Tuesday 26 September 2017

Take it low: the best fruitier wines for summer

Red wine - the sugar content in grapes has gone up
Red wine - the sugar content in grapes has gone up

Corrina Hardgrave

If you find that, as the summer kicks in, you start to move to lighter, fruitier wines, you're bang on trend. Sales of low-alcohol wine have been on the up for some time. And there's a reason for it.

With climate change and an increase in temperature in some of the wine regions, the sugar content in grapes has gone up, and consequently so too have the alcohol levels in wine - 14.5pc and higher is not unusual in red wines. These blockbuster reds  are prefect for serving with a charred barbecued steak but, after a few hours of casual quaffing, they do lead to the inevitable "Oh dear, I think I might need a bit of a lie-down".

For some people, as their taste in wine matures, they may start looking for something a little bit different from the new high-alcohol norm, but for many the appeal of lower-alcohol wines has also been driven by the move to healthier eating. Whereas for beauty and lifestyle, strong is the new skinny, when it comes to alcohol, low is the way to go.

To produce a wine that is lower in alcohol, it's not just a case of picking the grapes earlier so that the sugar levels are lower. For a wine to have flavour, the grapes need to be picked when they're properly ripe. This presents a problem because alcohol is not just a by-product of the fermentation process - it also carries flavour and adds to the body and texture of a wine. So the perception can be: less alcohol, less flavour.

Certainly, if you opt for the big-brand 'lifestyle wines' which have had their level of alcohol lowered by a mechanical process, you're heading in the wrong direction. These are just weird. But the good news is many of the wines that are naturally low in alcohol are very aromatic.

So, how do you find good-quality lower- alcohol wines? If you don't do this already, be sure to check the wine bottle label, which always shows the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV); it's a quick, ready reckoner, which is the reason I always include it in the details of the bottles I select for this column. Those that fall at the lower end of the alcohol spectrum will range from about 9-12pc for whites and around 12-13pc for reds.

If you want to hit single-digit territory, try the GD Vajra Mosacato d'Asti 2015 from northern Italy, which you can find at The Corkscrew in Dublin for €17.95. It's semi-sweet with a delicate fizz, floral aromas, and flavours of peach and apricot. Also low, at 8pc, are Germany's Kabinett Riesling wines, and Austria's Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein is typically 9-10pc alcohol but be sure to go for the Klassik (Classic) style and not the Reserve.

In France, the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat and Sylvaner wines from the Alsace region are low in alcohol, as is Muscadet; just ensure it's not 'Sur Lie', which has a higher alcohol level.

Other wines to look out for are Txakoli (Chacolí) or Txakolina wines from the Basque region of Spain and Vinho Verde from Portugal.

Classic low-alcohol red wines include Beaujolais, made from the Gamay grape, which clocks in at around 10.5pc alcohol for a glassful of fruit and red berries. Similarly, Cabernet Franc wines from the Loire region are perfumed and deliciously summery, so seldom lacking in flavour.

And it's worth checking out the more inexpensive wines from Bordeaux and northern Italy. Try something along the lines of the four bottles featured here and, as always, it's well worth asking for advice in a good independent off-licence.

4 wines to try

Quinta de Azevedo

Vinho Verde 2015

11pc, €14.99, Clontarf Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Sweeney’s, all Dublin

A crisp and lively wine with floral and tropical fruit aromas, this Vinho Verde has the characteristic touch of spritz on the palate. Good acidity with nicely balanced flavours of citrus fruit and refreshing minerality.

Perfect with summer salads, shellfish and grilled fish.

Langlois Saumur-Champ Bretonn 2015

12pc, €13.16 (reduced from €16.45), O’Briens A classic Loire wine made from the Cabernet Franc grape, this has bright raspberry fruit on the nose, and on the palate is refreshingly balanced with peppery red fruit, a touch of cedar and fine tannin. Great with seared salmon and tuna, grilled chicken, goat’s cheese and pizza.

Atelier des Sources

FaugÈres 2015

13pc, €19.95, 64 Wine, Green Man Wines, Mortons of Ranelagh, Jus de Vine, Donnybrook Fair, McCabes Wines, Searsons Wine Merchants, all Dublin; Vanilla Grape, Kenmare; Worldwide Wines, Waterford; searsons.com Great value from the Languedoc, this elegant blend of Syrah and Cinsault is perfumed with red berry fruit and has a generous, juicy palate with the tiniest hint of spice.

Buontalenti Chianti 2015

12pc, €18.99, The Corkscrew and Sweeney’s Wines, Dublin; The Vineyard Wine Company, Galway Plenty of mouth-filling flavour for a wine that is relatively low in alcohol; this is light and juicy with plenty of red fruit, cherry and spice with a savoury finish. Good to drink on its own as well as with food.

Irish Independent

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