Wine and spirits’ alcohol content rising despite calls for curbs

The quantity of alcohol in wines and spirits is rising, new figures from the Department of Health show.

Despite government action to cut the amount of units of alcohol on supermarket and off-licence shelves by one billion units by 2015, the average alcohol content for drinks has crept up from 7.25 ABV (alcohol by volume) to 7.31%.

But alcohol content in drinks targeted by health ministers has actually fallen. Alcopops, cider and beer have all seen reductions in their alcoholic content with 235 million fewer units on the shelves in these drinks.

The overall increase has been driven by a rise in alcohol levels in wine and spirits.  According to the report, the average ABV of spirits increased by 0.14% and the ABV of wine went up by 0.01%.

These rises meant that an extra 42 million units of spirits and 15 million more units of wine went on sale between 2011 and 2012.

Why is wine getting stronger?

Red wine used to have an average ABV of about 12%, but now it is nudging 14%. This is due in part, to an influx of wines from hot climates. In higher temperatures the sugar content of grapes, and their subsequent potential to create alcohol, rises considerably.

But even in classical wine growing areas there have been major changes. This is partly due to modifications to how wine makers blend varieties of grapes – dropping white grapes in favour of the stronger red grapes for example.

A more serious consideration is the effect of global warming on traditional growing regions, which is pushing alcoholic content up.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The increase in the average ABV of spirits may well be driven by the rise of 'cask strength' spirits - especially single malt whiskies - where ABVs of 50+% are common. These, by the way, are generally all the better for being diluted by a drop or two of water when being drunk.

    This may be a small market but it is growing strongly and the the big jump per bottle in ABV could well be enough to account for a large share of this slight rise in the entire spirits sector.

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