Low Alcohol Wines for the Win


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Low Alcohol Wines for the Win It’s happened to us all: You are beguiled by an extremely tasty and easy-drinking wine. Less than ninety minutes later you are three glasses deep, sans supplementary food or drink, and ready to fall fast asleep. When you emerge from your bedroom the next morning feeling a little soft-brained, you check the label on that bottle: 15.8% alcohol! It’s no wonder you feel a little loopy this morning. Don’t be mistaken -- some of the world’s best wines come at a higher proof, but for those networking parties and relaxed Monday nights, consider a lower-alcohol wine; something you can savor for a long period of time, in larger quantities, over the course of an evening, without repercussions. The web’s top wine writers are here to help. They’ve identified the best very wines under 12.9% ABV. Your extra generous pour is on the way!

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  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Thanks for this list, but even more for raising the continuing issue of alcohol levels. Times are crazy when 12.9% qualifies as "low alcohol." Surely anything in the region of 12% should be more a standard level, and anything 13% and above should be called "high alcohol"! Just last night, I was shocked at my first sip of a Carneros pinot noir (2013 Black Stallion)--the burning blast of alcohol was not something I'd expect in a pinot noir, even a CA model. But there it was, in microscopic print: 14.5%! It hadn't occurred to me to check before I bought it. That's the kind of level I've learned to dread (and avoid) in a zinfandel, but now I see I must also beware of Californian pinot noir.

    We smaller people who'd like to have more than a single glass at a sitting tend to gravitate to European wines. I think it'd be pretty hard to find a Burgundy at 14.5%! In 2008, a gutsy merchant in Sacramento tried to put the brakes on the 14.5% + idea (to me, 14.5% is itself too high), but it seems not to have caught on. http://wine.appellationamerica.com/...

    Mar 29, 2016 at 12:50 PM

  • Snooth User: martynGB
    1976326 10

    courgette - I don't think 14 is too high but close to upper limit, as you probably know the actual alcohol usually doesn't match the label. Wines have to be in balance but when you start going too high on the alcohol in my experience it will detract from the ability to age the wine. My experience I find two things that age badly, excessive alcohol and oak (think CA Chardonnay). Oh and last point, too hot in Napa, Carneros in general to make Pinot Noir :-)

    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Dan
    1190407 41

    I am with Courgette on this one. I began enjoying finer wines beginning in the mid-late 1970s. I have been making my own wines (mostly from local Virginia vinifera and French hybrid grapes) since 1982. Throughout most of this time "normal" wine strength was in the range of 11-12.5%. Many wines, like some German and Alsatian types, sere a low as 9%. I can remember when a California Zin coming in at 14%, with a touch of residual sugar, was considered a "port" style. Modern agricultural improvements in conjunction, I believe, with global warming led to higher--often much higher--sugar levels at harvest.

    The rise of overly ripe (IMHO) grapes occured first in California, but Australia, with its thousands of acres of low-lying hot vineyards soon followed suit. The big reds and Chardonnays that resulted often requied longer aging in wood to mellow down that flash of alcohol, and that has led to the new "international" style of wines tastng like they were made from dried plums blended with sawdust and white lightning. It disturbs me to see many Italian, French, and Spanish winemakers adopting this style of winemaking.

    A table wine should, I believe, weigh in at about 12%. Otherwise it's likely to be just abother fruit-and-oak bomb waiting to leave one wondering what the number was on the truck that just hit them.

    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:22 PM

  • Snooth User: randomacts
    297669 16

    Seriosly, what is point of drinking wine that does not have enough alcohol in it. If I drink a wine having fewer than 13% it does not taste right to me. It taste to much like fruit juice. What is wrong with you. Get your liver workign right!!

    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:32 PM

  • Snooth User: courgette
    124481 158

    Martyn: Interesting that you'd think of Carneros as too hot, when it's known as THE cool-climate region in the north of the state-- a foggy respite from the warmer neighboring areas. There are certainly plenty of other CA regions which are seemingly hostile to pinot noir (yet grow plenty of it, much of it perfectly well), but that shouldn't be the case here, which is part of what made this such a surprise. By the way-- I would've passed right by this wine at my local Costco, but for the hilarious and Lewis Carroll-esque typo on the shelf label: "volumptuos"!

    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:39 PM

  • Snooth User: himichael
    1809248 16

    Great review from Meg. Very informative. The problem with most high-alcohol wines is not just that the alcohol level can affect aroma and flavor but also that it usually results from OVERRIPE grapes. The winemaker wantS to seduce your palate with very ripe fruity flavors. Nice enough, sometimes, but overripe grapes lose some of their varietal specificity. Pinot noir can start to taste like Syrah. Furthermore, they have lower levels of acid and higher pH and are at greater risk of spoilage and require heavier use of preservatives like SO2. Usually the winemaker also adds tartaric acid to adjust the must. All of this obscures terroir and removes much of what I find interesting in wine.

    Apr 04, 2016 at 12:58 PM

  • Snooth User: Dan
    1190407 41

    Once upon a time, we praised wines for their finesse.

    Apr 04, 2016 at 1:40 PM

  • Snooth User: John Koenig
    1982304 15

    I agree with the sentiment that alcohol levels approaching the mid 14's are too aggressive for many tastes. Some vineyards are picking their warm-weather (thanks climate change) grapes earlier to help with the issue.

    All in all, I really appreciate the article and the thoughtful comments. Cheers!

    Apr 08, 2016 at 11:57 PM

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