Alcohol by Volume is the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in a given volume of liquid. So, a bottle marked 13.5% ABV means 13.5% of the liquid in that particular bottle is alcohol.
Let's dive into the fermentation process for a moment, so we can understand what impacts alcohol level - The more time the grapes spend on the vines, the more sugar they’ll store. During fermentation, yeast feed on the sugar in the grape juice and alcohol is a byproduct of this feeding process so, more sugar = more alcohol in the final product.
As we learned in our live tasting, acid and sugar directly correlate to one another - as sugar levels increase in ripening grapes, acid levels decrease. Because cooler regions are harvested earlier than warmer regions, the fruit naturally has less sugar for those gluttonous little yeast cells to eat, resulting in lower alcohol levels in the wine.
How does the alcohol level affect wine? Wine’s flavor comes from alcohol, acid, sugar and tannin. Ideally, these factors are balanced in their intensity; A wine with higher alcohol content usually has more body, while a lower alcohol wine may taste lighter and more delicate on the palate.
Wines from cooler regions, like Burgundy and Oregon, tend to have lower or moderate ABV compared to big, bold fruit forward reds from warm climates like California or Southern France.
Paying attention to the ABV, body and ripeness of fruit in your wine can help you identify a pattern in your preferences, making you a confident, savvy wine shopper!