The answer, according to the European Union, is when it contains less than
8.5% alcohol. At least, for the time being. In Great Britain, the rising
levels of wine consumption among the middle classes have prompted the
ever-vigilant Government to support a campaign to lower the minimum strength
of beverages that can legally be called “wine” from 8.5% to 4.5%. Many wines
these days, especially those from South America contain about 13% alcohol,
some as high as 14% and the British Health Minister is evidently concerned
about alcohol-related medical conditions.
Without getting unduly complicated, there are two kinds
of low-alcohol wines, those which are naturally low in alcohol, and
those which have had the alcohol removed by artificial means. These can
contain as little as 0.5% alcohol but quite frankly, some of them are not
particularly pleasant. In traditional wine making, the ripeness of the
grapes (and therefore the amount of sugar they contain) determines the final
alcohol level of the wine, because during fermentation the sugar turns into
alcohol. Wines naturally low in alcohol tend to come from cooler
countries where the grapes ripen to a lesser extent. In Germany’s Rheine and
Mosel wine regions, they’ve been making high quality, low alcohol Rieslings
In Britain, low alcohol wines have seen an increase in
sales in recent years. In 2012 for example, sales of beverages below 8.5%
alcohol rose to nearly seven million bottles, two million more than the
previous year, although this is a drop in the ocean compared to total wine
sales. But of course by law, these beverages cannot use the word “wine” on
the label and instead they are given wholesome names such as Summer Light.
So why are so many people turning to low-alcohol wines?
Well, much of the research has revealed that it’s because of the perceived
health benefits. For one thing, low alcohol wines are lower in calories. A
small glass (about 125ml) of wine with 13% alcohol contains around 90
calories, whereas the same quantity of wine with 5.5% alcohol contains only
about 50 calories. It was also found that people preferred these wines to
lessen the intoxicating effects of alcohol. In some countries low alcohol
wines are subject to a tax break and can work out significantly cheaper than
When low alcohol wines are made, the alcohol is removed
after production and new techniques are becoming available to achieve this
without damaging the taste. However, some wine makers claim that they can
make natural low-alcohol wines at around 8% which taste as good as the
full-fat versions. Even so, at the moment low alcohol white wines, ros้s and
sparklers tend to taste better than the reds.
Monfleur 9.5 Blanc de
Blancs (white), France (Bt. 549 @ Wine Connection)
The nine-point-five refers of course to the alcohol
content, although I must confess the figure took me back to the home movies
of the late 1950s when 9.5mm was one of the standard film gauges of the day.
The expression “Blanc de Blancs” (BLAHN-duh-BLAHN) is a description
sometimes found on Champagne labels and simply means white wine from white
grapes. The colour of wine usually comes from the grape skins and you can
make white wine from red grapes if you take the skins off first.
A shade or two lighter and this wine would be entirely
colourless. It’s a pale straw colour with a very delicate and rather elegant
floral aroma. I thought I could detect green apples and fresh pears. The
mouth-feel is soft and gentle and a few steps away from total dryness, quite
a bit of crisp sweetish fruit and just a touch of refreshing acidity. I was
surprised to find that the wine also had a very long and fruity finish. It’s
so light that it will taste best very cold at around 4°C which is about the
temperature of a domestic fridge. It would be fine with salads or light
dishes like a classic omelet or quiche.
This is a very attractive and charming wine and at such a
low alcohol content would be perfect for a couple of glasses before dinner.
That is of course, if you can still afford to drink a couple of glasses
Dubœuf Roséveillé Grenache
Rosé, France (Bt. 499 @ Wine Connection)
There’s something terribly romantic about rosé wine. For
me, rosé conjures up images of high summer and a leisurely al fresco
lunch in a luxuriant garden somewhere in the South of France: a blue check
tablecloth, a bowl of olives, Mediterranean salads, plates of cheese, hunks
of crusty French bread and cold bottles of rosé glistening with condensation
in the sunlight. But perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned. Nevertheless, with
its fruity lightness, rosé seems more of a lunchtime drink than something
for the evening meal but I suppose in our hot season, you could drink it at
any time of day. Rosé wines are some of the most versatile wines around and
they can make a refreshing accompaniment to many kinds of food. They go well
with many vegetarian and Asian dishes too.
Generally, rosé wines do not pretend to be anything
grand. They’re usually simple quaffing wines and are best consumed very
young when the fresh light fruitiness is at its best. This one is from the
well-known French firm of Georges Dubœuf and comes from the South of France.
It’s a lovely colour, a sort of pale orangey-pink and made from the Grenache
grape, which you’ll know already if you have been paying attention. The
Grenache (gruh-NAHSH) is one of the most widely planted red wine
grape varieties in the world and probably originated in Spain, though no one
seems to know for sure. The wine has a delicate fruity aroma of peach and
pear and there’s even a faint reminder of pear drops. It’s delightfully
light-bodied, dry and refreshing with a perfectly balanced dash of acidity
and an attractive crisp finish. Exactly what a decent rosé should be. And
it’s only 12% alcohol content, which in my book is good news.
During the production of rosé wines, the red or purple
skins are allowed only a very short contact time with the colourless grape
juice. This can vary between a couple of hours or several days. As a result,
very little of the colour - and the taste - gets into the wine. The
important thing about rosé wines is that you should drink them very cold.
The makers of this one suggest you serve it straight out of the fridge. I
normally stick a bottle of refrigerated rosé in the freezer for half an hour
or so to give it a bit of zing. If the wine gets too warm, it loses all its
refreshing charm. So serve it as cold as you dare.