Q&A: Does Zinfandel Make You More Drunk?

Reader Sara writes: I hear drinking zin will get me drunk faster. True or false?

In the wine world, zinfandel has a bad reputation for making grown men and women into slobbering fools. Frankly I think the zin people enjoy this rep, but if you really look at the science of the issue, there’s not a lot to the argument.

Your average zin-basher holds that it’s the higher alcohol of zinfandel that makes it more drunk-tank-inducing. And yes, zin is almost always higher in alcohol than other varietals (especially European wines).

But in reality, the difference really isn’t all that big.

Consider a bottle of wine X that has a comparably low 13.5% alcohol level. In a 750ml bottle, that equals 101ml of pure alcohol.

Now consider wine Z (a zinfandel), with a comparably high 15% alcohol level. In a 750ml bottle, that equates to 113ml of pure alcohol. (I’m rounding to the nearest ml.)

The equivalent in “1.5-ounce shots of 80-proof whiskey” in a bottle would be:

Wine X: 5.6 shots in a bottle.
Wine Z: 6.3 shots in a bottle.

The difference: a measly 0.7 shots of whiskey. Split a bottle of zin between to people and you’re both drinking an extra half-ounce of alcohol over the course of the night, a couple of extra sips of booze.

That alone is not enough to turn a perfectly rational person into a raging alky.

But empirically, there is real evidence that zin drinkers do behave with more, shall we say, carefree abandon. Often in the form of sad public purging. Why do they do it?

My theory: Zin is an extremely easy-to-drink wine, a “guzzler” that even non-wine drinkers often enjoy due to its often bracing sweetness. It goes well with lots of food, and it’s easy to consume as a thirst quencher, so people tend to gulp it down faster than they should. It’s not necessarily the higher alcohol level that does those drinkers in, it’s the fact that they’re drinking twice as much wine altogether.

Just my opinion, of course. Now I have to get back to my Ripple.

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