Sixteen Percent Alcohol - That's Wimpy Wine
There have been several books written on the history of wine in Australia. Some have been mentioned in a recent post, but if you don’t have the time or stamina to read a whole book then this short review is ideal reading material. Written in 1979 by Gerald Walsh it covers the period from the first settlement to 1979. As Walsh makes clear the planting of vines has been attempted in Australia since 1788, and successful vineyards were in many parts of the country by the 1840’s.
And some of the wines were not lacking in alcohol. The incursion of Australian wine into the Old World was not without its difficulties. There was much prejudice, indeed suspicion sometimes of the origin of the 'colonial' product which was usually forced to compete in a special section; there were also objections about the strength of some Australian wines. The fermentation of musts was incompletely understood a hundred years ago and the fact that some Australian wines were naturally over 26 percent proof spirit led to allegations that they had been fortified. Controversy raged but as in the case of a disputed dry red Hermitage from Bendigo alleged by the judges at Vienna in 1873 to have come from the Middle Rhone, the colonials won. Overall, Australian wines fared indifferently at these exhibitions but at least such showings brought attention to the product from the antipodes, which was the result of much dedicated effort. (Bolding my emphasis.)
I’d say all the talk these days about the new era of high alcohol wines is a little behind the times, don’t you think?
(Edit: Let me make one point clear here. I'm not confusing 26% proof with 16% alcohol by volume, but at the same I obviously have not fully explained the point that this post is trying to make. By today's standards 16% (by volume) is considered high, certainly compared to wines from the Old World (e.g. France). The same situation also existed over 130 years ago when Australian wines were being considered high alcohol because they were reaching 26% proof. Eactly what 26% proof was in the 1800's is a little difficult to accurately establish. "A "proven" solution was defined as 100 degrees proof (100°). This has since been found to actually be at 57.15% ethanol." Today a convenient conversion is 1 degree of proof is equal to about 0.571% alcohol by volume. Twenty-six percent proof would be 14.85% alcohol by volume today (conversion calculations are here).