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Wine vs. Alcohol: What’s the Difference?

Wine vs. Alcohol: What’s the Difference?


7 minute read

Wine may feel like it should be in its own category, but it still falls under the general umbrella of alcoholic beverages. Simply put, unless we’re talking about dealcoholized wine, all wine is alcohol.

At an average alcohol by volume (ABV) of around 13%, wine isn’t the most potent alcohol, but it should still be consumed in moderation. As with all alcoholic beverages, wine can get you intoxicated if you’re not careful.

The occasional glass of wine does have some positive health benefits, though, which is why many drinkers choose wine over other alcohols. 

Understanding Alcohol

Alcohol comes in a variety of styles and strengths, and evidence of early humans drinking alcohol dates back to 7000–6600 BCE. Researchers have found residue on early pottery in China during that period of a fermented drink that mixed rice and honey with local fruits.

Shortly after, winemaking and wine trading began in regions that include modern-day Georgia. It was used as a medicine, as an important part of rituals and celebrations, and as a drink that improved your mood.

Some researchers even say that the popularity of alcoholic drinks led to advancements in farming and grape farming in particular. The early peoples really liked their cocktails, and likely how they felt when indulging in them.

Is wine a drug? Wine is a drug, just like all other alcoholic beverages. In fact, alcohol is one of the most widely used recreational drugs in the world.

The alcohol, or ethanol, in wine acts like a psychoactive drug. That means it can affect your mood and your behavior, depending on the alcohol levels in your system.

The effects of alcohol after one glass of wine include a buzzed or tipsy feeling. A second may slow down reaction times. Anything beyond that and you’re likely intoxicated. 

Note: When we talk about serving sizes related to wine, the standard pour is 5 oz of conventional wine. If you’re drinking a high alcohol fortified wine, your serving size should be around 3 oz.

Even within the world of conventional wine, there’s still quite a bit of variety. Let’s take a closer look at how wine comes to be and why it’s unique in the world of alcohol.

What is Wine?

Simply put, wine is a type of alcoholic beverage. The difference compared to other types of alcohol comes from how it’s made.

Spirits go through a distillation process. The alcohol goes through an additional process to purify the liquid, removing much of its water content. The idea is to make the finished product stronger, a reason the ABV of most spirits is so far above that of most beers and wines. 

Winemaking is a little less complicated, and it all starts on the vine.

What are the main ingredients in wine? The main ingredient in wine is grapes. Winemakers use chemical compounds and other additives to adjust for flavor, color, and other desired wine traits or preserve the wine. 

This all happens during the fermentation process. 

Fermentation is what turns grape juice into wine. The sugars, or glucose, from the grapes are converted into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide thanks to added or natural yeast. Champagne is fermented twice to bump up the amount of alcohol in each bottle of bubbly after the first round. 

In a non-alcoholic wine, the winemaking process starts the same way. The alcohol is just removed at the end in the winemaker’s chosen dealcoholization process. 

Are alcohol & wine the same? Wine is a type of alcoholic beverage, meaning it contains alcohol. That certainly doesn’t mean all alcohols are wine. Spirits, beer, and hard cider are all examples of different types of alcohol.

Wine drinkers see differences in the health benefits linked to wine, and red wine in particular. The research shows that a glass of wine is better than other types of alcohol, thanks to its antioxidant activity.

Red wines are high in resveratrol, an antioxidant in red grape skins that has been linked to a number of health benefits. These include:

Those positive effects only show up in cases of moderate drinking, though. Heavy drinking or binge drinking can mean the opposite. That includes an increased risk of heart disease and liver disease and the potential for developing an alcohol use disorder.

Here’s some good news for non-drinkers: You can also get your daily dose of resveratrol from plain old grapes. Plums, blueberries, and raspberries also contain the antioxidant if you like some variety.

Alcohol Content in Types of Wine

Alcohol content varies by wine varietals and styles. Whether you’re looking to cut back or trying to avoid a hangover, it’s important to know the ABV of your alcoholic drinks. A higher ABV means you’ll need less to raise your blood alcohol content (BAC).

Can you get drunk on wine? You can get drunk on wine if you’re not careful about moderating your alcohol intake.

The average alcohol concentration of most wines ranges from 5.5-15.5%. White wine usually comes in at a lower ABV than most reds. Wines well above the average are typically fortified wines, like ports or sherries, and should be consumed in smaller quantities. 

Here’s a rundown of ABVs across popular wine varietals:

  • Port (20%)
  • Zinfandel (15.5%)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (14.5%)
  • Pinot noir (14.5%)
  • Bordeaux (13.5%)
  • Chardonnay (13.5%)
  • Merlot (13.5%)
  • Sauvignon blanc (13%)
  • Champagne (12%)
  • Rosé (12%)
  • Moscato (5-7%)

Alcohol Content in Other Drinks

Compared to beer and other types of liquor, wine falls somewhere in the middle of the ABV scale. Before you drink, check the label rather than relying on taste. A cocktail doesn’t have to taste strong to pack a punch. 

The ABV is also there to help you make an informed decision on serving size. The recommended serving size of any distilled spirit is just 1.5 oz. Here’s an idea of the wide variety of ABVs in other alcohols:

  • Absinthe (45-74%)
  • Spirits, e.g., vodka, gin, rum (35-45%)
  • Liqueurs (15-30%)
  • Barley wine (6-12%)
  • Malt liquor (5-6%)
  • Lager (5%)
  • Hard seltzer (4-6%)
  • Light beer (4-5%)
  • Hard cider (4-8%)

Looking to Cut Back?

If you’re trying to cut down on your alcohol consumption, you’re not alone. The non-alcoholic industry continues to expand options for beer, spirits, and wine for you to try that taste just like the real thing.

If you love wine but don’t love worrying about the alcohol in what you’re sipping, Surely wines are a non-alcoholic option for wine lovers. They start out just like conventional wine, with the alcohol removed at the end. 

All the good stuff about wine is left in the bottle.

Try our non-alcoholic sparkling white if you’re looking for bubbles or our non-alcoholic pinot noir if you’re a red wine fan. 

Sources

  1. Early Neolithic wine of Georgia in the South Caucasus
  2. Fermenting knowledge: the history of winemaking, science and yeast research
  3. Wine and Health-New Evidence
  4. Identifying a Role of Red and White Wine Extracts in Counteracting Skin Aging: Effects of Antioxidants on Fibroblast Behavior
  5. Cardiovascular Consequences of Binge Drinking: An Integrative Review with Implications for Advocacy, Policy, and Research

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