Controlling Your Wine’s Alcohol

Man Affraid of Alcohol in Wine.My name is Lee and I have been making wine from your recipes for awhile. I was wondering what I could do to lower the alcohol content. If I used half the sugar the recipe called for, would that do it? If you could help I would appreciate it.

Thank You Lee
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Lee,

A very short answer to your question is, “yes”, however there is a lot more to controlling the alcohol content of your wine than meets the eye.

It sounds like you understand that when a wine ferments it is turning sugar into alcohol. Less sugar in the fermentation equals less alcohol in the wine, but adding half the sugar that a wine recipe calls for does not give you half the alcohol in the wine. This is because some of the sugar is coming from the fruit itself.

An easy way to get around this difficulty is to use this wine making tip as a general rule of thumb when attempting to control the alcohol content of a wine:

“For every pound of sugar that you add to a 5 gallon wine recipe,
you will increase the wine’s potential alcohol by 1%.”

In your case, the opposite holds true as well. This is not exact, but it is extremely close.

The biggest problem with this generality is that it does not tell you where your potential alcohol level is at, currently – before you made any adjustments. If you are following someone’s wine recipe that calls for a specific amount of sugar, this can only get you in a potential alcohol range, not an exact target. This is because the amount of sugar coming from the fruit can vary.

Shop Wine Hydrometer To Help Control The Alcohol Content Of Your Wine.Because of this, the best way to adjust the beginning sugar level in your wine’s must is to use a wine hydrometer. Most gravity hydrometers have a Potential Alcohol scale that will tell you how much alcohol the sugar in your wine can potentially make. Knowing this will allow you to control your finished wine’s alcohol level with more precision.

For more information about the hydrometer, the book First Steps In Winemaking has a great section on this subject. You also might want to take a look at the article, Getting To Know Your Hydrometer listed on our website’s Resources & Guides section.

Keeping Your Alcoholic Aspirations In Check…
While the above information and other wine making books will allow you to control the alcohol content of your wine to any alcohol level you desire, there are limitations that can not be ignored. I would be negligent if I did not bring them up at this point.

  1. You would always like the alcohol level of your wine to be at least 8%. Wines with less alcohol than this do not keep well. Wine needs the alcohol to keep contaminants in check. Over time, wines that have 5%-6%-7% alcohol tend to turn brown more easily and are more susceptible to spoilage.
  2. You do not want your wine’s potential alcohol to be more than 14%. Wine yeast, the stuff that gets the wine fermenting, has limits as to how much alcohol it can tolerate. Shooting for an alcohol level that is beyond your yeast’s ability to ferment can result in either a stuck fermentation and a wine that is too sweet for your liking.

Having said this, trying to control the alcohol content of your wine is not always necessary. Most times, just following a sound wine recipe is all you need. Most of them are designed to make a wine that is in balance and of an alcohol level that is appropriate to the wine’s traditional style.

Happy Wine Making,
Ed Kraus
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Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.

3 thoughts on “Controlling Your Wine’s Alcohol

  1. Personally I like a higher alcohol wine. I consistently make 17-18% wines with Lalvin EC-1118 or Montrechet Cuvee yeast. They are fast and have a higher alcohol tolerance. I often start with a S.G. of 1.105 and have never had a stuck fermentation. When they clear I add a small amount of sugar before bottling, bringing the S.G. up to 1.007-1.012 to offset the extra alcohol. I bottle in 1 gal. jugs and leave the caps on loose in case of re-fermentation. Almost everybody loves my wine including many who don’t really care for wine!
    I have also fortified some Cabernet Sauvignon after sweetening it to 1.025-1.030 and using 151 Grain Alcohol and the Pearsons square to bring the alcohol to 21% to make a homemade ‘Porto’. Aging it with oak chips helps with the rough edges of the Grain Alcohol./

  2. Having read from Lee’s comment of how he could do to lower the alcohol content of his wine,I’m also wondering how to go about to make my wine (pineapple) to taste almost alcohol free,and sweet for my church members who happen to visit me,and for how long do you think this can keep well?

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