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comparing wines by percent alcohol: web based way?

t
tb_baltimore Sep 2, 2010 10:15 AM

I'm wondering if anyone has a web-based way to quickly find the alcohol content for comparisons of different wines. Of course you can always go into the store (in the US) and look it up on the bottle. Some of the individual vineyards describe this as well. But, it would be really nice to be able to cross-compare wines by percent alcohol, by maceration time, etc. In my own web searching I've not found any way to do this. Any suggestions?

We're curious about finding a good way to search on this since it has an influence on taste and there's research suggesting that the health effects of red wine are increased by low alcohol content and greater maceration time.

  1. m
    Maximilien Sep 2, 2010 10:27 AM

    I've not seen something like that a lot.

    You could hit the SAQ.com site and do an "Advanced search" on the alcohol level but the granularity of the Alcohol level is not good (10%-15%, 15%-20%) and the results will not be useful.

    Also, I think alcohol levels listed on labels (and advertised) are often different than what is in the bottle (not a big difference, but it's there)

    1. z
      zin1953 Sep 2, 2010 04:06 PM

      >>> We're curious about finding a good way to search on this since it has an influence on taste . . . <<<
      Could you be more specific? Cite a specific scientific or peer-reviewed article, etc.?

      >>> . . . and there's research suggesting that the health effects of red wine are increased by low alcohol content and greater maceration time. <<<
      Ditto, especially re: maceration time.

      12 Replies
      1. re: zin1953
        t
        tb_baltimore Sep 2, 2010 09:14 PM

        Sure, there's a fair amount written on this -- the main name is Roger Corder -- he had a Nature paper on procyanidins being the leading candidate to make some red wines healthier than others. The analysis led to his understanding that Old World production methods with contact times of grape skins and seeds of three weeks or more are the most likely to produce larger amounts of procyanidins. Related to this is that wines produced using this method have a bit lower alcohol content (say 9.3% to 10.4%) relative to other wines and tend to be less sweet. Here's some links if you want to read more:

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7119/abs/444566a.html
        http://french-wine.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_benefits_of_drinking_red_wine
        The Red Wine Diet, Roger Corder
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proantho...

        In terms of alcohol and taste there's been quite a lot written, for example in :

        Jancis Robinson: How to Taste or
        Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course

        Hope that helps. I've been trying to find out how to more quickly determine what wines meet his criteria, since the information is not generally on the label or in the store. The other indicators are well-established vines, long slow ripening. high altitudes and low yields. Clearly these are not the mass-produced reds.

        1. re: tb_baltimore
          z
          zin1953 Sep 3, 2010 12:12 AM

          Let me explain the reason for my asking the question(s) in the first place.

          The stories re: the benefits of drinking wine, and red wine in particular, go back centuries, but in the "modern era," at least as far back as the "French Paradox." I wasn't aware that this was still up for debate. After (admittedly) a quick skimming of the article in Nature, it does not appear to provide anything new, IMHO.

          A longer maceration period may result in an increased level of procyanidins in some cases, depending on the specific grape variety and other circumstances. Within limits, that would make sense.

          As much as I (know and) respect Jancis Robinson and Kevin Zraly, be careful of equating alcohol content and taste. It doesn't work. (And clearly their books -- nor the Wikipedia article -- are what one could call "peer reviewed.) In my 35+ years ITB, I've had wines that seems hot (i.e.: alcoholic) and out-of-balance that were ***tested*** in labs to be 15.6% abv (which one might expect), and I have had wines that seems hot (i.e.: alcoholic) and out-of-balance that were ***tested*** in labs to be 12.3% abv (which one might not expect). One can generalize, perhaps, that a higher alcohol content affects taste, but -- in my experience -- it would be a generalization that would contain enough holes to drive the proverbial Mack truck through.

          HOWEVER, what you are seeking is IMPOSSIBLE to achieve (IMHO). The alcohol content on a wine label is the LEAST ACCURATE piece of information on the label! So *is* a wine with a label that indicates 12.4% abv in fact lower in alcohol than a wine with a label that indicates an alcohol content of 13.7% abv??? Is one that states it contains 14.6% abv in fact lower than a wine with a label that shows 15.3% abv???

