This month we’d like to welcome our expert wine contributor Fabio Adler, founder of Winebound. With the recent increase in demand for low-alcohol wines, Fabio has rounded up for us some of his top recommendations on where to select your low ABV vino…
Considering that the meteoric growth of the ‘no and low’ drink sector is a relatively new trend in the Western world, you might be inclined to think that wines with low ABV are also a recent phenomenon. But in fact, many of those wines, with a natural low alcohol content (less than 12% ABV), have been available for decades, and even centuries.
Low-Alcohol Wines That Taste Great
A traditional style of white wine produced in the north-east of Portugal, Vinho Verde is a perfect example of this. Having been produced since Roman times, its alcohol content varies but comes in at an average of 10% ABV, making it an ideal choice for those who want to cut down on their weekly units without quitting. It’s also a very budget-friendly option as most brands retail at between £7 and £12 a bottle.
One of my go-to Vinho Verdes is from Quinta de Azevedo, which is part of Sogrape, Portugal’s largest group of wine estates in the country. One particular Vinho Verde from Azevedo’s range is a blend of two Portuguese native grape varieties: Loureiro and Alvarinho (also known as Albariño in Spain). The latest vintage from 2019 (11.5% ABV) has all the hallmarks of a top-quality Vinho Verde. It displays a fresh, lively and zesty aroma, with hints of white peaches and blossoms, and has a light mouthfeel and gentle acidity.
An understated wine but elegant with a fine structure, Vinho Verde is a perfect weekday wine, and you don’t even need a special occasion to crack open a bottle, as its a versatile wine when it comes to food pairing, as long as you’re not serving it with overly spicy dishes, which would imbalance its delicate flavours. It’s a fantastic accompaniment to mussels and fries, dims sums or even potato gnocchi in a mushroom white sauce, to name a few tried and tested pairings.
If you prefer to keep things local and support the burgeoning English wine industry, you might want to try the English Rosé from Chapel Down, one of the most established producers in the country. Also at 11.5% alcohol per volume, this is a soft and mellow pink blend, with Pinot Noir being the dominant variety, making up 56% of the wine. Chapel Down’s Rosé 2019 has a distinct aroma of fresh strawberries and cream, triggering memories of summer garden parties, outdoor festivals and picnics (how much we miss them!).
On the palate, it’s firmly dry, with a low residual sugar content of 2.7 grams per litre. Being a cool climate country, England generates wines with high acidity and this rosé is a case in point. I suggest pairing it with a grilled vegetable salad or a pan-roasted duck and you’ll be in gastronomic bliss.
Based in the beautiful Kent countryside, Chapel Down has been part of the ‘new wave’ of English wineries producing mainly high-quality sparkling wines, rivalling the predominant champagne houses for decades now. And in the past couple of years, Chapel Down branched out into producing beers, ciders, gin and vodka so there is something for everyone and every occasion.
Chapel Down is normally open to the public throughout the year. They offer guided tours of the winery and vineyards together with tutored tastings, so it’s a great day out of London once the current Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
Now, you might be familiar with Japanese beer, whisky and even saké – the country’s national alcoholic drink made from fermented rice – but how about Japanese wines? In the UK, they are still very much under the radar, just gradually gaining more attention amongst sommeliers, who are the first to recognize their quality and finesse.
Strictly speaking, there are no vines native to Japan, although the pink-skinned Koshu grape has evolved locally over many centuries and is therefore considered an indigenous variety. They produce delicate, light-bodied, refreshing, relatively low-alcohol wines that should be drunk young.
Koshu grapes are the base for a rather exotic Japanese orange wine called ‘Prestige Class Orangé’, produced by the boutique winery Château Lumière, in Yamanashi. It has only 10.5% ABV, which means a small glass of 125 ml represents a modest 1.3 units. The amber-coloured wine has gone through carbonic maceration and two weeks of skin contact, followed by barrel ageing.
On the nose, I’ve found some beautiful scents of apples, honey, and yellow fruits such as starfruit and banana. It is light-bodied, but being a skin-contact wine, it also has depth and complexity.
At £28 a bottle, this is more like a ‘special occasion’ wine, something to impress your date when cooking a romantic meal at home. And speaking of food, I recommend serving it as an aperitif, with canapés such as smoked salmon blinis or caramelised onion and feta tartlets.
Back in Europe, one of the rising stars of German wine is Axel Pauly, part of a new generation of independent winemakers. Based in the scenic Mosel valley – Germany’s most famous wine region – Axel works mainly with Riesling but also with other Germanic grape varieties such as Dornfelder, Rivaner and Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir).
Using 100% Riesling grapes, Axel has created an outstanding white wine with low alcohol (11% ABV) but full of flavour, which he named ‘Purist’. The wine is bright golden yellow in colour with youthful hints. The nose has fresh hay aromas along with yellow and exotic fruits.
The palate is fresh and medium-bodied, with a striking mineral character and clear lemony notes before the long finish. Like a Russian doll, it’s a Riesling that keeps revealing more and more levels of complexity as you top up your glass.
Rieslings are also some of the easiest wines to pair with food and ‘Purist’ is no exception. And you don’t really need a fancy meal to enjoy this excellent bottle of Riesling. It’s actually my favourite wine when I feel like binge-watching Netflix with a big bowl of popcorn or nacho chips with guacamole. No pomp and circumstance. Just guilt-free, low ABV vino to soothe the lockdown.