Wine Label Indicate Alcohol Content as ABV%

Let’s face it … we all judge a wine based on its label. Often we’re captivated by the clever name, the cool image, or the fancy typeface on the label. The problem is these things tell us little about what we can expect out of the wine.

Sure, you can check where it’s from, the kind of grape used, or how long it was aged. But even this can be hit and miss when looking to try something for the first time. If only there was a simple way to predict a wine’s body and style.

You may be surprised to learn that alcohol content can be your best guide to determining whether or not you will enjoy a particular wine.


Alcohol By Volume (ABV) can indicate the sweetness of a wine

The higher the ABV the dryer (or less sweet) the wine is; the lower the alcohol %, and the sweeter the wine can be.

One of the reasons ABV is a great indicator of style is because alcohol is directly related to sugar content. Natural sugars in grapes are converted into alcohol in the winemaking process. This means the riper a grape is, the more sugar it contains – and the higher the alcohol content. Sweetness in wine can come from using unfermented residual sugar. Other wines have “sweet” flavours identifiable with fruit flavours but do not have residual sugar and are therefore not technically sweet but rather “sweet” in flavour.

Looking at the alcohol content may tell us if the wine has residual sugar or not, and it may tell us a little more about the viscosity or thickness of the wine. This can offer clues about the wine’s body, mouth-feel or texture.


Follow these ABV guidelines to help select the right wine sweetness for you:


White Wines & Alcohol Levels

5% – 9.5% abv

  • Low alcohol means significant residual sugar levels.
  • These wines are very sweet and may not be for everyone.
  • Fairly full-bodied, thicker wines.
  • Examples include Moscato and sweeter-style Rieslings.

10% – 11.5% abv

  • Considered off-dry wines. Medium to full bodied.
  • Typically are sweet at first with a dry finish.
  • Sweetness can be felt at the tip of the tongue.
  • Examples include Vouvray from France (Chenin Blanc). Rieslings with this content will be slightly lighter in body and very clean.
  • Blended whites and other varietals at this content level are likely off-dry.

There are exceptions to this alcohol level: Sémillon from Australia at 11% is a lean and dry wine. Vinho Verde from Portugal at 10.5% or 11% will be a light crisp wine. Both wines are made from relatively unripe grapes.

12% – 12.5% abv

  • Ideal category for those who like light, crisp, and fresh wine styles.
  • Almost always a bone-dry, crisp, light, and lean wine style.
  • More often come from cool climates using grapes that are “just ripe enough.”
  • Examples include dry Rieslings, most Pinot Grigios (if your Grigio is lower in alcohol content it does have some residual sugar). Sauvignon Blanc will almost always be in the 12-12.5% range.

13% abv and higher

  • Not a sweet wine style. All the sugar has essentially been converted to alcohol.
  • Made from very ripe grapes. These wines generally have “sweet” flavours (more fruit notes).
  • The higher the alcohol gets (approaching 15%) the fuller the body and the more flavourful.
  • Examples include Chardonnay (ranging from the low end to the highest), Viognier, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer.


Red Wines & Alcohol Levels

5.5% – 11.5% abv

  • Rare to find red wines in this category.
  • The lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine due to residual sugar.
  • These wines have a full, viscous mouthfeel and heavy sweetness.
  • A fun example would be Roscato (a good stepping stone for red wine novices)


12% – 12.5% abv

  • As with the whites, this category tends to be the driest of the reds.
  • Not the best place to start for a first-time red drinker.
  • More often than not, these come from cool climates using less-ripe grapes.
  • They can be fairly lean, with a tight mouthfeel and firm tannins.
  • Examples include Burgundy, Chinon, and some Bordeaux wines.


13% abv and higher

  • Most red wine falls into this category.
  • As the alcohol level goes up so should the body and ultimately, the intensity of the flavours.
  • If you like medium to almost full body wine, choose your favourite grape variety at closer to 13%.
  • If you crave thicker wines with deep intensity, choose higher alcohol content wines.
  • Wines sitting at 16% (many Australian red wines or California Zinfandels) are big in body and boisterous with a thunderous mouthfeel.



Discovering Wine for the first time? You may also like…


Beginner’s Guide to Wine – Beyond White & Red
Intermediate Wine Guide – Aroma & Taste
Advanced Wine Guide – Acidity, Tannins & Finish


Petit Verdot
Syrah (aka Shiraz)
Petite Sirah (aka Durif)


Muscat Ottonel
Muscat Blanc (Moscato d’Asti)
Chenin Blanc