Alcohol and Your Health FAQs
WINE, ALCOHOL AND HEALTH
Q. How can one tell from the label how strong a wine is?
A. Unlike average capacity and provenance, alcohol content is not yet required information on wine labels. As well as the Californians and Australians, the Italians are usually good at giving this particular vital statistic, sometimes called Gradi, or even ‘G’, meaning percentage of alcohol by volume. Alcoholic strength for wine will always be measured this way, although sometimes a label may state, say, 12° or 12 GL (Gay-Lussac) instead of 12%. Most supermarkets do declare the alcohol by volume on their own wine labels.
Q. How much alcohol does wine contain?
A. A wine can contain anything from 6-16% perfectly naturally, by the action of yeast on the sugar in the grapes, though fortified wines can be even stronger (see below). Among the least alcoholic wines are many German wines, especially sweeter, late picked specimens from the Mosel, and Asti Spumante which are only about 7% alcohol. Vinho Verde and New Zealand wines are often about 9 or 10%; basic French table wine is 10 or 11%; claret is 11-12%; Burgundy, Spanish and Australian wine can be as strong as 13%; some Rhone wines exceed this, as do many from California. Some of the naturally strongest wines come from Italy. Barolo must be at least 13% alcohol, while Amarone della Valpolicella, made from dried Yalpolicella grapes, can sometimes be as strong as 16%.
Q. How strong are fortified wines?
A. Light dry sherries sold in Spain may be only 15%, as are most Montillas and sherry-style wines from Cyprus. Most sherry is exported at just under 18%, however, as are the cheaper qualities of port. Old tawny and, especially, vintage port may be as strong as 20%, as are superior Madeiras. Most vermouths are just under 18%.
Q. What is the alcohol content of wines relative to beer and spirits?
A. Beer varies in strength between 4 and 6% while most spirits are 40% (the equivalent of 70° on the old proof scale). The medical shorthand for guidance on safe alcohol consumption is that ‘a glass of wine’ is equivalent to half-a-pint of beer or a measure of spirits but, as we have seen, this measure is not exactly rigorous. The safest way to moderate consumption is to be wary of very alcoholic wines and to alternate more than two or three glasses of wine with water or soft drinks.
Q. Is wine healthier than other alcoholic drinks?
A. Wine is less potent than spirits and less fattening than beer. Dry wines low in alcohol are the wines most suitable for slimmers, who should avoid both the strong and the sweet. Wine also contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals which were thought by one French doctor to be sufficiently significant to warrant a book prescribing a wine for every ailment. It should be remembered however that wine should be treated with the caution appropriate to all drinks containing alcohol.