The more expensive the wine, less certainty there is about the alcohol content
There is a widespread habit of writing on the label an alcohol content percentage that is not quite exact but closest to the value considered ideal for high quality wines. Let see who puts the true or false alcohol content on the label
The most sincere are le Portuguese, those that cheat the most are the Chileans for red wines and Canadians for whites
True or false alcohol content on the label
What is surprising is that this trick regards only wines on sale at more than 40$. But, in order; this information had worldwide coverage thanks to Wine Searcher but originally came from the Journal of Wine Economics which published a study regarding 91.000 analysis carried out by LCBO Liquor Control Board of Ontario. In other words it was the state monopoly for the sales of alcohol in Ontario to do the study.
Sweet wines and Rieslings were not included.
The LCBO analyzes all the wines that it distributes and in the course of 18 years has collected a data bank without competitors in the world. This information allowed Julian Alston, Kate Fuller, James Lapsley, George Soleas and Kabir Tumber, to get these very surprising results.
Different alcohol by volume permitted around the world
It must be said that this is not a question of frauds, because the alcohol content declare on the label has a tolerance, in Italy, of 0,50% and in the USA up to 1,5% for wines under 14 % vol.
In Canada in fact there is no National parameter. So the artful practices we are talking about are not fraud and are of course permitted. What remains to be understood is why producers feel the need to declare what is false by
writing a different value of about half a percent.
The first discovery is that the increase in wine volume declared on the label is different to that caused by climatic changes.
The second surprise is that this phenomenon is not generalized: the smartest are the Chileans (who lower the value) followed by the Spanish, Argentinians and South Africans. For white wines on the other hand the less truthful are the Canadian and New Zealand producers.
Price affects the alcohol content printed on the label
But what is most surprising is that the difference between real and declared grows with the price. Wines under 10 $ have the true alcohol content on the label those above 40$ don’t.
What is still to be understood is why winemakers decide to write on the label information that is not sincere. It appears to be that they try to declare what is considered an ideal alcohol value for high quality wines. So the error is not an error, it is a desired one and depends upon marketing motives, and in some cases to avoid high taxes.
For this reason producer some increase and some decrease the values. A very interesting article published by Wine Spectator referring to the opinion of wine lovers about the ideal alcohol value for a red wine, gave this results: 23% of the interviewees said 13°, 19% preferred 14° Vol and 7% liked an alcohol level lower than 12°Vol. Basically wine makers are only complying to the expectations of the wine lovers.
In Burgundy, a region where wine prices have increased, the average alcohol percentage has decreased. This is not the only case the average alcohol content of the wines in Oregon has also decreased while that of the Piedmont and Washington wines has remained the same for the 18 years under examination.