Does That Wine Taste Better Than It Used To?

By Dirk Hanson 07/06/11

Comprehensive survey shows most wines are stronger than the labels claim.

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Don’t believe the label.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

It was a huge, comprehensive wine tasting, involving tens of thousands of vintages from countries all over the world. It covered a 16-year period, and when the American Association of Wine Economists finished analyzing the data, the verdict was clear: 57% of the wines tested in the study had too much alcohol in them. Average reported strength on the label: 13.1% Average actual strength of the wine inside the bottle: 13.1% So we’re not talking about a massive hoax here. Still, most of the wines analyzed were stronger than the labels said they were. Isn’t that illegal? False advertising? And why sell stronger wines without proudly labeling the fact? “I think winemakers want to endow their wines with the sensory appeal associated with ripe flavors and concomitant high alcohol but know that many consumers are intellectually opposed to high alcohol levels,” a prominent British wine critic told the UK Guardian. And a winemaker said that “labeling is beginning to become more of an issue when you have wines at 14.5% and 15%. Like everybody else, I want the product to be the same as what it says on the label.” Winemakers don’t get busted as long as they stay within the legal range of error permitted by local law. Overall, wines around the world are stronger by about 1 percentage point than they were a few years ago, says the report.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]