Lower-al­co­hol wines can have great taste

The Kansas City Star - - Chow Town - BY ELIN MCCOY Bloomberg News

Maybe you tried out dry Jan­uary and it wasn’t for you, or your list of New Year’s res­o­lu­tions still in­cludes cut­ting back on al­co­hol — at least a bit — but you don’t want to swear off wine en­tirely. Be­lieve me, you’re not alone.

The “no-and-low” well­ness trend is well un­der way in the wine world, with the mar­ket for low- and no-al­co­hol drinks ex­pected to grow 32% by 2022 from its 2018 sta­tus, ac­cord­ing to John Gille­spie of U.S. mar­ket-re­search firm Wine Opin­ions. The first trade show de­voted to such prod­ucts pre­mieres in Lon­don in June.

“Drink­ing a bot­tle of 15%-al­co­hol wine is the equiv­a­lent of drink­ing a bot­tle of 12.5% wine — then down­ing three strong vodka ton­ics,” says im­porter Bartholome­w Broad­bent of Broad­bent Se­lec­tions. The dif­fer­ence between high and low is much big­ger than you might think.

In truth, wine doesn’t need a lot of al­co­hol to taste good. Ta­ble wines to­day range from about 7% to 16% ABV, and at the lower end — def­i­nitely less than 12.5%, with any­thing be­low 10% con­sid­ered very low — you can get plenty of fla­vor with­out get­ting bombed.

Fif­teen years ago, at his epony­mous New Zealand win­ery, lowal­co­hol pi­o­neer John For­rest first tried cre­at­ing a 9% “typ­i­cal Marl­bor­ough savvy” (slang for sau­vi­gnon blanc), which usu­ally clocks in at 12% to 14%. Sau­vi­gnon blanc is a good lowal­co­hol can­di­date be­cause its punchy, in­tense fla­vors and aro­mas al­ways show up, though ex­per­i­ments re­mov­ing al­co­hol through tech­nol­ogy such as re­verse os­mo­sis and spin­ning cones sucked out aroma and fla­vor as well as tex­ture. In taste terms, higher al­co­hol gen­er­ally trans­lates into weight and den­sity, so with less, wines feel lighter in your mouth.

In­stead, For­rest turned to na­ture: Dur­ing fer­men­ta­tion, yeast gob­bles up sugar in the grape juice and turns it into al­co­hol, so less sugar in the grapes means less al­co­hol in the wine. To slow down the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of sugar, he pruned dif­fer­ently and al­lowed a canopy of leaves to shade the grapes from sun and heat.

By 2012 his 9.5% ABV Doc­tors’ sau­vi­gnon blanc was win­ning com­pe­ti­tions. “It had gold medal fla­vors, but not gold medal tex­tures,” he wrote in an email. “But now we’re suc­ceed­ing.”

Six years ago, For­rest joined 18 other top winer­ies in the gov­ern­ment­funded NZ Lighter Wines ini­tia­tive to ex­tend his idea and help make New Zealand the world’s No. 1 pro­ducer of nat­u­rally low-al­co­hol wines (less than 10% ABV) that are just as de­li­cious as those at full strength. Al­ready the cat­e­gory amounts to NZ$35 mil­lion ($22.3 mil­lion) in sales.

I’ve tasted some of them in New Zealand and in Lon­don. While only a hand­ful are in the U.S. (see be­low), more are ar­riv­ing this spring, in­clud­ing For­rest’s ex­cel­lent Doc­tors’ rosé and sau­vi­gnon blanc.

Wine­mak­ers in other re­gions around the world have also been mak­ing lighter wines for decades, al­beit with­out gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives. Health-con­scious en­tre­pre­neur, bio­hacker, and wine lover Todd White started track­ing them down five years ago at nat­u­ral wine fairs and ended up found­ing Dry Farm Wines, a club that prom­ises “a health­ier way to en­joy wine.”

The nat­u­ral wines in White’s sub­scrip­tion ser­vice are lab-tested to en­sure that not only is the listed al­co­hol con­tent ac­cu­rate, but also that they’re sugar-free, low in sul­fites, and con­tain no chem­i­cal ad­di­tives. He says they’re also ke­toand pa­leo-friendly. The grapes must come from cer­ti­fied-or­ganic or bio­dy­namic dry-farmed (unir­ri­gated) vine­yards. The ones I’ve tried are ab­so­lutely de­li­cious.

