3 reasons to love low alcohol wine
“Another glass of wine?” It’s a common question asked by a gracious host, or an attentive server. But when it’s my mother, “another glass of wine!” is not a question (note the exclamation mark). More a statement of shock rather than a possible offering. My mother is advising, in a not-too-subtle way, that I stop at one glass then put a cork in it. “Mother knows best,” as the saying goes. Yet not being a drinker, Ma probably does not know best when it comes to food and wine enjoyment. Suggesting to an oenophile like me that I shouldn’t refresh my glass during dinner is sacrilege. I might as well be having breakfast. So what’s this “grape nut” supposed to do?
I suppose there are some options: a) only schedule breakfasts with mom b) keep replenishing my glass (while trying to avoid Ma’s evil eye) or c) opt for low alcohol wine and keep it flowing.
Low alcohol wine? You mean wimpy and dilute? Reality is that less alcohol does not mean less flavour. A good winemaker strives for flavour and balance, not brute power. By “low alcohol,” I’m not talking about artificially “dealcoholized” wines (Don’t. Ever. Buy. These.). I’m referring to wines that are naturally low in alcohol, not “man”-ipulated. These are (by my own definition) red wines that have an ABV (alcohol by volume) of less than 13 per cent and less than 12 per cent for whites. Here are three reasons why you should make the time for low octane wines:
#1 Food friendly
I’m a big fan of dishes sporting a spicy kick. What I’m not a big fan of is having my already tingling tongue cauterized by searing alcohol. In fact, the most “food friendly” wines tend to be relatively low in alcohol, and fairy high in acidity. Lower alcohol won’t add unwanted heat, and some acidic zip will cleans the palate.
Typically, “dry” wines have the highest alcohol content, since most of the grape sugars are converted to alcohol. Conversely, wines with more residual sugar tend to be lower in alcohol. Hence, low alcohol wines tend to taste sweeter, which (assuming the sweetness is balanced with acidity) makes them a perfect for spicy foods. I’m mostly talking about white wines, here, but red wines with a lower heat level and lively acidity also, in my experience, turn out to be the best dinner partners.
#2 Consume more, pay less (the next morning)
From a five per cent ABV sweet Moscato d’Asti to a 15.5 per cent Aussie Shiraz, natural wine levels can vary significantly. In fact, it’s even common to see wines with an ABV of more than 16 per cent. These are called “sleep aids.” The problem with them, though, is the risk of overdose — then trying to be productive when (if) you wake up.
Lighter bodied wines with lower alcohol can be enjoyed in larger quantities than their counterparts without the debilitating after effects. In other words, you can have two glasses of German Riesling Kabinett (at eight per cent or less ABV) or just one glass of 14.5 per cent, palate tranquilizing California Chardonnay. The old adage that two is better than one certainly holds true in this case (I just have to convince Ma of this).
#3 Your waistline will thank you
Here’s a simple equation: lower ABV wines = less calories = healthier lifestyle choice. Summer is around the corner … so are bathing suits. “Ma,” I would say, if I had even the slightest inclination she would listen, “if we are going to be frolicking on the beach together, light and fresh wines are the way to go. We can work on our tans while sipping a glass or two of vino (or vinho, as in light and spritzy, Vinho Verde), and still be functional human beings by the time dinner rolls around.” Well, at least I’m convinced!
With a growing trend toward low alcohol wines, dialing back is the new amping up. Perhaps my mother does know best; at least she got me thinking about the strength of the wine I drink, if not the quantity. So if I “go for low,” I can enjoy another drink without feeling cloudy the next morning. And I can’t wait to go to the beach in my new sundress (it finally fits). More importantly, I have a greater appreciation for balance, poise, and flavour harmony in my wines. So Ma, I raise my glass to you (don’t worry, it’s Moscato d’Asti) … Salut!
Be sure to chill the reds down a bit to enhance the refreshment factor.
