Ever heard of the term ‘hollow legs’ or ‘lightweight’? We all have our different tolerances and adjust accordingly when planning a night around a beverage. Beer is a casual choice for a reason: it’s on the relatively lighter side and generally, you have to go out of your way to find a higher percentage than 5%.
Wine, on the other hand, is often higher. But just how high? Discover more information about the strongest wines available by reading the below (with some additional tips on drinking safely).
What’s The Average Alcohol Content For Wine?
Before we discover the strongest wines on the market, it helps to know what the baseline is. You can’t drink responsibly unless you have a defined limit, right?
As stated above, beer often skews lighter at just 4.5% to 5% per bottle. You can find brands that hit as high as 9% or 10%, but they often don’t come in a set since they pack a punch all on their own. Spirits are the other extreme: vodka is standardized to come in 40% alcohol in the United States, while Europe leans a little lower at around 37%. That doesn’t stop some brands from hitting as high as 70% or even 80%. Wine is a middle ground in that regard and tends to waver between 11% to 12%.
The alcohol content of a given drink, and how it moves through the body, also alters details like hangovers or headaches. Before we get to that, though…we need to do some number crunching.
How Is Alcohol Content Measured?
If you’re like me, math is a subject that quickly induces a headache. Seeing all these numbers and percentages is easily the least enjoyable part of savoring a good drink.
When you realize how alcohol content is measured, however, it actually becomes a useful skill to keep you below your limit. Alcohol content is measured by volume (also known as ABV), which is an easy enough equation that takes the amount of ethanol per one hundred milliliters. This is why a little shot of vodka can get you drunk much faster than an entire can of light beer. When pouring yourself a glass of wine, glancing at the alcohol volume will help you figure out if you’ll be having a refill.
You don’t have to worry about meticulously measuring each shot or glass. Bottles and cans come prelabeled so you’ll be doing simple addition instead of division.
Why Do Some Wines Have More Alcohol Than Others?
You might have wondered why your Moscato hardly gives you a buzz, whereas your red wine gets you tipsy and warm after just a few sips. Much of this comes down to preparation, though the region and climate can have an impact too.
Muscat, the grape variety that creates our favorite bottles of juicy Moscato, is widely believed to be the oldest domesticated grape variety. They also tend to skew toward a lower alcohol content than many other types of wine due to prioritizing their sugar content. According to Wine Folly, knowing when to pick wines goes a long way in contributing to the spritzy, fizzy texture of more medium-alcohol sparkling wines.
To pick or not to pick? A plethora of factors go into determining the strongest wine.
Which Wines Have The Highest Alcohol Content?
If you’re looking to get a good buzz quickly, these are the strongest wines you’ll want to drink. While still not as strong as vodka or tequila, they’re still guaranteed to get you feeling floaty after just a glass.
Red and white wines (not sparkling) have the highest alcohol content, starting at 14% and reaching 20% in rare cases. The red wine bottles you’ll want to buy are Zinfandels, Sherry, and Syrahs, particularly if they are labeled as ‘fortified’. All this means is that the wine was supplemented with additional alcohol that couldn’t be achieved through the cultivation and fermentation process. If you’re a purist that doesn’t want to see your cup diluted, take solace in that the additional alcohol is unflavored.
Chardonnay has a rather high alcohol content, as well, particularly if you buy yours from California or Chile.
Which Wines Have The Lowest Alcohol Content?
Now for the other side of the equation. These lighter wines can be appealing if you’re trying to watch your diet or only want a mild buzz to lull you in the middle of a movie.
As explored above, Moscato (both fizzy and still) is on the lower rung when it comes to alcohol content. Don’t expect a bottle to go beyond 4% or 5% ABV, though some might creep up to 9%. Following close behind are some of the lighter white wines, such as Italy’s Pinot Grigio and Austria’s Grüner Veltliner.
Although not as low as sparkling wine, rosé is frequently marketed as a cute and casual wine for a reason. This wine type tends to hover below the strongest wines while not being quite as watered down as your average Moscato.
How Much Water Should I Drink With Alcohol?
An important habit to develop as a responsible drinker is balancing your wine input with water. Alcohol is very good at dehydrating you: combined with wine’s sugar content (particularly Moscato and Riesling), that can be a recipe for a mean headache later.
My personal rule is to drink a full glass of water with every half or full glass of wine, (or can of beer), I drink. Alcohol is what’s known as a ‘diuretic’, or a substance that increases your bladder production. While all this means even more trips to the bathroom, drinking extra water also keeps me from facing the side-effects of dehydration. These include headaches, nausea, short-term memory loss, dizziness, and even low blood pressure. Healthline recommends you drink a sixteen-ounce glass of water with every twelve-ounce beer or four-ounce liquor.
When in doubt? Drink slow and add a few salty, starchy foods to help soak up that excess alcohol. If you’re not sure what to eat with today’s strongest wines…
What Should I Eat With Alcohol?
The charcuterie is a clever creation, isn’t it? It’s designed to complement the complex medley of flavors in your glass…as well as give your stomach a little something to chew on with all that alcohol and sugar.
Drinking alcohol gives your body all sorts of side-effects. As stated above, it’s a diuretic that stimulates your bladder and makes you go to the bathroom more often. Alcohol also kicks in your appetite, a classic reaction that has entire wine bottles designated as ‘aperitifs’, or appetite stimulants, used before or after major meals. Salty, starchy food such as crackers, bread, and chips are famed choices to keep your stomach balanced. Some salami or cheese can also help.
Now you know why bars often serve fries or popcorn with your drink. Even if you’re not hungry, alcohol never feels good on an empty stomach.
How Can I Prevent A Hangover?
I make no bones about loving alcohol. Wine, beer, and a good old-fashioned margarita are among my favorite compliments to a tasty dinner. I also know my limits and when to step back.
You need to know the strongest wines so you can keep those nasty hangovers at bay. This also means you’ll be putting less stress on your liver with lighter ABV content. While you don’t have to step away from the more robust reds and whites, it’s important to pour yourself smaller quantities (or just outright skip) if you’re feeling the telltale signs of too much drinking. This includes nausea, heartburn, and incoming headaches. Drink a full glass of water with each glass, eat a little food, and take a break if you start to feel off.
Pay close attention to how you’re feeling and don’t give in to peer pressure to keep knocking drinks back, even if you’re convinced you’ll be able to handle it.
Not all wines are alike. This goes for flavor notes and it certainly goes for alcohol content.
To reiterate: red and white wines have the highest alcohol content. Rosé tends to hover in the middle, while Moscato and sparkling wine usually have the least. Region and wine quality will have a big say in these percentages, however, and you should always double-check to see if the wine bottle has been fortified.
If you know someone who wants to drink more responsibly, link them to this list. In the meantime: how much wine can you drink before you need to call it quits?