Check the la­bel for al­co­hol con­tent, though you’ll prob­a­bly have to hunt hard — the num­ber is usu­ally in mi­cro type. Or use this list be­low as your guide.

LOWER-AL­CO­HOL WINE BUY­ING GUIDE

● NV Broad­bent Vinho

Verde ($8) With fresh flo­ral aro­mas and green plant and lime fla­vors, this zippy white from cool and rainy north­west Por­tu­gal is ideal with shrimp or scal­lops. It’s 9% al­co­hol.

● 2018 Aphros Ten ($11) This is the light­est white from Vinho Verde wine­maker Vasco Croft, one of Por­tu­gal’s or­ganic and bio­dy­namic pi­o­neers. With tart acid­ity, tan­ger­ine, and min­eral fla­vors, it’s in­tense and re­fresh­ing at 10% ABV.

● 2018 Bran­cott Es­tate

Flight Song Pinot Gri­gio ($13) This huge New Zealand win­ery pro­motes its low-al­co­hol (9%) Flight Song range as “low-calo­rie.” The pinot gri­gio, with its creamy tex­ture and pear and honey­suckle aro­mas, is bet­ter than the sau­vi­gnon blanc.

● 2018 Giesen Pure

Light Sau­vi­gnon Blanc ($15) Avail­able in the U.S. this month, this bright white has a de­li­cious sweet/sour char­ac­ter sim­i­lar to Giesen’s reg­u­lar sau­vi­gnon blanc but is slightly lighter in body. A zero-al­co­hol ver­sion de­buts in late spring.

● 2018 G.D. Va­jra

Moscato d’Asti ($17) With soft white peach and orange blos­som aro­mas and semisweet, lus­cious ripe fruit fla­vors, Va­jra’s lightly sparkling moscato is al­ways one of Pied­mont’s best, with a mere 5.5% al­co­hol.

● 2016 Avinyo Brut

Cava Reserva ($20) Spanish cavas — like this one, with soft bub­bles and ap­ple-y fla­vors — are made the way Cham­pagne is but with dif­fer­ent grapes. The wine is 11% al­co­hol.

● NV Jean-Paul Brun

Do­maine des Ter­res Dorees FRV 100 ($20) Star Beau­jo­lais wine­maker Jean-Paul Brun makes this vi­brant, fruity-with-a-hint-of­sweet­ness pét-nat rosé from ga­may grapes. It’s 7.5% al­co­hol and ideal with a tangy cheese.

● 2018 Amez­toi Tx­akolina

Ruben­tis Rosado ($26) Tx­akoli wines from Spain’s Basque Coun­try are all lightly fizzy and low in al­co­hol. This shim­mer­ing pink one is bright and crisp, with in­tense notes of red berries and 11% al­co­hol.

● 2015 Keep Wines

Al­barino ($28) Yes, Cal­i­for­nia can pro­duce lower-al­co­hol wines. This de­li­cious, salty, min­eral white from a sin­gle vine­yard in the Sacra­mento River Delta is 11% al­co­hol.

● 2018 Max­imin Grun­haus

Ries­ling Kabi­nett Abts­berg ($38)Grown on steep slopes above the Moselle River in Ger­many, this lively ries­ling has com­plex aro­mas and fla­vors of green herbs, min­er­als, fresh limes, and smoke. It’s only 8.5% al­co­hol.

● 2018 Rote Biene

Hol­len­burg (in six-bot­tle monthly se­lec­tion, $159) This Aus­trian red blend of zweigelt and blauer por­tugieser grapes in the Dry Farm Wines port­fo­lio clocks in at 10.26% al­co­hol. Its fresh, grapey, lip-smack­ing fla­vors will make you crave an­other glass.

● 2018 Rib­er­ach Perorai­son (in six-bot­tle monthly se­lec­tion, $159) Soft, lushly fruity, and so­phis­ti­cated, this mouth-fill­ing red from the foothills of the Pyre­nees has a rich, suc­cu­lent tex­ture de­spite be­ing only 11% al­co­hol.

KIRK MCKOY Los An­ge­les Times/TNS

Wine doesn’t need a lot of al­co­hol to taste good. Ta­ble wines to­day range from about 7% to 16% ABV.

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