Posted on 2nd August 2017 by JN Wine
What are low alcohol wines?
We are seeing a small but growing trend of people seeking wines lower in alcohol. If you are trying to ease off on the alcohol consumption for health reasons, looking for something light to bring to the lunch-time table, or just want to lower the chances of a sore head the next day, finding low alcohol wines is a logical step to take. Wines are increasing in alcohol content for many reasons. Firstly the general demand is still there – wine high in alcohol will taste bolder, fuller-bodied, and more complex due to the affect the alcohol has on our palates, so it is understandable why there is a market for these big, bold, styles. And the science based reason – new strains of yeasts have been developed that can withstand a higher ABV, and so rather than dying off, they can continue to work away converting the sugar into alcohol to levels up to 14-15% ABV, and beyond.
How are low alcohol wines made?
There are two ways to achieve low alcohol wines. The most common to achieve non-alcoholic wines (0.5% ABV) or very low alcohol wines (up to 5%) is to ‘dealcoholise’ them – a process that is as nasty and harsh as it sounds. It involves boiling the wine until the alcohol is removed, then adding the flavours and aromas that also escaped, back in. It’s hard to imagine that this isn’t harmful to the wine and doesn’t affect the end result.
The second is more natural and here at JN we believe in the natural. We strive to work with growers and producers who take a minimalist-intervention approach – let the wine do its own thing, and it will speak for itself. Naturally lower alcohol wines can be achieved in a few ways. Start with the grape varieties – some are simply suited to producing lower-alcohol wines. For example Moscato di Asti, which produces the famous sparkling wine of the same name is generally only 5.5% ABV. Riesling also produces lower alcohol wines, as well as Chenin Blanc which is an extremely versatile variety producing a range of styles. Portuguese white grape varieties grown in the Vinho Verde region are another option.
What happens in the vineyard certainly has a role to play. Vines grown in cooler climates tend to produce lower alcohol wines – as the grapes do not get to full ripeness, they have lower sugar to start with, and lower alcohol will be achieved once the fermentation is complete. Picking the grapes early has the same affect.
Finally, in the winery the winemaker can chose to stop the fermentation early – doing this at an earlier stage leaves the wine at a lower level of alcohol, and with a certain amount of sweetness, as not all the sugar has been converted.
Try a few of these naturally-light little gems that we have to offer:
As you may be able to tell from the list above, low alcohol red wines are more difficult to come across, as red varieties generally need a longer ripening period, producing more sugar and therefore more alcohol. A low alcohol red wine is typically considered to be around the 12.5-13.5% mark. If you are on the hunt for red wines that do a little less damage, Pinot Noir is one variety to look out for, as well as Gamay, and Primitivo, an Italian cousin of Zinfandel. But climate again has a lot to do with it. Pinot Noir from Germany is typically lower in alcohol than the New World styles, and Gamay has its home in Beaujolais in northern Burgundy, famous for a lighter-bodied style of red wines. But these aren’t the only rules in finding lighter-alcohol reds, many are now naturally made in a lighter style to suit consumer demands, regardless of variety or region of origin. Browse the shelves of your local wine merchant and find a few for yourself.
A few examples we stock at JN: