We are seeing a growing trend of people seeking wines lower in alcohol. If you are trying to ease off on the alcohol consumption in the New Year, 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, it’s a good place to start. Wines are increasing in alcohol content for many reasons. Firstly the demand is 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.

There are two ways to achieve wines low in alcohol. 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.

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. Firstly starting 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 varieties grown in the Vinho Verde region are another option.

Next, 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.

If you have been partaking in a ‘dry January’ and would like to gently ease yourself back into the imbibing world, then try a few of these light little gems:

Forrest Doctors Sauvignon  Loosen Estate Riesling     Domaine De Rieux

         Blanc 2013                        2013                            2013

Forrest Doctors Sauvignon  Blanc 2013Loosen Estate Riesling 2013

          £11.75/€17               £10.65/€15.55             £7.99/€12.75

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        Soalheiro Allo              Donnhoff Riesling      La Grille Rose D'Anjou 

Soalheiro Allo 12/13  Pk6Donnhoff Riesling Dry 2013 Pk6La Grille Rose D'Anjou 2013

        £9.95/€14.95                £16.50/€24.50            £8.75/€13.25

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As you may be able to tell from the list above, low alcohol red wine are more difficult to come across, as red varieties generally need a longer ripening period, producing more sugar and, ultimately, more alcohol. A low alcohol red wine is typically considered to be around the 12-13% 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, 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:

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir          Vina Bujanda Joven 

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir 2012 Pk6

      £11.25/€16.50                £8.35/€12.75

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The Vines Shiraz Cabernet Merlot    Perret Saint Joseph Red


     £7.99/€12.85                               £18.99/€25.99

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