          According to the labeling regulations of the US government (TTTB), the answer to both questions would be "No." In each case, the wine with the lower number indicated on the label could in reality have more alcohol than the wine with the higher number.

          Wines with lower levels of alcohol may simply be more "healthy" because there is less alcohol for your body to metabolize . . . or lower alcohol wines may simply be healthier because they lead to fewer alcohol-induced traffic fatalities.

          Cheers,
          Jason

          1. re: zin1953
            t
            tb_baltimore Sep 3, 2010 07:00 AM

            Hi Jason,

            Thanks for the insights on the lack of connections between alcohol and taste -- as one that is 'getting into' wine, this is a really good thing to keep in mind. We've been exploring a range of grape styles and tastes, and haven't really tried to correlate our own likes and dislikes directly with alcohol content. Our goal is moderate, but daily alcohol consumption. The thinking there is that one to two glasses a day is preferable to binge drinking or even to the occasional glass of wine. In the past we've been in that 'enjoyed it with the dinner out' type crowd, but not really that 'serious' about learning the details of the wine benefits/business.

            That said, the main motivation behind the question was not so much the taste as trying to find a surrogate for what red wines are the best ones to choose. I think this is a really, really hard question. Roger's work would suggest that not all reds are the same. Maria Lorraine (and others) have suggested that alcohol alone and/or resveratrol alone are the most important. This would imply that nearly all reds are the same. My own intuition, not backed up by experience though, is that the older production methods are likely to be better than the newer. This would parallel the rise of the mass-produced food versus local food that people like Michael Pollan have commented on. That is, the mass-production to meet demand also takes away some (many?) of the benefits associated with the product. I realize that's not universally true, but its a working pre-conception. Roger has suggested that mass production methods tend to lead to higher alcohol content in red wine.

            So, that's a longish way of saying that I'd like to find a way to be able to walk into a wine store and know in advance what reds are the most likely best choices. I don't think its only going to be grape variety and I agree with your experience that alcohol content is not a good indicator. Web research on the wineries seems to be really 'hit or miss' in my experience. That leads to the question -- do you or anyone on the list -- have a better way to compare wines via the web?

            ((I should add that I use grapestories, snooth, wine-searcher and related web-sites for finding out about the tastes of wines, as well as their availability in Baltimore. The problem is that none of these sites has this kind of information))

            1. re: tb_baltimore
              z
              zin1953 Sep 3, 2010 07:38 AM

              >>> Roger has suggested that mass production methods tend to lead to higher alcohol content in red wine. <<<

              Uh, no. It's "modern trends" in winemaking lead to wines with higher alcohol, not "mass production." Indeed, red wines that are truly mass produced (think jug wines from the Central Valley) are generally LOWER in alcohol than limited production reds from, say, Napa Valley.

              >>> Our goal is moderate, but daily alcohol consumption. The thinking there is that one to two glasses a day is preferable to binge drinking or even to the occasional glass of wine. <<<
              Well, "binge" drinking is NEVER a good idea. It isn't a good idea in a college frat house, and it's not a good idea at home.

              That said, I've just never met anyone who is looking to buy wines based on which wine, A or B, is more healthful. I mean, some people go into a wine store to buy wines for their dinner; others buy wines to cellar and drink years from now. Some buy "Domaine Diamond" Cabernet Sauvignon because they like the way Cabernet tastes and they've heard good things about that particular winery (or some wine critic gave it 104 points), or they may buy Cache Phloe Vineyards Zinfandel because it's on sale . . . I've just never had a customer who was looking to buy wine based upon alcohol content and/or the levels of procyanadins before . . . .

              And Maria Lorraine is quite right: certain grape varieties will indeed contain more of these compounds than others.

              1. re: zin1953
                t
                tb_baltimore Sep 3, 2010 08:36 AM

                I think you're right that this makes us unusual customers. But, I also think that the trend towards food eduction, sparked by people like Michael Pollan, will lead to more consumers asking this kind of question. It is certainly true that within our local wine stores, those in the Baltimore area, they've not been able to provide any insights or suggestions to these same questions. This partly confirms your suggestion that most people are buying wine based on other criteria: food matching, wine-critic review, or investing.

