Saturday, January 17, 2009

Joanna Simon in The Sunday Times, January 11, 2009: Lower alcohol - naturally

Late spring frosts, too much rain, abnormally low temperatures, sudden heat spikes, devastating hailstorms. The 2008 growing season was one to remember for all the wrong reasons in much of Europe. Even in regions where the weather finally came good in September and October, there wouldn’t be many takers for a repeat performance. And yet there is a positive side to the cool, damp summer: lower alcohol from the less ripe, less sugar-rich grapes.

A few years ago, that wouldn’t have been welcomed by wine drinkers or by producers, but in the last couple of years the tide has begun to turn against hefty alcohol: not indiscriminately - we still want some big, full-bodied wines, but we don’t want wines at 13.5-14.5 per cent abv to dominate the shelves.

Whether the main catalyst was a desire for fresher, more balanced tasting wines or consumer health concerns, producers around the world had already started to look at ways of reducing alcohol by managing their vineyards differently, trying alternative yeasts and using special techniques in the cellars. Nature just happened to come along with a helping hand in 2008.

2006 Salwey Oberrotweiler Käsleberg Spätburgunder, £11.60
Fine, plummy, spicy German pinot noir; 12% abv (Tanners, 01743 234500).

2006 Ferngrove Riesling, Western Australia, £7.49
Zesty, dry, lime and apple-flavoured riesling; 12% abv (Oddbins).

2007 Frédéric Mabileau Les Rouillères, Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, £9.79
Supple red Loire with gravelly raspberry perfume; 12% abv (Waitrose)