Champagne is the bedazzling member of the wine world. Enchanted drinkers everywhere may need little more than its charm and prestige as explanation for why they feel the way they do when drinking champagne. But could there be more to the story than glitter and glam? Are you actually under a bubbly spell or just plain old wine drunk? If wine drunk even exists, that is…
What is the Typical Alcohol By Volume of Champagne?
The champagne alcohol content, or alcohol by volume (ABV), of champagne typically clocks-in at 11.5-12.5% with the majority hitting around 12.2%. You’ll find consistency in champagne alcohol levels throughout the Champagne region no matter the producer or champagne house, and here’s why:
Champagne is a cool-climate growing area
Champagne is at the northern geographical limit of what is considered feasible for grape growing. With lower temperatures and shorter daylight hours, champagne grapes are more or less capped at a certain level of ripeness (sugar content). This inherently limits the alcohol potential. In particularly cool or late growing seasons, the grapes of Champagne may even struggle to fully ripen resulting in a lower than usual degree of alcohol.
Champagne is a high-acid style of wine
Not only do champagne grapes bear the brunt of challenging climate, but the style of champagne dictates that they are picked earlier than is typical for other kinds of wine — when the acidity is still very high and sugar still low (not even at full ripeness). This is because the final champagne relies on high acidity for structure and because it undergoes two fermentations (methode champenoise) which both generate alcohol. The first creates the base wine which must not exceed 9-11% because the second will raise that degree 1-2 points; voila, our 12% champagne is born year after year.
Champagne producers are masters of assemblage
While we may see these ABV averages steadily creep up over time as climate continues to warm, the cellar masters of Champagne are renowned in the wine world as the bosses of assemblage (the process of blending multiple wines from different years, barrels, etc. to create a final cuvée). It’s their mastery that bestows consumers not only with consistent tasting wines year after year, but wines with a standard alcohol content.
3 Reasons You May Feel Differently When Drinking Champagne & Sparkling Wine
Ease of Drinking
Simply put, champagne is the drink that connotes celebration, feel good moments and congregation. It’s easy to drink — sometimes too easy — because we associate it with and are often enjoying it at mood enhancing events and people we look forward to spending time with. And even in its complexity, champagne is uplifting, it’s vivacity contagious, and that keeps us coming back for more.
For most folks, champagne is served and enjoyed chilled, another attribute that makes it so dang easy to drink. Not only has it been proven that drinks served at cooler temperatures play a bit of thirst-quenching trickery on the brain, but they are also the universal option for pouring at any time of day and in any kind of weather. So our discussion on whether or not your glass of champagne is getting you drunker than a cocktail might better be addressed with another question: how much are you loving your glass that champagne and would you like some more?
While results are far from conclusive, there have been studies demonstrating that carbonation may play a role in more rapid alcohol absorption. And this could be true whether we’re talking about champagne, other sparkling wines or a cocktail that’s topped off with soda. It’s posited that the activity of carbon dioxide in the system expedites alcohol’s movement to the small intestine where the molecules are readily absorbed into the bloodstream.
In terms of champagne, we do have some control over the amount of carbon dioxide present in our pours. Age of the wine will play a role but ultimately It comes down to the style of glass you choose to use. Glasses with wider rims and bowls such as a coupe or red wine glass will allow CO2 to blow off quickly, while flutes or tulip shaped glasses will contain it better and in higher concentrations.
There are six levels of dosage (a final addition of sugar to balance the wine) that may be encountered when drinking champagne. The three driest styles are the most typical on the market, and though their sugar content may not be extravagantly high, it is something to be aware of for those with sugar sensitivity— especially if consuming more than two glasses. And when one of the three sweeter styles, it’s most definitely something to be aware of. Alcohol and good vibes is one thing, but alcohol, vibes and a sugar high is something else entirely.
Because dosage is added principally for the purpose of balancing out the acidity and bolstering the structure of the wine, so that 17 grams/liter in a particularly tart and dry style is not always as obvious as one may think. The greatest awareness will come from knowing the specs of each level and being able to identify to which your bottle of bubbly belongs.
How Does Champagne Compare to Other Alcoholic Bevs?
When it comes to US alcoholic drink equivalents we are talking one 12oz beer, a 5oz glass of wine or 1.5oz of liquor. But each of these beverages contain varying degrees of alcohol, so what does that mean for your Saturday night?
Wine actually exists in an ABV sweet spot for a faster rate of absorption. While there are beverages with significantly more alcohol than wine, studies show that drinks with an alcohol content of 10-20% pass more quickly from the stomach to the small intestine — where the majority of alcohol is absorbed by the body — resulting in a lower median time for blood alcohol content to peak. In other words, champagne may not get you more drunk than another alcoholic beverage, but it will get you drunk faster.