Marnie: Yes. Alcoholic strength can indicate how a wine will taste, even if we know nothing about its grape or region. Alcohol derives from grape sugar, so a wine's strength has a direct relationship with grape ripeness. Alcohol content can serve as a reasonable proxy for wine traits that vary with fruit ripeness. Wine style is most variable in the crowded middle ground between 13.5 percent and 14 percent alcohol. The further a wine strays from this, the more predictable it becomes.
Buzz: What kinds of things can you guess?
Marnie: Body and sweetness. Alcohol is the main contributor of texture, so stronger wines feel heavier and weaker wines lighter. Wines under 12 percent alcohol are almost always a little sweet, since retaining sugar usually means sacrificing potential alcohol.
Buzz: OK, so you can tell if it's sweet or dry?
Marnie: It goes much further, Buzz. As alcohol increases, wines generally become more intense in flavor and more dessert-like in scent, qualities associated with ripe fruit and warm, sunny regions. Think California Chardonnay or Argentine malbec. Other traits fade as fruit ripens, like sharp acidity and earthy or herbal scents. Think milder, lighter wines like Italian pinot grigio, French pinot noir and low-alcohol wines from cooler regions.
Buzz: That sounds easier than learning about different grapes.
Marnie: Yes. I explain more about this in my new book Wine: A Tasting Course. I'll give you a copy, Buzz.
Buzz: Thanks, Marnie. I'll read it while sipping that pinot grigio.
Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author. MarnieOld.com or @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.