I live by the sea, surrounded by beach houses. When my city neighbours arrive at their baches for their weekend breaks, they like to be social, which means lots of invitations to call round for a drink – usually over lunch or early in the afternoon. So far, so good, but while my neighbours may be on holiday, I’m not. Often hot and tired from having been in the office all morning, even one glass of wine can can leave me feeling as if I need to lie down for the rest of the day. So I was very surprised, last summer, to have enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant glass of vino, and still be feeling 100% OK.
“What is this that we’re drinking?” I asked. My neighbour pointed to the low alcohol label on the bottle. “Isn’t it great!” she smiled, and I had a to agree.
Is it really wine?
Alcohol is a colourless, intoxicating liquid produced when the sugars in fruits (and sometimes vegetables) are fermented. But wine contains a lot more than just alcohol. In fact, about 85% of it is water. Low alcohol wines are fermented, so the are definitely ‘real wine’, it’s just that they display less alcohol in each glass, and more of the other components.
How they get the ‘low’ into low alcohol wine
The amount of alcohol in wine varies according to a number of factors, including how much sugar was in the fruit (usually grapes) it was fermented from. Low alcohol wine has often been viewed with scepticism because getting it to a low alcohol state has traditionally involved quite a bit of tinkering. Sometimes low alcohol wine has been made from grapes which have been picked early because partially ripe fruit has less sugar in it than fully ripened fruit (and the less sugar in the fruit, the less alcohol is formed through fermentation). However there’s a problem there, in that flavour is compromised because, as we all know, ripe fruit tastes better than half-ripe fruit.
Then there’s the trick of removing alcohol from regular wine to make it low alcohol. The problem with this is that ‘body’ (the feel – or the ‘weight’– of the wine in your mouth) has then to be added back into the wine in the form of sugar – a rather artificial approach which can change the balance of flavours in an undesirable way. Sometimes, fermentation is stopped early, using a chemical, but this leaves the wine unpleasantly sweet because there is so much sugar that hasn’t been turned into alcohol.
Why choose Kiwi low alcohol wine
When it comes to low alcohol wine, New Zealand has a big advantage. That’s because, in cool climates (like our own), some varieties of grape fully ripen even though their sugar levels are still relatively low. This means that all the natural flavours are there in the fruit but that the wine will finish fermenting (with little or no tinkering) with a lower alcohol level.
What to ask for
Next time you head to your wine outlet, be sure to ask for a New Zealand low alcohol wine which is naturally fermented. You may like to start with with riesling. This is a grape which ripens with low sugar levels, has naturally high-acidity, but still retains a sweetness. The result is a low alcohol wine with deliciously crisp, balanced flavours. What’s not to love!