Why some wines have more alcohol strength than others

There I was, at my desk, feeling sorry for myself, when a work pal said he wasn’t 100% that morning.

He’d opened an Australian shiraz the night before and his senses weren’t tickety-boo.

I sympathised. We compared notes and we’d only had a couple of glasses of red on a school night.

My red (more of it later) was from the south of France with an abv of 14%.

It got me a-thinking; does everyone know why there’s a variation of alcohol percentages in wines?

Vines grow grapes and grapes are picked. You’re with me so far.

Grapes contain sugar and the amount of sugar will determine the alcohol strength.

In the winery, yeast starts fermentation and the more sugar there is, the more the yeast will have a party turning those sugars into alcohol.

grapesAs a simple rule of thumb, the hotter the climate, the more sugars and the more alcohol in a wine; it’s also fuller bodied and with less acidity.

If it’s a cool climate, then there’s less alcohol (the sugars don’t develop as readily) and wines are lighter-bodied with more acidity.

It’s all about warmth and sunlight.

But if there’s too much, or not enough, then sugar development can slow or even stop.

There’s other factors which affect alcohol levels, not least global warming or a winemaker stopping fermentation before all sugar turns into alcohol.

Most of the world’s vineyards are in a zone where conditions are just right. Imagine Simon Cowell’s wide waistband circling the Earth’s girth; regions above or below the belt aren’t suitable for growing grapes.

As an aside, if you swirl wine and it clings to the glass in rivulets (known as legs) then it indicates how much alcohol there is. The more alcohol, the more it clings. There’s a scientific explanation but I’m not a scientist.

Gerard Bertrand Terroir Minervois AOC Minervois 2013
Gerard Bertrand Terroir Minervois AOC Minervois 2013

Back to my red, which was delicious as it happens. Gérard Bertrand Syrah Carignan, Terroir Minervois 2013 (£9.99, Waitrose, www.waitrosecellar.com) is a smooth, warm red, packed with creamy blackcurrant flavours and notes of coffee and blackberry on the nose.

It’s a blend of hand-picked syrah and carignan noir which grew in the sunshine of the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

I tried this wine courtesy of the folks of the Sud de France Top 100 wine awards, which covers Languedoc Roussillon.

It’s the biggest wine region in France. Master of Wine Tim Atkin led a judging panel which has just announced the top 100 wines from 600 entries.

You can spot the selected wines in stores with Top 100 stickers, at wine shows or at www.suddefrancetop100.co.uk

The Gérard Bertrand won a trophy as one of the top 20 wines within the Top 100 (not all are available in the UK).

A pink from the list is one of the Co-op’s own, Truly Irresistible Pic St Loup Rosé (£6.99). It’s not a summer’s day as I write (rain is lashing down) but this lifts the spirits.

It’s also a blend of syrah and grenache noir (13.5% abv) and is ripe with cherries and a hint of herbs.

Also in my glass

Another nod to the Co-op and the Co-operative London Dry Gin (£11.99 for 70cl). It has won silver at the International Spirits Challenge, where entries from across the world are blind-tested and scored for aroma, appearance, taste and finish. It is nice and zesty with intriguing hints of spice.

Elsewhere, M Signature Gin (£14.99, 70cl, Morrisons) has also won a silver, this time at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. This is distilled four times and is delicate and citrussy.

As an aside, congratulations to Morrisons, which has picked up the 2015 Supermarket of the Year trophy in the International Wine Challenge.

Published in the saturday extra magazine August 1, 2015

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