Wine and alcohol – should Abv. help decide what to buy?

As a red wine drinker, I’ve decided to set myself the target to buy wines of no more than 13.5% Abv. Ageing is a factor. I love Amarone but at 15% + Abv. it no longer loves me. :anguished: The same goes for that lovely Catalan wine, Cervoles Negre, at 15% which I tried recently.
I mostly buy South African reds and many of the delicious Syrahs coming out of SA are 13.5% so plenty of choice there. Taaibosch Crescendo makes the grade at 13.5% so Bordeaux blends are still on the table. I’ve also gone back to Beaujolais, a real joy this summer. What wonderful drinking at only 12.5%. So, no shortage of choices and no shortage of flavour.
I’m wondering if my approach makes me an outlier or whether there are a lot of others who are looking for moderate alcohol levels in what they choose.


I think you’ll find lots of agreement on here.

Global warming seems to be pushing ABVs ever higher in my favourite regions of the Rhone and Rioja, so I’m also turning more and more to the likes of Beaujolais.

At least the ‘fashion’ for big, gutsy alcoholic wines seems like a distant memory. Although the likes of Laithwaites promote wines like ‘The Full Fifteen’ so there’s clearly still a market for these bruisers.


Yes, I often find the flavours muddled and overpowered at 14.5%+. The one exception I make is Garnacha, which can be vibrant and fresh in the 14-15% range. I sometimes wonder if it just labelled upwards.

The inexorable upwards march of the abv of the likes of La Rioja Alta is a concern, though…


I am broadly in line with you, for my most recent EP purchases I decided to cut off at14%, so no more St Emilion for me. My other regular purchase below that level is Loire reds, usually 13% or so.


Even some Beaujolais is getting higher abv:


I have always had a natural preference for cool climate wines, which often (though not always these days) have a lower ABV. There’s just something more appealing to my palate in both red and whites on the lower ABV spectrum - it feels like freshness and vitality are enhanced. This goes out of the window, of course, when drinking some white Rhone and Alsatian whites - many of which can reach 14% or even 14.5% (I think I had a Viognier at 15% not so long ago too… :flushed:). I seem to have no problem with those…

I have also had lovely surprises with reds from warmer climes, where the ABV on the label made me jump, but where balance, and what Andrew Jefford calls ‘drinkability’, were present and correct.

And speaking of Jefford - there is a chapter in his wonderful Drinking with the Valkyries called ‘Taste First, Then Look’. In it he challenges what he feels to be an obsession with looking at ABVs on labels, which for him detracts from what he calls ‘sensual objectivity’. It’s actually a really interesting ‘devil’s advocate’ look at the increasing worry about rising ABV levels.


Yes, that’s the issue with a lot of Stellenbosch Cabs. I enjoy Le Riche but I wish they would dial it back a bit.
Interestingly, some of the best vintages can also have lower Abv. I’ve a couple of cases of 2017 Rubicon which is 13.6%, the lowest since 2003. The 2020 is 14.55%.
I’ve not tried the 2019 Kanonkop Paul Sauer but Christian Eedes (Winemag) rates it as the best of all recent vintages and it comes in at 12.9%, the lowest for 30 years.

Too true. I bought a few bottles of Fleurie
Didn’t realise that’s 14%
Anyway, maybe we’ll get plenty of intersting suggestions of what others have enjoyed at under 14%.


It’s the ‘sensual objectivity’ next morning I’m not so keen on :rofl:

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I agree on that. I’m more tolerant of high abv on white wine than red wine. Had some 14.5% Gewurztraminer the other week without any trouble. Same with 14.5% Pošip. But I’d avoid Pinot Noir at that strength.

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Hee hee! Yes, I know what you mean… :woozy_face:

Yes I actually find it quite interesting; if I look at the bottle and see high abv then it pretty much always seems high abv to me. If I drink first and look later I’m often surprised as it hasn’t seemed as high to me as it turns out to be. I’m also often surprised when I try a wine that seems very ‘hot’ and alcoholic but when I look a the bottle it’s actually quite low abv. I won’t say I always get this wrong but often enough to doubt my ability to distinguish 13% from 14% from 15%.

…however there’s always the morning after…


When I was younger (so much younger than today :slight_smile: ) French ‘Vin Ordinaire’ was 11 deg, for drinking by the litre. So my (future) father in law was suitably impressed when I brought a bottle of ‘Douze Degres’ for supper - a significant step up in quality, and I married his eldest Daughter…

Back then, it would have been unthinkable to find everyday wines at 14 and 15+%.

And we are not at the end-state of climate change yet, things are going to get somewhat hotter.

So to get back to the original question: " should Abv decide what to buy? " my opinion is emphatically YES, and fine wine consumers will switch to COOL vintages - like 2021 - instead of increasingly hot years such as 2022, 23 etc.


I remember the 90s in Spain, the bottles of Rioja and Navarra I used to bring up to my parents were 12.5%. All very gradual.

As a side note, I wish more restaurant lists would put the ABV, for me it’s an important factor when choosing wine especially on the rare night we have child care and get overly excited and consume more than we should. I have also been to lunchtime weddings where they serve 14+ degrees wine………makes for a long day or short depending on your approach!

I have bought some German Pinot, not drank it yet but at 12 degrees certainly lends itself to a more productive morning after.

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The abv on bottles is not accurate. EU wine law (and thus also the EU) allow only whole numbers or halves, i.e. xx.0 or xx.5 and there’s quite a large leeway allowed in the figure the winery chooses to display on the label.

(Plus I don’t know if there is any check the winery has followed the rules.)

@dunstanburgh gives abvs for RSA wines that aren’t rounded; many RSA wineries give the actual abv on their website.

Many appellation laws reward higher abv with better appellations, e.g. to get Bordeaux Superior Ac rather that plain Bordeaux a wine needed an extra .5% abv above the minimum of 12%.

Much of my life to get minimum allowed abv in poor years wineries were allowed chaptalisation.

It’s not just global warming that gives today’s higher abv

Yeasts have been tweaked to deliver greater alcohol during fermentation.

Better viticulture and later picking when berries are physiologically ripe rather than picking as soon as minimum sugar levels are reached is now standard.


And of course the Reverse Osmosis Machine - which no Bordeaux chateau will admit to owning.

However I still contend that future fine wines might be judged by having a MAXIMUM abv, which will set the cat amongst the pigeons.

Just putting this out there. Agree there is a shared distaste for high %abv wines. But, extrapolate from this… when in France we often go on daytime hikes or bike rides and take a picnic. And a regular feature of said picnic is to decant some local red wine into two 25cl bottles which are diluted by a 1/3 with water. It does not affect our enjoyment, but it does hedge against overindulgence.

Hence; I often dilute a 15% Oz Shiraz with water. It improves it; even. I mean, for another example, a singe Malt is enhanced by a similar dilution. So there’s no need to forego an Amarone; just dilute it with a bit of H2O. Simples.


I generally agree with you, except Nebbiolo. sensible to keep the water intake up when indulging, but when it’s well made it doesn’t feel too alcoholic.

I don’t tend to use % ABV as a buying factor, but will consider it when coming to drink a wine. Like you, i enjoy an occasional Amarone, so why deny the pleasure.

A 13.5% wine contains 101.25ml of alcohol, and a 15% wine is 112.5ml. So roughly 10 units versus 11. Just pour yourself 90% of the Amarone and enjoy, the net result is the same.

Of course, higher ABV wines may taste hot, but as others have said, if well made and integrated then its often difficult to tell.


@Alchemist - you are rightly named!

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