The lighter side of wine

11 July, 2014

“These are very different wines to craft compared to those of standard alcohols, and need careful blending to create balanced, flavourful wines.”

Alcohol has flavour, so when you remove it, the wine loses an important part of its character. Alcohol adds palate weight and also some sweetness. As wines are reduced in alcohol, they become lighter-bodied and more savoury.  So careful blending is needed and the right base wine must be chosen as a starting point. 

“Lighter style wines are best if they’re not made from early harvest grapes and this is quite surprising to many winemakers,” says Milligan. 

“In fact, the very best base wines
are those created from fully ripe grapes, with higher alcohols (often well over 14%). Such riper-style base wines have higher, more fruit-driven characteristics, and fully ripe (not green/vegetative) flavours with less acidity, and lower tannins.”

Milligan adds: “Since alcohol removal amplifies sourness, bitterness and astringency, you need to select base wines that are low in all these characteristics. 

“Conversely, the worst base wines are those from under-ripe early harvest grapes. 

“Such base wines are typically lacking in varietal characters and can be overly green/vegetative, and too acidic, with bitter, harsh tannins from the under-ripe seeds. Unlike other technologies, the spinning cone doesn’t care how high the initial alcohols are.”

Australian Vintage’s Dyer has slightly different views. “We find those wines that work best are those that are better at lower alcohol,” he says. “So a meaty Cabernet doesn’t taste good at 5.5% alcohol.” 

His preference is to begin with a wine that doesn’t already have high alcohol. “You have to start your work in the vineyard getting flavour at lower ripeness, so you are just nipping back around the edges.” Australian Vintage uses a latest generation Flavourtech spinning cone column that represents a gentle way of removing alcohol. 

Future predictions

What is the future for this category? It has already come a long way in a few years, but its future could depend on tax regimes. 

“We’d love to see a break at 8.5%-10% alcohol,” says Dyer. Such a tax break would boost the lighter wines category, because some of the most convincing wines are made at this level. 

“I strongly believe that the best lighter style wines are those in the 8%-10% range as these will prove the most successful from a consumer point of view long term,” says Milligan. “These products can deliver great taste and deserve a place on the table next to traditional wines without resorting to excessive sweetness and/or non-wine flavour additions/water additions as we see frequently in the 5.5% category.”

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.