Chateau Montguéret Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($20)
You can usually count on bubblies to be fairly low octane. This Loire valley beauty just hits 12 per cent. Smells like a summer garden (acacia?) combined with marzipan and toasted almond. Ultra refreshing, with fine bubbles, white peach, and a crisp, dry, clean finish. A great aperitif … actually, great anytime.
Barton and Guestier Bordeaux Blanc Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2013 ($15)
Subtle peach, vanilla, and citrus on the nose, with a touch of waxiness from the Semillon. Crisp and dry, with lemon/mineral flavours. I tried it with (believe it or not) a Caesar salad — worked nicely!
Bouchard Père & Fils Petit Chablis 2013 ($21)
Yeah, okay, so it’s a “baby” Chablis from the outskirts of the region. But this girl’s got a lot of what her big sisters have. Lemony, chalky, with some slightly briny/oyster shell aromas that get the mouth watering. Zippy and zesty, with refreshing citrus flavours…where are my oysters?!
Jaffelin Bourgogne Aligoté 2013 ($17)
Aligoté is Burgundy’s “other” white grape variety. Lots of golden apple with a hint of honey and spring flowers on the nose. It’s light, with refreshing citrus and apple flavours. Add a dash of cassis for a classic kir.
Josef Drathen Rheinhessen Gewürztraminer Kabinett 2013 ($13)
Wow! Smells like rose bushes after a spring rain — with some lychee, dusted with nutmeg and clove, thrown in. Just barely sweet, it’s packed with exotic fruit flavours and some mild spice notes. Could work well with hard-to-match Asian dishes that pack a bit of both sweetness and spice.
Batasiolo Moscato d’Asti Bosc Dla Rei NV ($15)
At 5.5 per cent alcohol, this super-fun Italian makes for a great mid-afternoon sipper … or maybe even with some freshly sliced peaches in a tall flute for brunch. Apricot, orange zest, and white flowers, and toasted hazelnut lead to gently sweet, honeyed, apricot jam flavours. More, please!
Gazela Vinho Verde NV ($10)
A fresh seafood salad, a bottle of Gazela, and a nice spot by the lake. The perfect summer day! Lighthearted citrus and mineral aromas, a slight spritz to cleanse the palate, and only 9 per cent alcohol. Kinda like a serious wine spritzer!
Inniskillin Discovery Series Botrytis Effected Viognier 2013 ($40/375 ml)
OMG … this rocks! Lovely, spicy, candied apricot, tangerine peel, rosewater, honey. Sweet and silky in the mouth, but with great balancing acidity and loads of spice, marmalade, honey, and orange blossom. I love Viognier, but can’t say I’ve ever had one quite like this!
Domaine La Gardie Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 ($10)
Aromas of plum, tobacco, chocolate, black cherry, dried herbs and a pinch of pepper lead to restrained fruit flavours (mostly cherry) laced with a dash of spice.
MASI Bonacosta Valpolicella Classico 2013 ($15)
Valpolicella and Bardolino are classic lighter Italian reds. Typical herbal/cherry aromas, but there’s also a certain funkiness that reminds me a bit of truffle, amaro, and black olive tapenade. Light and bright with earthy black cherry flavour. Perfect pizza wine!
Villa Ponciago Beaujolais-Villages 2012 ($13)
Beaujolais is the king of French light reds. The “villages” designation notches up the intensity a bit. Yum! Strawberries and bubblegum, with maybe a whiff of sandalwood. Lots of fresh, juicy, red berry fruit and a bare suggestion of fennel. The quintessential “bistro” wine. Chill and swill!
Chanson Pere & Fils Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2012 ($22)
So it ain’t La Tache … but for just around $20 you get some honest-to-god Pinot Noir character. Classic aromas of cherry, raspberry, cedar, new leather, and tobacco. Light to mid-weight, with ripe berry fruit and a smidge of baking spice. Bring on the duck!