5 Wines That Contain More Alcohol Than You Think

There’s nothing that goes as perfectly with a fresh, home-cooked meal than a delicious glass of wine. Whether you’re a Moscato lover who enjoys a sweeter white or you love the bold flavors of a Merlot, there’s a wine for every palate. What you may not realize, though, is that depending on your wine of choice, you may start to feel a little tipsy sooner than you expect. That’s because the alcohol content may be pushing 15% or even 20% in some cases.

Scientific American explains that in the past 20 years, the popularity of wine with richer, fruitier flavors has caused the alcohol content to slowly creep up. During the winemaking process, these fruitier wines are made with grapes that have spent more time on the vine, allowing more sugar to form in the fruit. More sugar means the yeast in wine has more food, which ultimately leads to a higher alcohol concentration. Here are the top five wines that contain way more alcohol than you might expect.

1. Shiraz

Red wine bottle and corkscrew

A bottle of red wine and a corkscrew | Source: iStock

This popular red wine is a top contender for wines that contain more alcohol than you think. Shiraz is known for its fruitiness and notes of blueberries, black currents, and black cherries, explains Wine-Searcher. You can also taste the peppery and spicy notes in the background of a Shiraz, with a bit of chocolate and herbs hitting your taste buds secondarily. It’s made from the Syrah grape, a dark-skinned fruit that is native to Australia, France, and South Africa.

This wine pairs well with meat dishes — try a glass with beef Wellington or a lamb dish for a delicious pairing.  Some varieties of Shiraz, particularly Australian ones, can reach over 15.5% ABV, says Wine Folly.

2. Zinfandel

A glass of red wine being poured from the bottle

A glass of red wine being poured from the bottle | Source: iStock

Jammy, fruity, and delicious, Zinfandel varieties are primarily made in California. The Zinfandel grape is so important to the production of California wines that this grape can be found in over 10% of all vineyards in the area, says Vinepair. Zinfandels pair excellently with picnics — try a glass with a burger, a piece of grilled chicken, or a creamy pasta salad. Be wary of having more than a glass of Zinfandel, as the alcohol content goes no lower than 14% ABV and can be as high as 17% ABV.

3. Port or Tawny Port

Port wines are fortified, meaning brandy is added during production. Taylor’s Port explains ports are widely known as some of the greatest fortified wines on the market. Produced in the mountainous eastern regions of northern Portugal, port wines come in a variety of different styles — some are intensely fruity with heavy berry notes, while an aged tawny port will have a mellow, berry flavor with hints of nuttiness.

Brandy is added to the wine before it’s finished fermenting, which is why ports are smooth and rich — the natural sweetness of the grapes is still there. Be careful with this variety of wine, though — the alcohol content can skyrocket up to 20% ABV.

4. Madeira

A couple enjoying wine together

A couple enjoying wine together | Source: iStock

Ports are not the only fortified wines that are popular, delicious, and known for having more alcohol than you think. Madeira wine, a white that is made on the Portuguese island of Madeira, is known for having variations that are both dry and sweet. Four grape varieties go into this wine to give it a delicious and fruity flavor, and grape spirits like Brandy are added to the winemaking process to create this unique fortified wine, About Food explains.

Dryer Madeira wines are commonly enjoyed as aperitifs while the sweeter variations are considered perfect as a dessert wine. Similar to a port, this fortified wine is also 20% ABV and should be enjoyed with caution.

5. Vermouth

You may not have thought your favorite Martini contains a splash of wine in the mix, but in actuality, vermouth is a wine that’s infused with botanicals and then fermented with brandy, explains Bon Appétit. Modern vermouths are from Italy, and you can find dry white, sweet red, or sweet white varieties. You’re most likely familiar with dry white vermouth, as it’s a classic Martini ingredient, though the sweet red variety is popular in a Manhattan for its vanilla tones. Whether you like to drink your vermouth in a cocktail or prefer it straight up, it’s clear that this wine is quite versatile. Be careful of that alcohol content, however; vermouth is typically around 20% ABV.

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