First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 16th June, 2018
Our tastes have changed; most of us are now looking for lighter, fresher wines. We are also much more aware of the need to limit our intake of alcohol for health reasons. If you are looking to lose weight, both alcohol and residual sugar contain calories. Some of the world’s greatest wines are naturally low in alcohol, including Hunter Valley Semillon from Australia, Portuguese Vinho Verde, and Riesling, one of my favourite grapes. Many Alsace, Austrian, German and Australian Rieslings come in at 12-12.5 per cent and Riesling from the Mosel in Germany is even lower at 6-10 per cent. O’Briens have the fruit-filled off-dry Selbach (10.5 per cent) for a very reasonable €13.95, and the Dr L from Loosen is widely available too.
The big problem with low-alcohol and no-alcohol wine was always obvious; they didn’t taste like wine and most of them didn’t taste very nice either. Maybe it’s because our palates are used to “normal” wines, but until recently, most seemed confected and a little bit weird. A lot of them still do. Alcohol carries the flavours that make wine such a compelling drink. But over the past few years, things have changed. The increased demand for lower-alcohol drinks has encouraged producers to find ways of making the wines taste better. The technology is improving every year, and some of them are now very drinkable.
It is very easy to make your own low-alcohol wine low-alcohol simply by adding water (or ice in sunny weather), sparkling water or soda water to create your own cooler. Generally I like to drink my wine the way the producer intended, and I wouldn’t recommend doing this with your finest wines, but in warm weather it can be really refreshing. I find it works better on white wines and lighter reds than full-bodied red wines.
The supermarkets offer a range of de-alcoholised wines at 0.5-5 per cent alcohol; most are pretty awful. I would much prefer to drink less wine, switch to beer or an interesting alcohol-free drink such as kombucha or water kefir. However, wines with 8-12 per cent can taste very good. Marks & Spencer leads the way with lower-alcohol wines; the Sumika range (€11) has 8.5% alcohol and 50 calories per 100 ml, and M&S also has the very tasty Marlborough Rosé below.
Innovative Spanish producer Torres has pioneered very low or no-alcohol wines for years, and their Natureo wines, both red and white, are very good and now have no alcohol. Australian producer Rawsons Retreat makes two pleasantly fruity wines, a red and a white, with 0.5 per cent alcohol. All of the above are available in Dunnes Stores. Spar, Eurospar and Mace have Nosecco, an alcohol-free sparkling wine for €5.99. In independent wine shops, look out for the Fritz Müller sparkling alcohol-free wine.
Santa Rita Early Harvest Fresh Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Elderflower aromas with crisp pear and apple fruits. One to sip well-chilled before dinner on a summers’ evening.
Most Xarel.lo, Catalunya
0%, €8 for a 50cl bottle
This is posh grape juice, but it is very good; not too sweet, just bursting with very moreish delicious fresh grapes balanced by good acidity. A very smart alcohol-free drink.
Marlborough Rosé 2017
A very impressive low-alcohol wine, nicely aromatic with plenty of light fresh red cherry fruits and good acidity. With salads, or a stir-fry of prawns and scallops.
Stockist: Marks & Spencer
Zeppelin 2016, Mülhiemer Riesling, Max Ferd Richter
Lovely lifted floral aromas, with crisp green apple and pear fruits, zingy citrus acidity and an off-dry finish you hardly notice. With a herby crab salad.
Stockists: Jus de Vine, Portmarnock, jusdevine.ie; Mitchell & Son, CHQ, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne, mitchellandson.com; Green Man Wines, Terenure, greenmanwines.ie; Martin’s Off Licence, Clontarf, martinsofflicence.ie; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, fallonandbyrne.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com; Redmonds, Ranelagh, redmonds.ie; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie.