Once thought of as watered-down, tasteless and a waste of time, lower-alcohol wine might be about to take its place in the sun. Why might this be? Well for one, lower-alcohol wines (some as low as 5.5% ABV) are touted as a healthy alternative to "calorie heavy" wines. There is also an increasing international trend toward lower drink-drive limits. Recent law changes in New Zealand have reignited the low-alcohol debate amongst winegrowers with more viewing wine made with lower alcohol content as the way of the future.
In New Zealand the alcohol limit for drivers over 20 has fallen from 400mcg per litre of breath to 250mcg. The blood-alcohol limit has fallen from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg. In laymen’s terms and according to the Ministry of Transport this equates to approximately two standard drinks over two hours (www.transport.govt.nz)
Of course there are many variables that make it difficult to determine whether you have indeed consumed too much to drive. How much you can drink is largely influenced by your gender, body weight, time spent drinking and whether you’ve eaten food.
The NZ government has shown that it’s keen to see the industry move in this direction by launching the seven-year project, Lifestyle Wines. This initiative is driven by a partnership between the Ministry for Primary Industries, New Zealand Winegrowers and 16 wineries including Forrest Wines. The group is tasked with producing high-quality, lower-alcohol and lower-calorie wines that will amount to a project that costs around $17 million.
It all seems like a positive step forward: less calories, lower alcohol and maybe even less chance of a hangover! But do these wines taste any good? According to wine guru, Jo Burzynska, there are wines that are naturally suited to making lower-alcohol wines.
Jo says*, “there are a handful of grape varieties that are naturally suited to making lower-alcohol examples, such as Riesling and Muscat/Moscato, which can make beautifully balanced examples counterpoising their residual sweetness with a crisp acidity. However, new techniques in the vineyard and winery mean that making palatable, low-alcohol wines in drier styles from other varieties is now possible.”
You might be wondering now what role alcohol plays in a wine's quality or taste? Well, there's a view that alcohol provides body and carries flavour better. No surprises then that it has been claimed that lower-alcohol wines are both lighter on weight and flavour.
Whether we like this new direction or not, it does appear that there is increasing demand, both from the market and government, to produce lower alcohol wines. We would love to know what you think? Leave a comment below!
*Jo’s brilliant article on low alcohol wines can be found at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/viva-magazine/news/article.cfm?c_id=533&objectid=11163762