Less booze, more fruit – a wine revo­lu­tion

The Guardian - Feast - - Fiona Beckett - Fiona Beck­ett

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

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