Low-alcohol wines for lighter indulging

By Casey Warrener

3 Jan, 2020

The moderation trend is seeing new booze-free and low-alcohol drinks launch, including wines. But do they taste good? Here, we highlight three styles to try.

    You might be feeling a little sluggish at this point in the season, and the start of a new year always brings thoughts of resets and good intents. But with the sun shining and the social events still going strong, it can be hard to say no to a refreshing glass of wine. So instead of cutting it out completely, how about choosing lighter (but still delicious) styles?

    This approach might not be new to you. After all, drinking preferences and attitudes towards booze are changing, with moderation and brighter, fresher styles on the agenda for many no matter the time of year. The trajectory that average wine alcohol levels have taken in Australia is interesting to note, peaking in the Parker Era (with influential US wine critic Robert Parker having a taste for full-throttled reds) and today with more modest averages of around 13-14 per cent.

    When considering the best low alcohol wine to buy, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. Some varieties and styles are inherently lower in alcohol, such as riesling, semillon, sweet wines like moscato, and delicate reds like gamay. New Zealand is also leading the charge to produce premium, naturally lighter wines to meet the demands of drinkers of the opinion less is more. By “naturally”, this means its wineries have worked out how to achieve lower alcohol levels in the vineyard, retaining flavour and varietal typicity in the resulting wines.

    Ahead, find three of these lower alcohol wines to try – all flavoursome and ideal for long, hot afternoons, or for when you just want something light and fresh. 

  • Low alcohol red wine:
    The Doctors’ Pinot Noir, 9.5% alc.

  • Dr John Forrest, founder of Forrest Wines in New Zealand, is a pioneer of lower alcohol styles and has been making his The Doctors’ range of sub-10 per cent wines for almost a decade. There are several styles in this label, all worth investigating. But The Doctors’ Pinot Noir at 9.5% alc. is particularly impressive, as this is a challenging variety to get right at the best of times, let alone within this brief. The Doctor has done it with this world-first style, which has all the varietal cherry-fruit flavours, plus complex savoury notes that speak of its place. Oh, and it’s priced at just $25.

  • Low alcohol white wine:
    The People’s Sessions Pinot Gris, 9% alc.

  • New Zealand excels with luscious pinot gris wines in the richer Alsatian style. The People’s Sessions Pinot Gris ($20) displays the silky texture and stone fruit flavours typical of the variety, plus a fresh citrus lift and crisp acidity that make it eminently easy to drink. Its unctuous mouthfeel and off-dry finish make it an exceptionally food-friendly wine, perfect for pairing with everything from seafood to lightly spiced Asian dishes. Super-refreshing, super-affordable, and a great one to have on hand for warm weather.  

  • Low alcohol sparkling wine:
    Selaks Reserve Lighter Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, 9.5% alc.

  • If you’re the kind of person who sees the words “sauvignon blanc” and runs, think twice when it comes to this Hawke’s Bay sparkling. It has lovely citrus aromatics that follow through to the palate, with lemon sherbet flavours and zingy acidity signatures of this off-dry style. Thanks to the bright acidity and residual sugar of this sparkling, it would be a versatile match to food and stand up particularly well to a little spice. Available for around $15.