Are wineries misleading their customers with the alcohols on their wine labels? Do you as a wine consumer base some of your purchases on what the displayed alcohol content is on the label? I have been reading many articles and blog posts recently around the discussion of wine label alcohols vs. what is their true alcohol content. Many are commenting that wineries are taking advantage of the tolerance range allowed them by federal regulations to fudge their numbers, thus giving the consumer a misleading impression of the wine's overall character.
This current trend of higher wine alcohols and the discussion that has risen up around it as a result I see as a stage in the evolution of the industry as a whole. Just about 10 to 15 years ago wine label alcohols were not near as high as many of them are now. This was due primarily to the fact that the grapes used to make those wines were picked before their sugar levels reached into the upper 20's. (By the degrees Brix scale) The dynamics of when grapes were picked was also often based on specific parameters in a grape contract. Once they reached a certain sugar level, they were picked and brought into the winery.
That type of grape harvesting protocol has gone away for most wineries. Now picking decisions are based on interactive discussion between the winemaker(s), the vineyard managers and the actual growers of the grapes if the land is not owned or leased by the winery.
Winemakers have begun desiring much riper fruit over the past decade plus, which then translates into a finished wine with a higher alcohol, should it be a dry style wine. So when it comes to the bottling stage of a wine's life and they are deciding what label alcohol to use I have found that they prefer to use one which is towards the lower side of the federally allowed tolerance range. An example of this would be a finished wine with an actual alcohol content of 15.8%. The winery would decide to use a label alcohol of 15.0%, which is within their allowed 1.0% tolerance range.
Does this range between actual alcohol vs. label alcohol really put off wine consumers? Are wineries paying close attention to that in their labeling decisions? The answers I think will continue to be played out.
For another take on this trend and some more good explanations about the federal regulations and taxation details I recommend this post: http://www.wawinereport.com/2011/03/do-wineries-fudge-alcohol-levels.html#comment-form