I’m not doing Dry January, but one resolution I made at the start of the month was to look harder than ever at the alcohol level of wine and to aim to go lower. Let’s call that damp January.
All bottles must carry the alcohol content (abv) on the front or back label so it’s easy to find this information. In naturally made table wines it can vary hugely – a German riesling might typically be 10%, an Italian sparkling Asti 7%, but a big red, say from California or Australia, could weigh in at 15%. Many richer whites and reds hit 13.5%.
Happily, there are lighter styles around, including prosecco, from the cooler north-east region of Italy, which is generally about 11% (one per cent less than most champagnes). In fact, most wines on the lighter side come from relatively cool climates – English wine tends to have fairly low Alcohol by Volume, for example. In hotter spots, the grapes get riper which means more sugar to turn into more alcohol.
Sometimes a winery will remove part of the alcohol from a wine to end up with a lower ABV. That’s the case in the new lighter version of Torres Viña Sol (see below), which has had some alcohol taken out using a high-tech method called a spinning cone which works through a complex system of vaporisation.
Other times a winery will work hard in the vineyard to try to keep alcohol levels down; doctors John and Brigid Forrest of Forrest Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand, have come up with a system of leaf-plucking and grape exposure to sun which allows them to pick early.
The grapes have less sugar than usual but retain full flavours, as evidenced in their delicious The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc and others in the range. My tasting note for that is below – it’s a firm favourite in our house, especially during a healthy watchful start to the year.
Forrest Wines The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc 2022, Marlborough, New Zealand
There’s tons of zesty, slightly sweet citrus – lime and grapefruit mainly – and tangy passion fruit springing out of this wine which also has a subtle grassy/herbaceous edge. It’s the perfect white for January – palate-wakening and vivacious yet under 10% ABV.
Torres Viña Sol, Catalunya, Spain
8%, Sainsbury’s, £7, down to £6 until 16 January
I like the original Vina Sol a lot as an easy quaffing white and here’s a new lighter version with some of the alcohol taken out by the spinning cone method. Made from the Cava grape parellada, blended with garnacha blanca, it has juicy flavours of yellow pear and banana.
M&S Bellante Prosecco 2022, Veneto, Italy
11%, Marks & Spencer, £12
There’s a distinctly light and softly frothy quality to this prosecco which makes it more appealing than some; I also like the notes of pear-skins and satsumas. It’s a little off-dry but balanced. Made from glera, the prosecco grape, with the addition of 10% chardonnay and 5% pinot bianco.
Finest Douro 2021, Portugal
12%, Tesco, £11
The relatively light ABV of this red, made from a blend of the Portuguese port grapes, is due to an especially cool 2021 vintage. It’s still rounded and fully fruity, with blueberries and a dash of cassis. No oak was used and this would be a versatile red for meat, especially roast pork.
Marques de Leon Tempranillo 2022, Spain
10%, Morrisons, £4.09
This is a simple wine but it’s inexpensive and has an appealing red berry character – strawberries and redcurrants – and it would make a decent lighter red for a party. Soft enough to drink on its own, or pair it with mild cheeses, or savoury party snacks.