The wine world changes at a glacial pace, but in one area there have been dizzyingly fast developments: we’re talking about ‘low and no alcohol wine’, as it’s known. Most big supermarket branches now have a section dedicated to wines that have reduced alcohol, or have been stripped of their alcohol entirely.
The good news for wine lovers is that, after years of hit-and-miss efforts, many of these wines are becoming very good indeed. Mechanical methods for dramatically reducing alcohol or taking it out altogether (the most popular is reverse osmosis, a complex process that filters out water and alcohol) have become much more sophisticated; though lower alcohol wines (those of around 8% ABV) can also be achieved in the vineyard – the simplest method is to pick less-ripe grapes so there is less sugar to convert to alcohol.
Gone are the days when a low or no alcohol wine would taste of not very much at all beyond grape juice or sugar (winemakers will sometimes add extra sugar in order to give the wine the mouthfeel that alcohol provides). Our judges were delighted by the IWSC entrants in 2020: from the ‘outstanding off-dry character’ of the De Bortoli Very Cautious One Gewurztraminer-Riesling (0% alcohol) to the ‘masterful balance’ of sweetness and acidity in the Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc (9.5%).
There are many reasons to try low and no alcohol wines, whether it's over potential health concerns or the simple fact that you have to drive home. The quality of the offering from this year's IWSC suggests that wine lovers can now go for these wines out of choice rather than compulsion.
Lighter Sauvignon Blanc 2020
The sweetness-acidity balance is masterful, sugar only just registers in peapod, grapefruit mouth with glittering of mint. Chalky mouthfeel with minute lift of refreshing bitterness and tad spritzy. Graceful. 9.5%
Light Pinotage 2018
Enters with signature smoky red and black fruit nose and opens to dainty palate with crumbly tannins. Good balance with opulent finish. Could easily top full-alcohol Pinotages! 8%
Zéra Sparkling Chardonnay Alcohol Free
Domaines Pierre Chavin
Lovely bright peach candy in elegant expression with just enough fruity complexity. The new bubbly! 0%