By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 12 January 2019
After the festive season, we are all looking to cut down a bit on alcohol and calories. Whilst we don’t want to go to the ‘low alcohol styled wine section’, we want something with moderate alcohol: 12% alcohol or under.
The key is to look for cool climate European wine regions, where alcohol levels are slightly lower due to lower temperatures and less grape ripeness. We tasted through scores of light whites and reds, to find our best tasting dozen that are ‘naturally low in alcohol’ around the world:
OFF DRY SPARKLING:
Veneto, Italy: PRIMO FRANCO PROSECCO SUPERIORE VALDOBBIADENE 2017
£18 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com
If you are a Prosecco fan, you should always look for Valdobbiadene on the label. This is where you find a superior version of this popular fizz – due to the cooler climate, high altitude vineyards at 500 metres, better soils and old vines. This is made by the historic Prosecco house of Primo Franco. Lemon meringue pie, very creamy, soft silky texture and complexity from lees ageing. A touch sweet, but still fresh vibrant with potential for ageing.
Loire, France: MUSCADET DE SEVRE ET MAINE SUR LIE 2017 Clos de la Placeliere
£10.50 Oddbins www.oddbins.com
If you have turned your back on Muscadet, now is the time to look again - it can offer great value with moderate alcohol levels. This is made by Vincent Lieubeau who has worked in north and south America before heading home to his family estate. Loved its light pearskin aromas, quince, green apple and pear flavours – and organic to boot.
Nahe, Germany: DONNHOFF TONSCHIEFER DRY SLATE RIESLING 2016 ***STAR BUY***
£22.99 Rude Wines www.rudewines.co.uk
If you want a thrilling dry white with moderate alcohol, Germany is an ideal place to look. The small Nahe region is not well known, but its top winemaker Helmut Donnhoff makes superb peachy appley Riesling with a slaty austerity and a really vibrant acidity. Stunningly elegant and minerally, rather than richly opulent.
Riverland & Riverina, Australia: BERTON WINEMAKER’S METAL LABEL RESERVE VERMENTINO 2016
£10.50 Exel Wines, Perth; £9.65 Strictly Wine
You normally find Vermentino in Italy or southern France, but it is becoming increasingly popular down-under. Berton is one of 60 wineries experimenting with it. Bob Berton has blended two vineyards from Riverland in south Australia and Riverina in New South Wales – with tiny percentages of Fiano, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The result is a zippy vibrant apple-flavoured dry white aperitif with interesting tropical fruit and honeyed notes.
Veneto, Italy: SOAVE CLASSICO 2017 Pieropan
£13-£14 Luvians; The Drink Shop; The Wine Reserve
Fresh melon aromas, minerally palate with nutty undertones and a creamy texture from a blend of 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave. You have to pay more for Soave from Pieropan, who are based right in the centre of the mediaeval town of Soave in Classico heartland – but it is worth it. They focus on low yields, old vines and ripe citric fruit.
New South Wales, Australia: THE SOCIETY’S HUNTER VALLEY SEMILLON 2017
£8.95 The Wine Society
Hunter Semillon is a popular choice for those looking to cut down on alcohol. Picked early with low sugar, the acid can sometimes be a bit like battery acid and short on the finish – but this excellent example from Brockenwood in Pokolbin is very approachable, zingy with refreshing crispness.
McLaren Vale, Australia: JAUMA SAND ON SCHIST CHENIN BLANC 2016
£24 Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk
Chenin Blanc made the ‘natural’ way - with no sulphur, filtration or fining and bottled under crown cap. Winemaker James Erskine tends 80 year old ungrafted vines on white beach sand in Blewitt Springs, first planted in the 1940’s to make white port – popular in Australia at that time. It has a hazy appearance, but delicious green apple and elderflower bouquet, almost cidery to taste with earthy undertones – and moderate alcohol level.
OFF DRY WHITE:
Sussex, England: STOPHAM ESTATE PINOT GRIS 2016 ***STAR BUY***
£15.99 Waitrose www.waitrosecellar.com; www.stophamvineyard.co.uk
Tasting this wine blind, you might be surprised to discover its origin – it is full-bodied, richly textured and tropical with peachy and melon aromas, zesty fruit, spicy with some sweetness on the finish. Ex-Formula One engineer Simon Woodhead planted vines in 2007 on six hectares near Stopham – and is making a name for himself for one of England’s best still winemakers.
Vinho Verde, Portugal: ALVARINHO DOCIL 2017 Quinta do Soalheiro
Soalheiro are true masters of Alvarinho (same grape as Spain’s Albarino grown over the border in northern Portugal). They make a wide variety of styles from sparkling, still, natural, no sulphur, old vine - to this appealing off-dry ‘docil’. They served it to our tour group at the end of a long lunch in Melgaco and it was a revelation. Wonderfully peachy, floral and fresh with underlying zippy acidity and tension. Serve as an unusual aperitif or serve with fruit desserts.
Mosel, Germany: RIESLING WELHENER SONNENUHR KABINETT 2016 Selbach Oster
£16.25 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
A beautiful off dry Riesling with blossomy appley flavours and a rich honeyed sweetness. It has 46 grams of residual sugar, but its fabulously tense acid means it tastes a lot drier than this. Made by historic Johannes Selbach who ferments traditionally in large oak barrels. For Riesling lovers looking for finesse, purity and fabulous tension.
Fronton, SW France: TASTE THE DIFFERENCE FRONTON NEGRETTE ROSE 2017 Cave de Fronton
If you love your rose with loads of fruit, sweet strawberry and cherry hints, slightly spicy at a great price – this is a superb example from an ancient and distinctive Gaillac grape. Negrette is usually found north of Toulouse in the Haut-Garonne area of south west France where it makes supple fruity reds and roses. Elegant rose for the price.
DRY RED WINE:
Jura, France: TROUSSEAU 2012 Domaine Pignier
£21.50 Raeburn Wines
Trousseau is a very distinctive French grape with ages well – it is also grown in Spain and Portugal where it is known as Bastardo. In eastern France’s Jura it makes rare examples of deep coloured meaty reds with deliciously crunchy red fruits, medium bodied, smooth textured and favourably low in alcohol.
Join Rose’s Portugal: Douro v Dao wine tasting at The Royal Scots Club in Edinburgh Thurs 21 Feb: £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com