Your Wine Might Contain More Alcohol Than You Think

New research proves that you can't always trust the label.

Woman holding glass of red wine
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If you've ever been totally puzzled by a particular bad hangover, you might have something else other than getting older to blame. A new study, , found that wine is getting boozier every year — and that some winemakers claim their wine has less alcohol than it really does.

Researchers from the University of California studied 127,406 wines tested by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Canada, from 1992 to 2009. They compared the actual alcohol content of the wine with the percentage listed on the bottle, and included wines from all over the world.

The results produced lots of fun facts about your favorite wines. "Old World" European wines had a higher alcohol percentage than "New World" wines from elsewhere in the world. Wines from cooler climates, like Canada and New Zealand, had lower alcohol percentages than wines from hotter places like the U.S. and Australia. Red wines were boozier than white wines, and overall, wines have become more alcoholic over the years.

But the craziest fact? Winemakers are frequently wrong — or, perhaps, lying to us — about alcohol percentages. The researchers found that the average alcohol content of wine was 13.56 percent, but the average reported alcohol content was 13.15 percent. That might not seem that big of a deal, but the researchers say it could be dangerous. "Even errors of this magnitude could lead consumers to underestimate the amount of alcohol they have consumed in ways that could have some consequences for their health and driving safety," the authors wrote. Red wine from Chile and Spain had the highest discrepancy between actual and reported ABV.

Sure, it might be a simple mistake, but the researchers note that it's simple and inexpensive to precisely detect alcohol by volume in wine. So why would winemakers want to fudge the numbers? It might be because consumers want a certain percentage on their bottle, and it might also be for tax reasons, since the U.S. tax rate is higher for wines that are over 14% alcohol by volume.

So the next time you pop open a bottle of red to binge-watch Scandal, keep in mind that you might be drinking more than you think. The define a "drink" of wine as five ounces at 12 percent ABV, and your glass may be stronger than that. 

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