If you love vino but want to lower your alcohol intake, there are lots of wines out there that fit the bill. But which ones are worth giving a try?
Here to recommend some of her favourite low-alcohol wines is Natalie MacLean, who offers Canada’s most popular online wine classes. Lovely to see you, Natalie!
Let’s start by explaining what is considered low alcohol in wine?
• Most dry table wines are about 13% alcohol
• Anything under that, I consider low alcohol and you’ll find that usually on the front or back label in tiny mice type
Do low-alcohol wines taste different?
• Alcohol carries flavour and adds weight and mouthfeel, so these wines taste and feel lighter, but they still can be packed with flavour!
Let’s get tasting! Our first wine is called Cupcake Light-hearted Chardonnay. Tell us about it while we give it a try.
Cupcake Vineyards Light Hearted Chardonnay
California, United States
• This luscious California Chardonnay has just 8% alcohol and offers aromas of green apple and freshly baked bread without the calories of an entire loaf of bread.
• You’ll notice that the label is promoting the fact that it only has 100 calories (explain comparison with what the average bottle is.)
Are the calories lower because it has low alcohol?
• Calories in wine come from two sources: alcohol and sugar. So certainly low alcohol will help reduce calories, but it must also be dry or nearly dry. A low-alcohol, sweet wine usually isn’t going to offer fewer calories.
• There’s a trade-off between sugar levels (or what we call dryness in wine) and calories because alcohol has more calories per gram than both sugar and protein.
Speaking of the trade-off between alcohol and sweetness, you’ve brought us a German Riesling to try. Tell us about it.
• Deinhard Riesling has lovely aromas of fresh peach and apricot. It has only 7% alcohol and it has just a touch of sweetness, it’s off-dry.
• You sometimes find the sugar level of a wine on the store shelf tag expressed as a number, with “0” meaning completely dry or XD for extra dry, “1” meaning it has a little sweetness or D for dry and so on.
• Low sugar or zero sugar means that the wine was fermented to complete dryness and there’s no residual sugar.
Deinhard Winery Green Label Riesling 2019
Mosel, Koblenz, Germany
Are there certain regions that tend to produce low-alcohol wines?
• Many low-alcohol wines come from cool climates like Canada, Germany and Austria because the grapes don’t ripen as much as they would in a warm climate like Chile or Argentina. Therefore, there’s less sugar in the grapes, which translates to lower alcohol in the final wine.
You also have an Austrian wine for us. Tell us about it.
• This zesty white wine from Lenz Moser is made from the Gruner Veltliner, the country’s iconic grape. It offers aromas of white pepper, lime and lemon sunshine. It has only 12% alcohol.
Lenz Moser Prestige Grüner Veltliner
Are certain grapes lower in alcohol than others?
• Certain grapes tend to be lower in alcohol because they’re picked earlier in the season like Austrian Gruner Veltliner, Portuguese Vinho Verde and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
What about red wine grapes. Which ones tend to be lower in alcohol?
• For reds, that’s often Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais and Pinot Noir because they ripen earlier in the season and therefore don’t hang on the vine as long as say Merlot or Shiraz soaking up the sun that turns into sugar that then turns into alcohol during fermentation.
Next we’re going to try a Canadian wine. Tell us about the Queenston Mile Pinot Noir.
• This lovely Pinot Noir from Niagara has fleshy ripe aromas of red berries and spice.
• The label says it’s 13% but the winery confirmed it’s 12.7%.
Queenston Mile Vineyard Pinot Noir
St. David’s Bench, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada
Can the winemaker do things to make the alcohol lower?
• Yes, the winemaker may decide not to ferment the grape juice to complete dryness like the German Riesling you tried earlier.
• As wine ferments, yeast eats the grape sugar and converts it into alcohol.
• If you stop the fermentation process before the yeast eats all of the sugar, then you have lower alcohol and some natural left-over or residual sugar.
• Another way to reduce alcohol is to use technology like reverse osmosis or a spinning cone to spin out some of the alcohol though that can also remove some of the flavour and character from the wine.
You say sparkling wine is often lower in alcohol. Tell us about the first one you have for us to try.
• You have the Villa Conchi Brut Seleccion, a zesty Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine, with just 12% alcohol. Cava is made in a cooler region from the more full-bodied red wines from Rioja.
Villa Conchi Brut Selección
Cava D.O., Spain
You have one more bubbly for us and this one is actually a Champagne.
• Yes, wonderful Rosé from Laurent-Perrier. Again the alcohol is low because Champagne is a cool climate region as compared to say southern France that produces bigger wines.
Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Brut Rosé Champagne
Champagne A.C., France
I’m sure some people are wondering if the hangovers from these wines would be less severe because they have less alcohol?
• Sadly no. The only way to avoid a hangover is not to drink too much.