Elements of wine—alcohol

Wine has five components that determine taste and quality: alcohol, acid, tannin, sweetness/dryness, fruitiness. Know these and you can hang with wine snobs (if that’s your thing). More important, you can enhance your enjoyment of wine.

We will visit all, starting with alcohol, the component that separates wine from fruit juice.

Wine is created when yeast converts grape juice sugar into alcohol. Conversion continues until yeast dies because temperature gets too hot or alcohol reaches 16 percent.

Sugar in grapes is measured in degrees Brix; 20 Brix means 20 percent sugar. Multiply Brix by .6 to get approximation of final alcohol (20 Brix yields about 12 percent alcohol).

Most wine has 9 to 14 percent alcohol. Wine with 14 percent alcohol or less is taxed at $1.07 per gallon; wine with more than 14 percent is taxed at $1.57 per gallon—why many wines are 13.5 percent alcohol. Push alcohol to improve taste, back off when tax man cometh.

When alcohol is right, taste is full, round, supple, sweet. Yes, sweet—alcohol tastes sweet. When alcohol is wrong, wine tastes hot and unbalanced. Alcohol and acidity (next week’s column) work together. When alcohol and acid play well together, the wine is in balance and delicious.

Fact: the higher the wine consumption in a country, the lower the alcoholism rate. The higher the grain alcohol consumption, the higher the alcoholism rate. Something to ponder when thinking about alcohol and wine.


• Martin Ray Angeline Zinfandel. Juicy, cola, raspberry, vanilla, spicy yet easy going. $13

• Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Riesling Mosel Noble House. Peach, apricot, nice minerals. $14

• Stevenot Chardonnay. Tropical fruit, lemon, peach, nice alcohol-acid balance. $14