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Why low-alcohol wine doesn’t have to be disappointing

Low alcohol wine may be slow to catch on, there are plenty on the market full of flavour. It may even one day become an investment category for fine wine collectors.

Technically, a wine can’t be called a wine if it doesn’t contain alcohol. At least, according to the EU it can’t. However, it’s possible legal definitions like these will change after the UK leaves the EU on 31 January 2020. For now, in order to be called wine, fermented grape juice must have at least 8.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) content.


Zero alcohol versus low alcohol wine

But for most people, it’s not the legality of the name that concerns them about non-alcoholic ‘wine’, but rather what does it taste like? Wine with no alcohol at all has a distinctively different flavour.

However, low-alcohol wines are a different story. A winemaker in New Zealand called Dr John Forrest makes a popular range of low-alcohol wines. He says that while he’s happy to drop levels to the EU minimum, he won’t go lower because the alcohol is important for the flavour. According to Dr Forrest, the alcohol volume adds sweetness to the wine’s aroma, “ripeness to the fruit flavours, weight and ‘oily’ mouthfeel.”

Any lower than 8.5% ABV and you lose what Dr Forrest calls “the secondary chemical interactions” of alcohol to the wine. This affects the flavour and impact of its tannins and the complexity of its aroma.

Four low alcohol wines to try

This is probably why any ‘wine’ with zero alcohol definitely does taste different. It will be thinner, lighter and much simpler, without the complexity that wine usually gives the drinker. Good quality low-alcohol wines work by maintaining the robust flavour that people want, without resorting to just replacing the alcohol with sugar. So, we’d definitely suggest sticking to low-alcohol wines rather than cutting it out completely. Here are five of the best that are worth trying.

  1. Forrest The Doctor’s Sauvingnon Blanc 2018

Made in Marlborough, New Zealand, this is a cleverly low-alcohol wine. The work goes in at the vineyard and during production to cut alcohol but not compromise on quality. This version cuts alcohol down to 9.5% ABV but tastes like it’s much stronger. Packed with passion fruit and gooseberry flavours, it’s a lower alcohol wine that fools your palate into thinking it’s more like 14% ABV.

  1. Vale dos Pombos Vinho Verde 2018

This wine comes from the cooler northern region of Portugal and is a great choice if you’re looking for lower alcohol. This one is at 9.5% ABV and is a refreshing wine with a spritzy, citrusy finish.

  1. Les Nivieres Saumur 2018

From the Loire Valley in France, this is actually at 12.5% ABV. While that used to be thought of as an average strength for a red wine, but these days this is certainly on the lighter side. Despite the lower alcohol, this is a rich cabernet franc, rammed with blackcurrant fruits.

  1. Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese 2018

From the Mosel in Germany, this wine generally comes in at less than 8% ABV. It’s a delicious medium sweet Riesling, with a minerally flavour interspersed with spicy mandarin.


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