It would be easy to knock Tesco’s new raft of lower alcohol wines given that few wine lovers would be likely to enjoy these saccharine zero to five per cent confections. You have to wonder whether ‘encouraging customers to be mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume’ plays second fiddle to the commercial imperative that ‘lower alcohol wines have seen positive sales growth over the past year’. According to the research company Wine Intelligence, lower alcohol sales will increase to six to eight per cent of the wine market.
As I recall from readers’ responses to a piece in which I once recommended some summer wines weighing in at a hefty 14 per cent, alcohol today is a burning issue. In two decades wine alcohol levels have risen on average two per cent. That may not sound much but it can make the difference between refreshing drinkability and a wine that palls. Climate change is the usual scapegoat but a recent conference in Washington blamed wine critics for encouraging wineries to pick riper not just for higher ratings but to satisfy a taste for richer, full-bodied wines.
It seemed timely to focus on lower alcohol during The Wine Gang’s talks at May’s London International Wine Fair. Of the six wines I showed, the five white and one red illustrated that it’s generally easier to find lighter styles in whites than reds. I kicked off with the 2011 Hilltop, Cserszegi Fűszeres from Hungary, £5.75, The Wine Society, successfully sold by its importers for obvious reasons as ‘The Unpronounceable Grape’. Like a cross between an Alsace gewurztraminer and a muscat, its delightfully floral-spicy aromatics morph into a herby, appley fruit quality etched with juicy acidity.
It was followed by a 2010 Domaine de Maubet, Côtes de Gascogne, £6.85, Oxford Wine Company (01865301144), a classic South West French blend with a sauvignon-like fresh elderflower fragrance and gooseberry and apple flavours. The most distinctive white was a 2010 Domaine de l'Idylle Vieilles Vignes, £9.50, Yapp Brothers (01747 860423), from France’s hidden-away Savoie region. Delicately floral with a crisp Alpine freshness and appley bite, this is an appetising summer’s dry white whose 11% alcohol belies its punchy flavour.
Next up Tyrrell’s 10.8 per cent 2006 HDV Hunter Valley Semillon from museum stock showed the astonishing capacity of Hunter semillon to gain complexity without losing freshness. Finally to 2010 Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, £11.99, Sainsbury's, a featherweight off-dry Mosel riesling with a delicate smoky fragrance underpinned by a mouthwateringly peachy exuberance. Most intriguing of all, at a bantamweight 12% alcohol, Best's 2010 Great Western Young Vine Pinot Meunier, £20.95, Slurp.co.uk, Bibendum, showed the elegant side of Australian red, a sumptuous raspberries and cream red that could easily be mistaken for village red Burgundy.
Something for the Weekend 9 June 2012
2009 Viñalba Patagonia Cabernet Merlot
Frenchman-gone-Argentinian-native Hervé Joyaux has developed a reputation for producing astonishingly good value reds from his Patagonian vineyards, like this succulently cassis-laden blend with its dark chocolatey veneer and smooth finish. £6.99 down from £8.99, until Tuesday, selected Co-op stores.
2011 Sancerre Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Paul Cherrier et Fils
This fine new vintage sauvignon is intensely fragrant and richly concentrated with classic gooseberry fruit, its herbaceous borders adding a tingle of summery zing to this stylish Loire dry white. £12.99 buy 2 = £11.99, Majestic.
2000 Château Léret Montpezat, Cahors
This exceptional south-western blend of mainly malbec and merlot shows the benefits of ageing in bottle with a spicy black cherry richness of fruit now polished by new French oak, mellow tannins and a savoury sprightliness. £20 a bottle / 6-bottle case, Tesco.