The lower the alcohol percentage of your wine, the less you'll feel it the next day. Here's why low alcohol wines can be a great choice, and what exactly determines the strength of our favourite tipples.
Why choose a low alcohol wine?
As long, afternoon barbecues roll on into the evening, it's worth putting some thought into the ABV ('Alcohol by Volume') of the wine you'll be drinking. After a few glasses on a hot summer's day, the small difference between 12 and 14 percent can have a big impact how you're going to feel the next morning.
Broadly speaking, the alcohol level of wine is linked to the amount of sugar which the grapes contain when they're harvested. The higher the sugar, the higher the potential for alcohol—which is why warm climates like Argentina and Australia, are often associated with high-alcohol reds (13.5 to 16 percent).
A counter-trend toward low-ABV wines is bubbling away, though, driven by people wanting to rein back on the units they consume for health or weight reasons (the higher the alcohol, the higher the calories).
One in four people now cite ABV as an influence in the wine they choose and, as a result, companies are producing low-ABV spin-off ranges, such as First Cape's 'Cafe' Collection (5.5 percent) or Jacob's Creek's 'Cool Harvest' (9.5 to 11 percent).
Where does low alcohol wine come from?
Vineyards in Australia's Hunter Valley funnel cool ocean breezes over the vines
Instead of hunting down wine which has been manipulated into containing less alcohol, another option is to look to cooler regions where the wine is naturally lower in alcohol, as the grapes have lower sugar levels.
Australia's Hunter Valley, for example, is flanked by mountains, which funnels cool ocean breezes over the vines, and Greek 'Moschofilero' grows on the high plateau of Mantinia. Vino Verde comes from a northern region in Portugal, on the same latitude as New York and then, of course, there are the growing number of British vineyards.
It’s in these more northern, higher altitude or geographically cooler regions where there is a long tradition of low-ABV wine. While global trends have seen the percentage of alcohol creep up, Moscato d'Asti, for example, a sparkling white produced in Northern Italy has doggedly remained around the 5.5 to 7 percent mark.
"Mountains funnel cool ocean breezes over the vines"
Then there are the German Reislings creeping back into fashion and light Beaujolais. Even Lambrusco, which was written-off in the eighties for being sickly sweet, has had a 21st-century makeover. Crisp, refined bottles (around 11 percent) are on wine lists at Ottolenghi and fine wine traders are helping to nudge it back into the spotlight.
It goes to show the innovation and excitement around the low-alcohol end of the spectrum, making them a far more sensible alternative to high-alcohol, headache-inducing reds, particularly on a long summer’s afternoon.