|Health and safety|
|Thursday, 01 July 2010|
Krishna Sethia looks at the rising alcohol content of wine
The other day my friendly gastroenterologist (colleague – I am not a patient yet) was bemoaning the increase in the number of acute admissions and the well-publicised increasing amount of resource that the NHS is having to spend on alcohol-related conditions.
I thought it might be a bit tactless to invite him down to the shop to drown his sorrows, so I went alone. Waiting for me was a note from a friend who wanted six cases of red Bordeaux or Burgundy with an alcohol content of 11-12% (degrees), no more. I had a look round the shelves and returned empty-handed.
"There is now plenty of objective evidence that most winedrinkers are unable to tell the difference when the alcohol content of a wine is reduced by 3%"
It is a fact that over the past 15-20 years the alcohol content of French wines has increased and that 13 or 14% is now not uncommon. Global warming is often cited as the culprit and whilst this may be part of the truth there has also been an increasing tendency to harvest late, pick very mature grapes with a high sugar content and look to develop a more New World style in the final product. Whilst this approach has proved rewarding in the short-term, times appear to be changing.
There is now plenty of objective evidence that most wine-drinkers are unable to tell the difference when the alcohol content of a wine is reduced by 3%. Bloggers describe not only the advantages of being able to manage three bottles rather than one but also experiments showing that an average-size man will have a blood alcohol level over the driving limit after two glasses of a 15% wine but might well be safe if the wine contains only 12.5%.
The alcohol content of wine can be reduced by picking the grapes very early but, unfortunately, this means less fruit and usually the end-product would generously be described as ‘revolting’. However, the technology now exists to de-alcoholise wine (by a process or reverse osmosis) – though popular in California with characteristic flexibility, this remains banned in the European Union.
For us, there remains the option of making wines in more northerly locations or at higher altitudes there are now an increasing number of wines in the 9-11% range, many of which are being promoted by well-known supermarkets.
To be legally classified as wine in Europe, the alcohol content must in fact exceed 8.5% but there is one notable exception. Having been a frequent and most respectable drink at pre-1960 dinner parties, German wines went on to acquire miserable reputations in the 1970s and sales in this country have failed to recover. However, there remain countless examples of Auslese and Beerenauslese from well-established vineyards which not only display a complexity of delicious flavour but also can be light and refreshing, and many of which contain only 7-9% alcohol.