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In Vino Veritas: Most Bottles of Wine Don’t Contain the Alcohol Content They Claim

Next time you’re out for dinner with your friends and you regrettably slur out something you shouldn’t have said, you might actually be able to get away with blaming it on the bottle.

A Journal of Wine Economics study has found that more than half of wines actually contain higher alcohol content than what is listed on the bottle.

During the study, researchers at the University of California tested more than 100,000 bottles of wine from around the world and found that the alcohol content in nearly 60 per cent of the bottles had an average discrepancy of 0.42 percentage points higher than advertised.

This may not seem like a lot, but for wines in particular categories – such as Napa Valley Carbernet – with expected alcohol by volume in the range of 13.5-14.5%, this discrepancy can actually be fairly significant.

Researchers found no difference between the discrepancy in red and white wines on average, but also found that in most of the remaining wines (roughly 30% of the total sample), alcohol was actually understated, by an average of 0.32 percentage points.

While this news might sound like music to your ears, the study suggests winemakers are inaccurately reporting alcohol percentages intentionally to avoid increased taxes and to meet perceived demands for more intense and riper flavours, Newser reports.

“Wineries may have incentives to deliberately distort the information because they perceive a market preference for a particular range of alcohol content for a given style of wine or for other reasons, such as tax avoidance,” the researchers write.

For example, the US tax rate jumps from $1.07 per gallon for wines with 14 per cent alcohol or less to $1.57 per gallon for wine between 14.1 per cent and 21 per cent alcohol.

“Even errors of this magnitude could lead consumers to underestimate the amount of alcohol they have consumed in ways that could have some consequences for their health and driving safety,” the study reported.

So while the change in percentage might not seem like a lot to some, if you drink two bottles of wine in a night, you would be drinking almost an extra half a tablespoon of pure alcohol, which can add up over time.

Among the biggest offenders of mislabelling alcohol content were Chilean and Spanish reds, and Chilean and American whites.


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