An expert’s guide to low alcohol wines

It can be a good idea to opt for a glass (or two) of wine that has a lower alcohol content.
It can be a good idea to opt for a glass (or two) of wine that has a lower alcohol content.
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After the excessive indulgence of the Christmas period, it’s hardly surprising that so many people want to give their liver a break. As such, many of us swear off the booze every January and have a dry month, often for charity.

The debate as to whether moderate wine consumption has any benefits, or is a health hazard, is seemingly never-ending, with all sorts of conflicting advice from the so-called experts. Confusingly, no one seems to have a definitive answer to that question.

Still, if you’re not planning on permanent sobriety but simply thinking about drinking less, it can be a good idea to opt for a glass (or two) of wine that has a lower alcohol content.

Mercifully, there are some out there that are more than palatable - unlike, say, the vast majority of no-alcohol wines, which are often little more than glorified (and expensive) grape juice.

“Sadly, there is a perception that if something is ‘low in alcohol’, then it’s not a ‘real drink’,” says Ewan Murray, of The Wine Society, the world’s oldest wine club, which was founded in 1874. “As people are becoming more conscious about the health issues of over-consumption of alcohol, I believe that things are turning around.”

According to Murray, there is a clear difference between low alcohol wines and de-alcoholised wines. “The latter are manufactured, whereas the former are naturally low in alcohol. The real pleasure in drinking comes from a balanced wine - and alcohol is an integral part of that balance.”

The terminology of so-called ‘healthier’ wines can be confusing to your average tippler. Some are known as ‘light wines’, some as ‘low calorie wines’, and some (irritatingly) are both. So what’s the difference?

“This is all down to marketing,” says Murray. “Terms like ‘light’, ‘low calorie’ and ‘skinny’ are meaningless unless the targeted drinkers know what their starting point is in the first place. Using such terminology is simply a way to sell a product, rather than giving people all the proper information with which to make up their own minds.”

Stroll down the wine aisle of any major supermarket, and you’ll come across an ever-growing selection of non-alcoholic wines. But the question begs, are any worth drinking?

“If the wine is forced into being low alcohol, then not really,” says Murray. “But wine that’s naturally lower than what many people are used to - most definitely.

“They are mainly on the white and sparkling side of things (5-10% alcohol), but some reds from, say, the Loire Valley or Beaujolais may hit the spot at around 12%, rather than the many 13-15% wines around these days.”

Asked for recommendations on some reds and whites that are lower in alcohol but nevertheless still very enjoyable, Murray says: “On the red front, look out for wines from Touraine in the Loire Valley - for example, often blends of grapes such Gamay, Cabernet Franc or Malbec. The Loire is quite northerly for a red wine-growing region, and grapes don’t always achieve the levels of ripeness (and therefore sugar) of other areas.

“For whites, check out English whites such as Three Choirs Vineyards Midsummer Hill 2014 at 11%, or German Rieslings like Piesporter Goldtropfchen from von Kesselstatt at 7.5%. And for a sweet bubbly treat, Moscato d’Asti regularly weighs in at around 5.5%.”

As for wines made specifically with lower calories in mind, Murray says he can’t recommend any. “If you want slightly fewer calories from your wine intake, simply take a little less in quantity.” he says.

So there you have it. For those looking to cut down on their wine consumption, the glass is half full rather than half empty, with plenty of very drinkable lower alcohol wines on the market.

All that’s left to ask is: are there any low alcohol wines that even a well-heeled wine connoisseur would entertain - or is that stretching things a bit?

“There are some amazing German Rieslings which age brilliantly and weigh in at between 7 & 10% alcohol,” says Murray. “They are some of the most exquisite wines around.”