Low Alcohol Wine: The Healthy New Trend?
Low Alcohol Wine - Trendy and Acceptable or Not?
More and more European winemakers are starting to look into the idea of making "lighter" wines -- with 3% to 6% less alcohol content than traditional varieties.
As you can imagine, the wine snobs are turning up their noses at them, but is that fair?
Experts say that such low-alcohol wines taste the same as higher "octane" wines, yet might be healthier for us -- all the fun of a glass of wine, but with less alcohol.
Should we be embracing it by giving it a chance or not?
Definition for Low Alcohol Wine
United States Patent 4902518
A method for the production of low alcohol wine comprising separating a fruit juice into a high sugar fraction and a low sugar fraction, stripping volatile components, such as high-boiling point esters, from the fruit juice or from the high sugar fraction and adding them to the low sugar fraction, and fermenting the low sugar fraction. A preferred method of separating the fruit juice into high and low sugar fractions is by fractional crystallization.
Light Wines - Ideal for Summer Drinking
Light, fruity wines that are low in alcohol are ideal summer wines and a trademark of German winemakers, whose vineyards are among the most northerly in the world, and where conditions for producing light wines are ideal.
High altitude south facing slopes enable a longer growing season, so flavours are greatly enhanced while sugars are not excessive.
According to Ernst BÃ¼scher of the German Wine Institute in Mainz:
"In Germany's wine-growing regions, grapes have a very long time to ripen and develop considerable aromas and flavors. Even though they are relatively low in alcohol (less than 12 percent by volume), the wines are rich in flavour, with a pleasant play of refreshing, fruity acidity and typical varietal aromas."
Germany's white wine varietals are particularly well-suited for light wines. A traditional Riesling Kabinett, or even a young Pinot Blanc or Rivaner, is really a pleasure on a mild summer evening.
Red wine fans won't go empty-handed - Trollinger wines from Wttemberg or young Portugieser from Rheinhessen or the Pfalz are also tasty, light summer wines, particularly if served slightly chilled.
Although most red wines are generally somewhat more full-bodied, not least due to their naturally higher tannin content, other red variations often offer a lighter alternative. "Blanc de Noirs" - red wine vinified with little skin contact and thus little colour - is especially popular these days. Thanks to the way they are produced, these red variant wines combine the fresh character of white wines with the mouth-filling flavour of red varietals.
The various "Seccos" produced in German cellars - often, with less than 11 percent alcohol by volume - are also ideal summer aperitifs. Their carbon dioxide lends them a refreshing, light effervescence.
Light Wines with Light Cuisine
Light wines are also in tune with today's trend toward healthier eating. They are excellent with low calorie, light cuisine, such as salads or menus featuring lots of vegetables.
"Light wines that are relatively low in alcohol (ca. 11-12 percent by volume) are by far the best partners with very spicy dishes. High alcohol intensifies spiciness on the palate."
Off-dry wines, such as Riesling, subdue the heat of spices and Riesling's fruity acidity lends a pleasant freshness to most dishes. Mildly seasoned, stir-fried vegetables and fish go well with light Weiss- or Grauburgunder (Pinot Blanc or Pinot Gris).
All wines taste better in the summer, if they are served a few degrees cooler than they would be in winter. Once poured, a wine warms up within a very short time - up to 3Â°C (37Â°F). As such, it's best to serve a wine somewhat chilled. On warm days, white wines and Seccos should be chilled to 6-8Â°C (43-46Â°F), and red variants are ready for drinking when served at about 10C (50F). 10-12C (50-54F) would be about right for a chilled Trollinger.
Light wines are best consumed while young and fresh, when their fruity aromas are most pronounced. They are seldom suited for cellar aging of more than two or three years. One exception, though: Rieslings, such as those from the Mosel. Even the lighter versions are still a true pleasure after several years of aging.
Wines for the Calorie Conscious
Low alcohol wine is just the ticket
In general a glass of wine has fewer calories than a glass of whisky, rum or vodka. Within the realm of wines, some have lower calories than others, but there isn't really a category called 'low calorie wine'. However, wines with lower alcohol levels do have fewer calories than those with higher levels.
Alcohol in wine is produced during the wine making process when the sugars in the grape ferment to alcohol. Therefore, less sugar to convert, means less alcohol in the resultant wine.
