How to calculate units of alcohol

by Janine / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Many regular drinks have no idea how many actual of units of alcohol they are consuming and with the guidelines set at around 20 units per week (less for women), it is easy to find yourself well over the recommended limits after only two or three nights out on the town.

Making matters worse, wine drinkers have probably been drinking many more units than they think.  Why?  Because many red wines are now made with more alcohol.  It's not unusual to find bottles of Cabernet or Shiraz topping 14% alcohol, especially from hotter climates like Australia and Chile.

So how do you figure out how many units were in those three large glasses of wine that you enjoyed last night when you met your friends for dinner?  It's actually quite simple. Here's how you calculate it:

Step 1: Find out or guess how many mls of liquid your wine glass holds.  Tip: A small glass of wine is usually about 125 mls and a large glass is around 250 mls.

Step 2: Take a look at the wine bottle label and look for the ABV (alcohol by volume) amount.  It will usually range between 12.5% to 15%.

Step 3: Multiple the number of mls by the percentage number and divide by 1,000.

Example:  I drink one large glass of wine, which holds 250 mls of wine, and the red Aussie Shiraz that I'm drinking is 14%.  The calculation would be 250 x 14 = 3,500.  3,500/1000 = 3.5 units.

So those three large glasses of wine that you drank last night added up to a whopping 10.5 units, or half of your weekly allowance!  It's easy to see why so many people are probably drinking way more than they think they are and could be putting their health at risk.

UK Beer Has Lower Alcohol Than US Brews

British beer
I had a couple of days back in London recently and it struck me just how much lower alcohol British beer is compared to US beers.  Obviously I am excluding mass produced 'light' beers like Miller Light from my observation, but when you stand up a decent local bitter from London, with its counterpart from a local brewery in Seattle (for example), you'll find quite a difference.  London pints will be around the 4% mark whereas Seattle pints will be around 6%.

And the Brits, despite their reputation for big drinking, seem very happy to knock back a few pints without giving the ABV a second thought.  Maybe that's why Americans have a reputation for drinking less than the Brits.  That may be true in volume terms, but not so much when it comes to the alcohol levels.


Rioja gaining ground but Ribera Del Duero still unknown

There have been many articles recently about how Rioja has become much more popular for the daily tipple of millions of Europeans and Americans around the world.  Consumers are choosing cheaper bottles of wine to drink, usually sub $10, and can find great value with wines from Rioja, without comprising too much quality.

Rioja still is somewhat of a mixed bag, with many sub $10 wines not worth opening, but nowadays you can get Reserva and occasionally Gran Reserva wines in this price bracket, and that can make all the difference.

My favourite wines, from Ribera del Duero, still usually cost substantially more, but even this region, renowned for big, bold wines, is starting to turn out some reasonable wines under $20.  I predict that this will be a trend that will continue, resulting in awareness of Ribera del Duero growing substantially over time.

Restaurant Wine Mark Up - Washington State Wines at Goodmans


I've had the pleasure of being back in my home town of London for a few days this week and last night went to dinner with some friends to Goodmans Restaurant in the City.  Goodmans is well regarded as a place for great steaks, great wine and a great atmosphere.  I'd been to their Covent Garden venue before and knew what to expect.  The food was very good and the wine list is extensive, but I was shocked to see the mark ups.

I pride myself on being able to pick a great value wine from any restaurant wine list, helped by my trusty Pocket Vintages guide, which I can casually refer to.  It helped me choose a 2010 Ribera del Duero Reserva for only 50GBP.  But I was more interested in the selection of wines from Washington State.  You don't often see Washington wines on London restaurant wine lists so I was pleasantly surprised.  What wasn't so pleasing were the prices.  Take a look at the chart above.

The Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon is a $12 wine at retail - on the menu here for 45GBP.  And the Canoe Ridge Merlot from Chateau Ste. Michelle costs under $15 at retail.  That works out at a seven time mark up!

Do they think that Londoners won't know when they are paying over the odds because Washington Wines availability is a relatively recent phenomenon?  Or maybe London is bouncing back from the great recession and city boys on expense accounts just don't care anymore!


Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling 2012

St mich riesling

Possibly the cheapest bottle of wine I have ever reviewed, costing less than $6 from Safeway!  I've looked around and almost everywhere in Washington State, this local wine can be found for roughly the same price.

But does cheap mean bad?  Not in this case.  I admit, I was sceptical.  But this 2012 dry white wine from the Riesling grape is actually rather good.  It has the classic petrol Riesling taste, offset by over-ripe peaches and a medium to crisp finish.  Certainly not bone dry and citrusy, like a New Zealand young Sauvignon Blanc, but chill this down and serve it on its own or with chicken and you will walk away feeling like you just discovered an absolute bargain.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the largest wineries in Washington State and produces a wide range of wines, almost all of them consistently good for the price.  Adding a couple of bottles to the wine fridge will not hurt the wallet but will bring pleasure on a warm day.  Take heed though, looks can be deceiving - what appears to look and taste like a light dry white wine, is actually 13% ABV.

Pocket Vintages Wine Guide Now Available

PV Cover

The PocketVintages Old World Edition Wine Guide is now available to purchase online for only $1.99 including FREE shipping to anywhere in the United States.

The credit card sized guide covers the France, Italy, Germany and Spain vintages from 2002 to 2011 and provides a simple way to help you find the best vintage by region.

PV Inside

Sure there are apps for that, but this handy guide can easily be pulled out of your wallet or purse and consulted whenever you are in a restaurant, wine shop or supermarket and want some help choosing between vintages.

To order your own copy of the 2014 PocketVintages wine guide, click the Paypal button below.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2013

I love crisp New Zealand sauvignons and Villa Maria has an excellent track record in producing easy to drink, good value wines.

This 2013 sauvignon is on the Private Bin label and does have a little more depth than the 'standard' sauvignon blanc.  It is light, fruity and zesty, very lemony when you first taste it but becomes more rounded in the mouth and ends with a good dose of passionfruit.

The 2013 is drinking well now so chill it down and enjoy with seafood, white fish or even chicken.

You can buy it from here.It's only $12.99 right now and you can also get another $10 off an order of $150 with the coupon code of AUGUST10.

Villa Maria private bin

Oh, and did you know that Amazon has a reasonable stock of wines?  Yes it's true!  The everything store now sells wine.  Amazon has a small number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs on offer and probably the best one right now is the Mission Estate Hawkes Bay 2013 Sauvignon Blanc.

Domaine Laroque 2012

A cheap and cheerful 100% Cabernet Franc from the Languedoc region of south west France, near the beautiful city of Carcassonne.  Wines from this region are plentiful and cheap, although the area has been staging a comeback in recent years, shedding its image of mass volume, low quality and turning in some great quality wines.

For $9 a bottle, Domaine Laroque is a good value, everyday kind of wine that pairs well with any red meat.  We drank it with steak and it stood up well.  I chilled it in the fridge for a few hours and it was even better, although the tannins are soft enough that it isn't necessary to do this.  Drink it up now, since this one won't keep longer than a year or two.


Nobilo 2013 Sauvignon Blanc

This is a fresh, clean sauvignon from the famous Marlborough region in New Zealand, an area that produces some of the best value, crispest sauvignons in the world.

Nobilo is a well established brand that produces large volumes of drinkable, good value wines and this 2013 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc is no exception.

Priced at around $10 a bottle, it is excellent value for money.  My rule with sauvignon blanc, especially new world sauvignon is 'drink youngest available'.  The younger the wine, the fresher it will be and for a wine like this, that pairs well with salads, seafood and sun, the 2013 is just right.