HOW LOW WILL YOU GO?

By Rose Murray Brown MW    Published in The Scotsman 30 January 2016

I have had a lot of feedback from readers asking for more information on the rise of alcohol levels in wines. 

It seems that more and more wine drinkers are looking for wines with moderate alcohol levels at 12% or below.  Whilst they do not want to go to the ‘low alcohol styled wine section’, they just want to cut down a bit on alcohol and calories.  You can of course go sparkling with Prosecco, Cava or Champagne (all at 12% or below), but if you want a still white or red where should you look? 

The answer is to search mainly in European wine regions, where alcohol levels tend to be slightly lower due to lower temperatures and less grape ripeness.  There was one exception in our tasting from Marlborough in New Zealand, where efforts have been made to make ‘lighter-styled’ wines and The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc is the most successful to date.

We tasted our way through scores of lighter whites and reds to find our favourite twelve wines for easy quaffing:


CRISP DRY WHITE

Hungary: HILLTOP PREMIUM PINOT GRIGIO / KIRALYLEANYKA 2014
(£4.79 The Co-operative)
A very fair price for this crisp dry Hungarian made by Hilltop’s talented winemaker Eva Keresztury.  It has very light floral, peachy, citric flavours, medium depth of flavour and is extremely dry – but a fantastic bargain at under £5: 12% alcohol  STAR VALUE BUY


Loire, France: MUSCADET DE SEVRE ET MAINE 2014 Chateau de la Placeliere
(£9.50 Oddbins)
If you have turned your back on Muscadet, now is the time to revisit.  Not only is their alcohol level moderate, but they offer great value for money.  Added to this is the promising vintage of 2014.  This is made by Vincent Lieubeau who has worked in USA, South America and Europe before heading back to run his family estate with brother Francois.  Light pearskin aromas, green apple and citric flavours. Organic to boot too: 12% alcohol


Loire, France: TOURAINE SAUVIGNON 2014 Domaine de la Colline
(£8.99 in mixed case or £9.99 bt www.laithwaites.co.uk)
A great substitute for Sancerre.  Made by an old family estate set up four generations ago by the Colin family.  Today their winemaker is Raphael Boileau who has crafted a sleek crisp minerally lemony Sauvignon Blanc here, which has a great natural core of high acidity making it a good match for shellfish or the local Crottin de Chavignol goats cheese: 12% alcohol


Piedmont, NW Italy: GAVI LA GIUSTIANA TERRE ANTICHE 2014
(£12 Oddbins)
Delightful unoaked crisp dry white, light enough in body to serve as aperitif or with your crab starter.  Made by the Lombardini family who took over the C12 Grangia Bassignana converting vineyards to organic and sustainable methods: 12% alcohol


Veneto, NE Italy: SOAVE CLASSICO 2013 Pieropan
(£13.99 www.laithwaites)
From the leading Soave producer.  The Pieropan family are based in the centre of the mediaeval town of Soave in the Classico heartland.  Focusing on low yields, old vines and ripe fruit in their well-sited vineyards, their Soave has a richer intensity than many others.  This has melón aromas, minerally palate with a creamy texture.  Pricier than many Soave, but worth it: 12% alcohol


MEDIUM DRY WHITE

Marlborough, New Zealand: THE DOCTORS’ SAUVIGNON BLANC 2014
(£8.99 Waitrose)
If you normally drink New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but do not want the usual 13% or 14% alcohol intake, this is ‘light style’ alternative with similar lime and gooseberry characteristics of Kiwi Sauvignon.  This is made deliberately lower in alcohol, by picking the grapes earlier than usual.  Normally a tricky balance between getting the right acid and fruit balance, but Drs John and Brigid Forrest have succeeded here where many others have failed.  It does have a off-dry taste, so expect a touch more sweetness and moderate finish. 9% alcohol   STAR BUY


Loire, France: SAUVION CHENIN BLANC 2014
(£5.99 each for 6 bts in mixed case / £8.99 bt Majestic Wine)
Just off dry, this very appealing light style Loire Chenin Blanc is made by the owners of Chateau du Cleray.  Melony aroma with bright grapefruit, crunchy Green apple flavours and a hint of pearskin.  Serve as an aperitif or with a mild curry.  Suit those who normally buy South African Chenin Blanc, but prefer a moderate alcohol level: 11.5% alcohol

                     
Saar, Germany: THE SOCIETY’S SAAR RIESLING 2013
(£8.95 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Just off dry and very grapey in flavour.  A delicious light aperitif style German Riesling made by the venerable Reh family of von Kesselstatt estate who own 36 hectares of top quality vineyards in the Saar valley, a tributary of the Mosel: 10% alcohol


Mosel, Germany: GRAACHER HIMMELREICH KABINETT RIESLING 2014 Dr Loosen
(£13 Sainsbury’s)
If you like your whites with a trutti-frutti rich sweetness, zinging with fresh acid and citric lime flavours head to Germany.  This was very much best of the German wines we tasted made by Dr Loosen – and delicious lunchtime wine with salad or springtime quaffer for those who like more sweetness and less alcohol: 7.5% alcohol   STAR BUY


SWEET WHITE

Valencia, Spain:  MUSCATEL DE VALENCIA 2014
(£5.25 Marks & Spencer)     
This could be classed as a dessert wine, but with its delicate sweetness and refreshing zing it could pass as an unusual aperitif, as well as a good match for a fruit-based dessert.  We tasted several Muscatel de Valencia wines from supermarkets in our tasting (all at 10-11% alc) and this one was voted the best of the bunch: 10% alcohol


LIGHT RED

Veneto, Italy: TASTE THE DIFFERENCE MARZEMINO 2014
(£7 Sainsbury’s)
This is not as good as Asda’s Wine Atlas Marzemino (£5.97), but Sainsbury’s version does have significantly less alcohol than Asda’s – which was what we were looking for in this tasting.  Marzemino is a little known grape found in Trentino and Veneto in north east Italy, producing very light smooth, mellow reds with hints of cherries & red berries – this is made by Gianni Conte of Sartori winery: 12% alcohol


Beaujolais, France: BEAUJOLAIS DOREES L’ANCIEN 2014 Jean Paul Brun
(£9.95 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Looking for a lighter style red to serve with pate or a plateful of charcuterie, Beaujolais makes the ideal lunchtime choice with its moderate alcohol.  This is a traditional style Beaujolais with a hint of bubblegum aromas, lovely crunchy red fruit flavours with a fresh vibrant acid to keep the mouth fresh. Traditionally made from Gamay grapes grown on golden limestone soils (hence the name) in the village of Chamay north of Lyon.  12% alcohol  STAR BUY


Join Rose’s Chocolate & wine tasting at 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh on Friday 20 May 2016 £40 www.rosemurraybrown.com

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