Less booze, more fruit – a wine revolution
I recently took part in a debate about alcohol in wine and the effect it has on the way it tastes. It’s obviously part of what makes wine what it is, but the levels have been creeping up relentlessly over recent years – some still wines now hit 16% abv, which is practically the level of a fortified wine.
In fact, it has got to the point where it’s comparatively rare to find a new world wine of 12% to 12.5%, even though that is arguably the perfect amount: lower abvs tend to go hand in hand with sweetness, whereas any higher than that, and more than one glass, particularly those huge, 250ml glasses that many bars now have on their wine lists, can be wearing.
The downside is that we’re used to the softer, riper fruit that high alcohol delivers. Lower alcohol tends to mean higher acidity and sharper fruit flavours – think redcurrant or raspberry, rather than black cherry or plum. They’re often wines that are easier to enjoy with food (the way they would have traditionally be consumed, of course) than on their own.
Moderately alcoholic whites are easier to find than reds. A lot of French classics fall into this category, particularly those from the more northerly wine-growing regions of the Loire, Chablis and Alsace. Supermarkets and other retailers who have own-label ranges seem to make an effort to keep them below 13%, though bear in mind that winemakers have a leeway of 0.5% when they declare the alcohol content. Sainsbury’s pure, minerally Taste the Difference Pouilly Fumé 2016 (£12.50; 12.5%), for example, shows just how much flavour that level of alcohol can deliver.
Low-alcohol reds are more elusive. The Wine Society, for whom it seems almost to be a badge of honour to see how many it can list, has more than most. The Society has some terrific wines arriving over the next couple of months, but in the meantime look out for the delicious Coffele Valpolicella, which is a reminder of just how delicious this wine can be.
Biodynamic viticulture also seems to result in lower levels of alcohol than would be the case with conventional wines. Austrian producer Heinrich, for instance, has a red based on zweigelt, blaufrankisch and st laurent that you’d never think was only 12.5%.
There’s a simple way to get more of these lower alcohol wines on the shelves: keep buying them, and let supermarkets and wine shops know you enjoy them. They’ll respond to consumer demand.
Lambrusco is having a bit of a moment, though by “lambrusco” we don’t mean that super-sweet, super-fizzy, super-cheap stuff you get in the supermarket, but the real McCoy: look for anything labelled lambrusco classico. The suggested amount of syrup makes enough for 10 drinks, so halve or double the amount, as the occasion demands. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Put the gin, lemon, syrup and one sage leaf in a shaker, and muddle (ie, bash) the leaf with the end of a spoon, to release the essential oils. Add ice, shake vigorously, then strain over ice into a large wine glass. Top with lambrusco, garnish with a lemon twist and the remaining sage leaf, and serve. Patrick Kalinna, head bartender, Martello Hall, London E8