Lower-alcohol Wines: The Lowdown

06 February, 2013

Oenologist Henry Powles of Cobevco, a specialist bottler of wine, beer, cider, spirits and soft drinks, takes up the plot: “To produce wines of acceptable taste and palate weight at lower abvs, it’s necessary to add some sugar back to the product post-reduction, or halt further fermentation with the sugar still present. Alcohol reduction can also be achieved via dilution, but this can reduce the concentration of the flavour components. 

“Another popular way to produce alcohol-free and low-alcohol wine is using spinning cone technology. This, however, can have a negative impact on the quality of end products as it removes some of the flavour that was present in the original wine.

“In terms of bottling low abv wines, one of the biggest concerns is the increased risk of secondary fermentation in-bottle, due to elevated sugar levels, and also lower alcohol levels,” says Powles. “However, there is no need to be overly concerned about this as long as proper winemaking protocols are followed.”

Flavour profiles

At the forefront of the crusade to find 5.5% wines that deliver acceptable flavour profiles is McGuigan Wines, part of Australian Vintage (AVL). The company’s most recent shot is Vinni, a 5.5% sparkling “wine product based on the Moscato grape”. It is packaged in a distinctive, non-wine bottle to appeal to younger drinkers who probably drink cider.

Neil McGuigan, the IWSC’s current Best Winemaker in the World, tells DI: “Low alcohol wines are an opportunity that AVL has been investigating for some time. However, producing quality table wine with the appropriate flavour profile at an alcohol of 5.5% has been an industry-wide challenge.

“Certainly, in our view, what is currently in market does not offer the consumer flavour, quality or consistency, nor does it offer value,” he says.

“A number of years ago we produced a terrific reduced-alcohol wine at 8% that delivered on all touch points, however table wines at 5.5% are a very different challenge. We are extremely excited about Vinni as we believe the aromatic character of the variety, coupled with the refreshing lift that carbonation provides, works well for the consumer. It offers consumers a low alcohol option without compromising on flavour.

“We are now pushing forward with a project to develop a range of 5.5% alcohol table wines that will be produced from vintage 2013. AVL has been producing de-alcoholised wines for nearly 20 years now and we consider ourselves as pioneers within this category. Key to taking this project into the future is the installation of a new, state of the art spinning cone column which reduces alcohol under vacuum. The project cost for this installation is a significant investment for AVL and our unit is the only unit in Australia solely dedicated to wine,” says McGuigan.

Australian Vintage’s recently appointed general manager UK/Europe, Julian Dyer, who previously worked for UK multiple retailer, Sainsbury’s, says: “We need to step-change the quality of what is out there to make the category credible. It will only grow over time, but it is currently held back by this gap between consumer expectation and what is being delivered.”

“There are some credible wines round about 8%-9%, and we would love to see a new tax break at 8.5%. But currently we have seen nothing below this level that meets consumer expectation,” concludes Dyer.

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