Wine companies around the world, in an attempt to meet the demands of the increasingly calorie conscious customers especially women who tend to be weight-watchers, are now manipulating the wine making process. So now wines are being produced with alcohol levels at 10% abv or less, as against wines that would normally be up to 13% - 14% abv. This can be done by picking the grapes early during harvest or by growing grapes in cooler regions or climates, both of which slows down the development of sugar in grapes.
So, a dry wine, and relatively low in alcohol will be your best bet for a low calorie intake. Excellent examples of such wines are:
- Ulrich Langguth Riesling, 10% abv. - Germany
- Domaine Hemelin Chablis, 12% abv. - France
- Dezzani Asti Spumante, 7.5% abv. - Italy
- Luna Argenta Prosecco, 11% abv. - Italy
- Grandial Blanc de Blanc, 11% abv. - France
- Bardolino, 11.5% abv. - Italy
- George du Boeuf Beaujolais Villages, 12.5% abv. - France
The label must always carry the alcohol content in the bottle, so look out for it.
Different Points of View About Alcohol
Many Consumers Prefer Low Alcohol Wines
As the global market sees a continual rise in the strength of wine, the reaction is growing in direct proportion. Many consumers favour wines at 13% or below and technology appears to be accommodating these desires.
Reduced alcohol wines have all but disappeared from the U.S. market and were never an issue in Canada or the U.K. where climatic conditions naturally favoured moderate alcohol levels. The emerging leader in this market sector appears to be France, which is now exporting wines from the south at levels reduced to 9-11% using new technologies.
The new technologies employ putting finished wine through reverse osmosis or using spinning cone technology to separate out the alcohol and adjust it to more desirable levels.
Do these high-tech wines really compete with higher alcohol wines made in traditional ways? A blind tasting conducted by the French National Institute for Agronomic Research showed that tests on more than 1,000 people demonstrated that producers could reduce the alcohol content by up to three percentage points without an ordinary drinker noticing.
More info on low alcohol wine
Low Alcohol Wine Poll
What are Your Thoughts on Low Alcohol Wine?
Higher Alcohol Levels Caused by Global Warming
More heat = more alcohol
Director of the wine unit at the French National Institute for Agronomic Research, Jean-Louis Escudier says,
"There has been an increase of 2-3% in alcohol content in wines from southern France, Italy and Spain over the past 15 years."
- A standard bottle used to contain 11% or 12% alcohol, now 13% or 14% is common.
- The main reason is global warming, which results in riper grapes, with higher sugar levels - which gives rise after fermentation to more alcohol.
- This has been compounded by a tendency for vineyards to plant grape varieties that produce more sugar, in an attempt to meet the perceived international demand for sweet, fruity wines.
- Improved winemaking techniques also enable producers to harvest later, ensuring riper grapes.
- Another reason for the trend lay in yield reductions, which tended to foster more concentrated and therefore alcoholic wines.
Books on Global Warming
How Do You Reduce Alcohol In Wine?
How do you make a wine that is dry but has less alcohol in it?
- You can do it "naturally" in the vineyard, by choosing grape varieties and clones with care, growing them in cooler sites and picking while sugar levels are still low. In other words, by producing grapes that will make a wine that simply is lower in alcohol.
- There are a few ways of doing this in the winery.
- One technique is known as reverse osmosis. The wine is passed through a filtration system that removes a mixture of water and alcohol. This is then distilled, to rid it of some alcohol, and the remaining liquid is reunited with the wine from which it was removed. This lower alcohol wine can then be blended back into the main body of wine to dilute its strength.
- Another system involves a giant steel construction that feeds the wine over a series of spinning cones and uses evaporation to strip the alcohol out of it.
Click on the image below to see a flash demo of reverse osmosis.
Wine Accessories on Amazon
In 2010, the World Cancer Research Fund was urging those drinkers keen on wine to try 10% abv wines rather than the usual 12-14% abv.
The experts said that if everyone switched over to lower alcohol drinks, hundreds of cases of cancer could be prevented. Anyone drinking a large glass of wine daily, could minimise their risk of developing breast cancer or bowel cancer, by a staggering 7% - and that's just by reducing from 14% to 10%.
A reduction in other cancers resulting from alcohol, such as throat, voicebox, liver and mouth could also be achieved by switching.
Remember that sweeter wines are often weaker as less of the sugar has been converted into alcohol.
Image by Erik Anestad
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