                That said, is there any way to start finding out this information? I can continue to try and research individual wineries, but that's really time-consuming and most of the time they are advertising the taste and the critics reviews and not providing any real information about production methods, grape-growing specifics, etc.

                My sense is that this may become more like the organic food movement with wine consumers becoming increasingly aware. But, I'm not in the business, simply a consumer, so I could be mis-thinking the trends. It would make sense, though, that people buying wine will start to be more aware of these issues as the education of the consumer gets better.

                1. re: tb_baltimore
                  PolarBear Sep 3, 2010 08:51 AM

                  Have you tried googling individual wineries and adding "tasting notes" in the query? Researching a wine that was new to me I found:

                  http://www.brassfieldestate.com/pdf/2...

                  1. re: PolarBear
                    t
                    tb_baltimore Sep 3, 2010 09:03 AM

                    That pdf is an example of the type of information that it would be nice to find -- but not from each winery, I'd like to be able to compare sets of wines that we might find in the stores in Baltimore -- the pdf does talk about the grape-contact time, but there's not a description of the altitude (just locally higher) or age of the vineyard. So, I'm happy to see them adding more than just a taste description, but there's still a lot of information that would be nice to get indexed for comparison. Still, thanks for passing that along.

                    1. re: tb_baltimore
                      maria lorraine Sep 3, 2010 03:15 PM

                      The tech sheets are usually better than the tasting notes, and have the specifics you're seeking. And no, specifics are not gathered and collated
                      for every wneries' wines in a compendium/database of sorts. The demand is not there to justify the energy required to assemble such a database.

                      My advice is to find varietals you like and that satisfy your specs for
                      polyphenol/procyanidin content. The wines of Southwest France, any Cab.

                      I'd like you to drink wines for both pleasure and health.

                      Sure, Malbec and Tannat work but do you like them? Tannat in particular can be rather harsh, unrefined and biting because of "rustic" winemaking techniques. No need to drink them, though, when extended maceration of a California Syrah extracts the same or more number of procyanidins. On the tech sheets, you can often read how many days the fermentation lasted on a particular wine -- more days, more extraction, more polyphenol/procyanidin content.

                      Also, one simple thing: filtering. With your interest in high polyphenols, drink unfiltered wines. When wines are filtered, a lot of the pigment goes and the polyphenols along with it.

                      Find wines you like and drink one to two glasses per day. White wines, too. Though they will not have the procyanidin content, they will still confer a health benefit. The recent cardiovascular statistics on regular, measured wine consumption are striking. The stats for women are even better than those for men.

                  2. re: tb_baltimore
                    z
                    zin1953 Sep 3, 2010 08:28 PM

                    Here is where I get cynical . . . .

                    >>> I think you're right that this makes us unusual customers. <<<
                    An understatement, if ever there was . . .

                    >>> But, I also think that the trend towards food eduction, sparked by people like Michael Pollan, will lead to more consumers asking this kind of question. <<<
                    No, it won't.

                    >>> It is certainly true that within our local wine stores, those in the Baltimore area, they've not been able to provide any insights or suggestions to these same questions. <<<
                    NO wine store ANYWHERE has this kind of information. NONE.

                    >>> This partly confirms your suggestion that most people are buying wine based on other criteria: food matching, wine-critic review, or investing. <<<
                    Or -- novel concept -- how a wine TASTES.

                    >>> That said, is there any way to start finding out this information? I can continue to try and research individual wineries, but that's really time-consuming and most of the time they are advertising the taste and the critics reviews and not providing any real information about production methods, grape-growing specifics, etc. <<<
                    The short answer is "no." Again, the alcoholic content on a label is THE most inaccurate part of a wine label. And generally speaking, the alcoholic content listed on a winery's website and/or .pdf will be the exact same as on the label.

                    No winery I know of states the level of procyanidins.

                    Some will provide specific information such as the maceration time, the *exact* varietal composition, the length of time and the type of oak in which the wine was aged, and so on. Most wineries will not.

