBQ.


Ventoux Rosé


You probably know that the Tour de France is held on Ventoux Mountain in France, but did you know that the same area is known for its high-altitude rosé? This is the kind of quintessential French rosé that you don’t need to spin your wheels over—it’s simply delicious, crisp, and perfect for warm weather. Despite its delicate, pale pink color, each sip is lush with flavor, from tropical passionfruit and zesty citrus to refreshing melon. This has the potential to be your new summer go-to, so we’d suggest stocking up.



Wild Child

Say “¡Hola!” to Spain’s main grape: Tempranillo. This red grape put Rioja wine on the map and is un vino tinto classico. It’s best compared to a classic cab, but with a bit more unique magic that’s hard to put your finger on, which is why it’s a part of our Wild Child line. This medium- to full-bodied wine with its relatively higher tannins usually offers complex notes of cherry, fig, cedar, tobacco, and dill. This is the type of red wine you want to buy and pour for a Latin-infused meal; think carne asada, tacos al carbon, or just perfectly cooked steak fajita meat.


La Pluma

We knew the only red in the La Pluma collection had to be exceptionally good and exceptionally light. That’s why including a Grenache was a no-brainer. If smooth, fruit-forward, light-bodied reds appeal to your tastebuds, this could be your new favorite. The grape itself is tricky; depending on the climate of where its grown, Grenache wines could be light, dense, or somewhere in the middle. La Pluma’s version has all the airiness and flavor notes we wanted in our Grenache, which is how we know you’ll love it. Get the most of this red by pairing it with roasted meats, spice-heavy vegetables, and Mexican-inspired dishes with lots of cumin.




This grape goes by different names in most European countries, but what remains the same is its fruity floral nature. Delicate in every way and extremely quaffable, this wine is as dainty as they come.



We really try not to play favorites at In Good Taste, but there is just something about an Italian Barbera that hits different in the best way. Barberas are the perfect wine for pizza night; they're low in alcohol, and medium-bodied but taste super light, and their berry and plum flavors pair incredibly well with savory tomato sauce and cheese! Another fun thing about Barberas? They actually taste great when chilled, which is not something we're in the habit of suggesting for our red wines. Our Italian Barbera lies somewhere between the body of a cab and a pinot and is the ideal choice for a "ladies who lunch" kind of afternoon.


Wild Child

We couldn't not have a weird white in the mix, right?! The Vermentino grape is native along the coast of Italy on the island of Sardinia (yeah, like the fish). Because of its origin, this grape offers a salty, crisp flavor that's incredibly easy to drink and enjoy. We say it's "weird" only because it's not widely known by name, but chances are you've probably had it before if you've ever ordered white wine in an Italian restaurant. If you love peaches and lemons and get a kick out of anything that reminds you of the sea, our Vermentino is the perfect Italian white to experience on a sunny day outside.



For the Chardonnay lovers who are looking to dig a bit deeper in the world of bold whites, a Viognier (pronounced vee-own-yay) could be your next big adventure. Viogniers tend to have more range; while they can be creamy with hints of vanilla like their Chardonnay counterpart, they also offer lighter, fruitier flavors like tangerine, mango, and honeysuckle. It’s still a more full-bodied white wine, but unlike Chardonnay, it’s softer on acidity and more perfumed. Spend an afternoon with a glass of Viognier amongst the flowers and it’ll all make sense.


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