The Oenophiliac

Bringing you stories from the world of wine and beer.

Wine strengths by country: which is the highest and which tells the truth?

How much alcohol is really in that glass of wine? New data shows which countries have the highest alcohol by volume – and which get it wrong.

Glass of red wine

How much alcohol is really in that glass of wine? Photograph: Pierre Andrieu/AFP/Getty Images

Not all governments check the alcohol level of wine they import, but Ontario in Canada does and that is how academics from the American Association of Wine Economists were able to analyse data taken from 129,123 bottled samples from 1992 to 2009.

As part of its import controls, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario – which strictly controls sale of alcohol in the province – tested 80,421 reds and 46,985 whites over the 17-year period from all the major wine producing regions of the world, providing a cross-section of consumption. The academics excluded German wines, which typically have high residual sugar and sweet desert wines.

The difference between actual strength and what’s reported, % ABV. Download the data

Taken together and averaged, the results show that every country tends to understate the alcohol levels of the wines with Argentina, Chile and the United States tending to do so most and Portugal and New Zealand the least.

Overall, 57.1% of the samples understated alcohol content and the average alcohol content was 13.6% and the average reported alcohol content was 13.1%.

The Liquor Control Board of Ontario allows winemakers to err by one percentage point which is double the allowance in the UK for imported wines.

The problem of understating wine alcohol was worst in 1997 and 2003 and has happened progressively less between 2004 and 2007.

The background to the findings is the growing strength of wine and the data shows the average bottle strength rising from just above 12.6% in 1992 to just over 13.6% in 2006. The data showed that strength grew at different rates for different wine-producing countries with average alcohol rising by between 0.2 percentage points and two percentage points on a base of 12%-13%.

Taking heat data into account, the economists argued that he rise can only partly be ascribed to rising temperatures due to climate change. It would take a 6.7C rise in average temperature in the growing season to account for a one percentage point increase in alcohol, they said.

The data is below. What can you do with it?

Data summary

Wine strength by country

Click heading to sort table. Download this – and more – data

All wine, strength
Reported % by vol
Red diff
White diff

SOURCE: American Association of Wine Economists

France 13 12.9 -0.1 -0.11 -0.1
Italy 12.97 12.88 -0.09 -0.09 -0.08
Spain 13.43 13.22 -0.21 -0.23 -0.14
Portugal 12.96 12.91 -0.05 -0.06 -0.03
Old world 13.01 12.91 -0.1 -0.11 -0.09
Argentina 13.79 13.55 -0.24 -0.26 -0.16
Australia 13.74 13.65 -0.09 -0.09 -0.07
Canada 12.75 12.61 -0.13 -0.08 -0.18
Chile 13.71 13.43 -0.27 -0.28 -0.25
New Zealand 13.21 13.15 -0.06 -0.07 -0.06
South Africa 13.51 13.42 -0.09 -0.1 -0.06
United States 13.88 13.65 -0.23 -0.22 -0.25
New world 13.65 13.48 -0.17 -0.17 -0.17
World 13.29 13.16 -0.13 -0.14 -0.13sy 
 Courtesy of The Guardian home

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2011 by in News..

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