The origin of the name comes from the Arabic and is derived from "guhlu" (powdered galena for tinting eyelids and eyelashes). The Arabs called this "kuhul" and it had the meaning of "the most beautiful and finest". The term was then also used for liquids that were considered to be the essence or "spirit" of a substance. The Arabs are also credited with the invention of the distillation of alcohol (for medicinal purposes). From this is derived "Al-kuhul-vini", the finest of wine (spirit of wine). The natural scientist and physician Theophrastus Bombastus Paracelsus (1493-1541) was the first to use the term "spiritus vini" (spirit of wine) for the result of a distillation and finally the terms spirit of wine and alcohol got identical meanings. Alcool" was first mentioned in writing in Germany in 1597.
Alcohols are chemical compounds in which one or more hydroxy groups (hydrogen and oxygen) are directly bound to carbon. If the molecule contains only one hydroxy group, they are called monohydric or lower alcohols, if it contains more, it is called polyhydric or higher alcohols. Alcohols belong to the group of organic acids with a very low acidity. Monohydric alcohols are mainly found in wine:
Low-value alcohols are highly volatile liquids with a typical smell, medium-value alcohols are soap-oily and higher-value alcohols are solid, waxy, almost odourless and sweet. Above trivalent, they are called sugar alcohols (alditols). The most important common characteristic of alcohols is their hydrophilicity (water-loving = easily miscible). A decisive role in wine is played by ethanol, which is often simply referred to as alcohol. It is formed during alcoholic fermentation from sugar with the elimination of carbon dioxide. As a rule of thumb, 10 g of sugar per 1,000 g of grape must yields 0.66% vol. ethanol. In normally small, harmless quantities, however, toxic fusel oils or fusel alcohols (accompanying alcohols) such as methanol are also found in wine and in slightly larger quantities in spirits as by-products of fermentation.
The individual types of alcohol have different boiling points, for example 65 °C for methanol, 78 °C for ethanol and 118 °C for butanol. The significantly lower boiling point of ethanol compared to water enables the distillation of wine (evaporation of the alcohol long before the boiling point of water is reached) and thus the production of high-percentage spirits. Similarly, a different boiling point allows the absolutely necessary separation of methanol, which is toxic in large quantities, from ethanol.
A balanced alcohol content in wine is an important aspect of winemaking. Alcohol has a strong influence on taste and aroma. Beverages containing alcohol have a relatively high nutritional value (fats, carbohydrates). For the other wine ingredients, see under total extract. The calculation of the alcohol level is explained under blood alcohol concentration (BAC). A frequent question is what amount of alcohol is acceptable for your health or, if consumed regularly, is unlikely to be harmful to your health (see under Health).
See also the keywords alcohol content, alcoholism, alcohol prohibition, allergy, diabetic wine, hangover, prohibition, intoxication, Satyricon, drinking culture and vinotherapy.