A penny for your thoughts.

April 16, 2011 § 5 Comments

I spent about an hour yesterday morning in the wine aisle of our local Harris Teeter just exploring the new labels available to me here in America. The largest wine producing region is California’s Napa Valley. Apparently California produces more wine in a single year than all of Australia, producing 631,575,325 gallons in 2009. Wow! Following California is New York, Washington State and Oregon, but I still need to try wines from these last three regions.

Since living here we have also had access to a lot of well prices South American wines like Malbec, Torrontes, Albarino and Tempranillo, which I am really enjoying because they’re all very drinkable alone or with food.

I’m trying to be a bit healthier lately, so I was looking for a bottle with a lower alcohol content (low alcohol = fewer calories right?) but everything seemed to sit around 12% -13.5%, which sure seemed high.

And this is where I admit that I’m a complete wine novice.

But my interest was sparked. At work later that day I approached our sommelier and asked him about low alcohol wines. He told me that low alcohol wines were normally the cheaper wines because the grapes are harvested earlier, before they have time to fully ripen and develop the extra sugar that is converted into alcohol during the fermentation process. He mentioned that usually a low alcohol wine will have more sugar in the bottle and less alcohol.

Hang on a minute, so low alcohol wines are higher in sugar? That doesn’t seem healthier at all.

This made me question whether or not it is worth the sacrifice of taste and a full-body if I’m still dosing up on sugar calories? It depends who you ask I guess. Some people will say that a low alcohol bottle does not compare, while others prefer to drink on the lighter side. But there is light and there is light. Further research into the debate has uncovered the following: whether for or against low alcohol wines, any wine-lower will tell you to NEVER buy a wine that has been artificially reduced in alcohol:

“EU regulations do not allow winemakers to add water to wine (you can see why: it could easily become a fraudulent way of printing money) so they are forced to turn to all sorts of obscure and highly technical methods involving spinning cones and reverse osmosis to get the alcohol out. Result: a wine that tastes as if it has been made in a Fiat factory. Often, it stinks of sulphurous chemicals and tastes dank, like laundry that has been forgotten in the washing machine for a week”

~ Victoria Moore, The Guardian 2009

My sommelier agrees. He tells me that if you want a lighter wine, choose one that is naturally lower in alcohol, like a citrusy Australian Semillon from the Hunter Valley or a German riesling (but do expect that they will taste sweeter because they have unconverted sugars). These wines will still sit around 9-11%, but apparently that counts as the low end of the alcohol spectrum, with some Zinfadels ranging from 17% to 22%!

I love what you can learn when you ask around, and in the end it comes down to taste. As Jonathan Ray at The Telegraph put it:

“It’s time to stop fussing about alcohol levels and perhaps just drink a little less of whatever’s in the bottle.”

Cheers to that.

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