|My bloodstream's alcohol is also underreported|
Moreover, EVERY country reports less alcohol on the label than actually exists in the bottle. It's interesting, at a time when people are looking for bold wines, that wineries worldwide apparently believe slightly lower alcohol percentages on the label will help the wine sell better.
And for as much heat as California wineries take over alcohol, the growth in alcohol percentage in the US over the last two decades is actually the lowest of any major winegrowing country in the world.
The research paper -- published by the American Association of Wine Economists and cowritten by four researchers from UC Davis* -- used data since 1992 from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which tests the actual alcohol content of every wine it imports.
* Authors: from UC Davis, professors Julian Alston and Jim Lapsley, PhD candidate Kate Fuller and research associate Kabir Tumber. From the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, VP George Soleas.
There's a lot of great data in this study, which I would link to if I could. But I can't, so I'll summarize some of the most interesting points below.
* Alcohol is rising in wine in every country in the world much faster than can be explained by global warming.
* There are a few regions in the world that counter this trend, with alcohol actually falling since 1992: Burgundy (reds and whites), Oregon (reds only), Piedmont (reds only), Washington (reds only). Oregon reds have actually dropped by the most, although I wonder if that indicates a change in grape varieties; the paper doesn't address it. Piedmont's and Washington's drops were tiny, but that still sets them apart from the rest of the world. And, hurray for Burgundy!
* The regions that have added the most alcohol are fairly obscure: British Columbia and US Other (not the 3 West Coast states) for red wines; British Columbia and Canada Other for whites. This makes sense, as obscure regions must be pursuing ripeness.
* Among major regions, Languedoc and the Rhone have added the most alcohol to red wines. For whites, it's the Rhone, Languedoc and Piedmont.
* By country, the fastest alcohol growth rate in the world for red wines is in Chile, by a fairly large margin over Spain and South Africa. The US started in 1992 with the highest average alcohol of any major winegrowing country (13.5%) but the growth rate since then is actually significantly less than the rest of the world; France has added alcohol at nearly three times the US rate.
* By country, the fastest alcohol growth rate in the world for white wines: Would you believe Canada? New Zealand is second, followed by Chile and Italy. Once again, the US had the highest average alcohol to start with in 1992 (13.4%) but since then our growth rate is the smallest of any major winegrowing country in the world; Italy's alcohol growth rate is more than five times ours.
* Before you ask, one flaw of this study is that 1992 is the last year for which they published the average alcohol. For the rest, it's all annual percentage change, trend growth rate, regression analysis, logarithmic stuff, etc. Academics ain't journalists. Be glad I'm filtering.
* Every country underreports alcohol for both red and white wines. Most grievous for red wines: Spain, just a touch less honest than the U.S. For white wines, the U.S. and Chile are equally inaccurate, towering above (below?) the rest of the world.
* Hurray for Portugal: that country's wines are the closest to having the alcohol reported accurately for both red and white wines. Just another of many reasons to love Portuguese wines ... New Zealand finished a close second in honesty for reds, not as close and tied with South Africa for second in honesty among whites. Wines, that is.
* The authors use statistics I don't understand to extrapolate the "desired" alcohol level from each country; in other words, what wineries think we want, based on what the actual alcohol level is and what they report it as.
The "desired" alcohol levels seem really low to me: Red wines worldwide, 12.98%. Red wines in the US, 13.21%. I think this might be a flaw in the study, and possibly a result of mixing corporate $7 wines with aficionado $30 bottles, but I'm not smart enough to say for sure.
* For average alcohol of all red wines since 1992, Australia is the highest at 14%, just a wallaby's nose hair ahead of the US at 13.99%. Canada's is the lowest at 12.8%; France is second at 13.1%.
* Here's the real hotspot of US wine, and it's rarely talked about. For all white wines since 1992, US wine is by far the highest at 13.66% alcohol; Chile at 13.45% is a distant second. Those delightful Portuguese whites that people don't drink enough of have the lowest alcohol, 12.33%, followed by Italy, 12.39%.
So remember, when it comes to American heat, it's not the Zinfandel that stands out; it's the Chardonnay.