In my December Checkout column I made a number of predictions. One was that reduced alcohol in wine would be a feature of our wine shelves in 2012. I didn't for one minute think that this would arrive as soon as the third week of January! Recently Tesco pushed out a number of new labels at 5.5% vol. The fact that some of these are not technically wine at all* shouldn't take way from the debate as to whether reduced alcohol ie 5.5% is the answer to unacceptably high alcohol ie 13%+! (*The EU won't let you reduce alcohol from a wine to below 9%vol and still call it wine - so these are 'beverages')
Let's go back to basics. Alcohol in wine is the result of fermentation. Sugar and yeast = alcohol. Warm climates, ripe grapes, healthy vintage, grape type, grape site, clean vineyard, educated winemakers, yeast type, demanding consumers (heaven forbid!), stylistic preferences, fashion and on and on .....All of these have had an affect on why alcohol has risen in wines over the past number of years. I think though that a clean, healthy and scientifically managed vineyard has meant an inevitable rise. No-one really minds so long as the final product has an acceptable balance between all of its elements. This isn't really possible when the increase just keeps going higher and higher .. At some point it's out of whack. That's usually when the final fruits have a raisiny effect (appeal?) or where one glass gets you bombed!
|Brilliant description of something that cannot be called a wine!|
The reverse to all of this is also true. Cool climates give lower sugars leading to lower alcohols. Probably the best examples of these have been fully ripened Riesling grapes out of Germany producing quite brilliant 7.5 to 8% wines. Are these low alcohol? Yes they are. Why then are 5.5% wines needed at all? Indeed if we ignore the technological nature of reducing alcohols in wine why don't we see 9 or 10% wines? These will, after all, be a lot lower than 14% which seem to grace every shelf these days.
|Beware of a category that's still trying to work out what price is going to work!|
By the by, the two wines in question perform very differently to having a 9%vol. The red was a Merlot/Cabernet and it tasted flat, juicy and very uninteresting as a wine. The white was a Chardonnay Sauvignon blend and had a zing to it that lasted well through the palate. I'd buy the white again but pass on the red.
|Superquinn had a very successful Autumn French Wine Sale|
This allows them to avail of a lower excise taxation band. Back in the 1990's when this wasn't possible, because the taxation bands were different, most Lambrusco's came in at about 7 to 9%vol. The reduction to 5.5% therefore had nothing to do with healthiness or indeed wine balance. It was all to do with being able to sell wine at a very inexpensive price point. Lambrusco's are still here. They retail at about €2.50. They don't sell that much at all.
|I haven't tried any of these yet but I have to admit they look the biz.|
Tesco's new range include a very odd and frizzante (slightly sparkling) pairing called Sovio. The pair consists of a White Zinfandel (ie pink) and a Chardonnay. Both are light and drink well. These sold recently at €3.00 a bottle. Nothing wrong with that. It's an accurate price. I say odd because most of the rest of the new low alcohol 'wines' sell at a much higher price. With a very low tax rate these 'wines' sell at a higher price than fully taxed wines. Interesting to note at this stage that a pretty good example of a fully sparkling product from South Africa, First Cape Cafe Collection Sparkling, selling at €7.99 is apparently being priced out of the market. When it was launched into Ireland it had high hopes of cleaning up as the lowest priced sparkler around! Price points are shifting beasts. At the time I wrote a blog piece, titled First Cape Low Alcohol Sparklers, about spinning cone technology showing how the alcohol had been reduced.
|Two that didn't disappoint - remember these are not wines.|
There are other low alcohol/de-alcoholised products out there. Carl Jung comes to mind. Most taste a little like fruit juice. Some don't taste as good as that. As with most things if you can Try Before You Buy then you won't be fooled. If your'e comfortable paying a premium price then enjoy it. It's a category in its infancy and it will grow much bigger this year. Does it have legs? Ah, but then it's not a wine you know!.