                    >>> My sense is that this may become more like the organic food movement with wine consumers becoming increasingly aware. But, I'm not in the business, simply a consumer, so I could be mis-thinking the trends. It would make sense, though, that people buying wine will start to be more aware of these issues as the education of the consumer gets better. <<<
                    Here's where I get *really* cynical . . .

                    The bottom line for most consumers is QPR -- Quality Price Ratio. When it comes to wine, the factors are: does it taste good? is the wine a good buy?

                    Keep in mind that people who are "serious" about wine are but a small fraction of the people who drink wine. Keep in mind that (approx.) 98 percent of all wine purchased in the United States is consumed within seven days -- some even say 24 hours. Keep in mind that the people who *ARE* serious about wine care most about taste, indeed perhaps that's the only thing. And keep in mind there are collectors who care as much or more about the label and its value . . . .

                    Yes, there are people who deliberately seek out "organic," for example. But there are also countless numbers of people who still buy Velveeta and SPAM, and Pop-Tarts . . . .

                    Personally, I worry less about the levels of procyanidins, and more about enjoying the taste of the wines I drink.

                    Cheers,
                    Jason

            2. re: tb_baltimore
              maria lorraine Sep 3, 2010 12:52 AM

              I've had a fair amount of contact with Roger Corder, and I can tell you that the varietal has a lot to do with the procyanadins. The Tannat grape from southwest France is quite high in them, as is Bovale Sardo from Sardinia, and ta-da! -- Cabernet.

              There have been many more studies that say it is the ethyl alcohol that is responsible for the bulk of the health benefit from drinking wine. The procyanidins are an added bonus, but
              cannot be the single causal factor for longer life (centenarians) amount those in southwest France and Sardinia.

              1. re: maria lorraine
                t
                tb_baltimore Sep 3, 2010 06:21 AM

                In Roger's book, he also recommends Malbec, Nebbiolo, and Grenache. As I read his recommendations, its not only the grape variety, but the production methods that makes a difference for the procyanadin content. That is, you can't just look for the grape variety, but ideally, should check on maceration, fermentation, age of vines, and altitude. These things are hard to find, at least in my experience.

                When you say ethyl alcohol is the main benefit, are there specific articles that you're thinking about? What I've found from web searching is not that specific:

                http://www.wineintro.com/basics/health/chemistry.html
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol

                The main other thread on health benefits that I've seen is resveratrol e.g.:

                http://www.springerlink.com/content/6...

                But, Roger's work seems to argue that it's not that alone (despite a lot of press on the benefits of resveratrol and even possibly drug supplements coming out soon).

                1. re: tb_baltimore
                  maria lorraine Sep 3, 2010 03:06 PM

                  There are hundreds (literally) of recent sci-med articles on the cardiovascular benefit of ethyl alcohol, and it is the ETOH in wine that confers the primary health benefit. I attended a conference on this very issue a few years ago with two hundred cardiologists. The anthocyanins/polyphenols/procyanidins confer healthh benefits in addition to the ethyl alcohol.

                  I've read most of Corder's research, and have even give talks that used his graphs and maps, so I'm fairly familiar with his findings and viewpoint.

                  My sense is that the resvertrol thing is dated and over-rated, supplanted by better research that proved it was the ethyl alcohol and procyanidins more than the resvertrol. Corder has a good angle on the procyanidin aspect of wine's health benefits, but procyanidin content is but one small component amidst other health-conferring components in wine.

          2. Midlife Sep 3, 2010 10:09 AM

            Back to your original question for a moment................When I owned my wine shop I would occasionally have a customer who would ask which wines had the lowest alcohol content. Sometimes this was simply because they felt high alcohol equaled chance of headache for them; often it had to do with style (avoiding BIG wines). As you say, in the store it's easy. The only online method I've found involves trying to find the winery's website and checking the complete tasting sheets (often in the "Trade" section of the site). These seem to be much more available for US and Australian wines than for anything Old World.

            I don't have personal knowledge of the health factors, but high alcohol % generally translates to 'stronger' taste if the wine isn't skilfully balanced. So............ I guess I'm saying that, on the taste level, don't automatically go by %.

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