What is the best lower alcohol wine in the world?
There are many producers trying valiantly to make good quality zero alcohol 'wine' but let's not go there in this blog because that's another story. When it comes to lower than standard alcohol wine, there is one clear contender.
Step up, Riesling.
This much maligned grape variety lends itself more readily than most other grapes to making lower alcohol styles of wines because of its incredibly diverse and intense range of aromas, acidity and powerful flavours. Often thought of only as a sweet grape, Riesling is full of surprises, the biggest one being how diverse it can be in taste, depending on where it is grown.
Give Riesling a cool climate such as Central Otago and its aromas are all about lime zest, crunchy fresh apples and notes of Rose's Lime Juice, with high acidity and often balanced by a surprisingly full body, depending on fermentation and residual sugar. On the other hand, provide Riesling with a hot summer in a cool to intermediate climate such as the Mosel River and, hey presto, here comes a wine with medium to high acidity and peachy aromas, which can suit being fermented to a medium sweet or medium dry or - increasingly - to a bone dry style.
Acidity rather than sweetness
It's not the sweetness of Riesling that makes it well suited to lower alcohol wine styles but rather its high acidity.
A tasting last month in our upstairs room was a refreshing reminder of Riesling's racy acidity, its zesty flavours and its incredible ability as a grape to suit a diverse range of wine styles.
Here are the wines and links to buy them - with alcohol levels. Not all are lower than average in alcohol but many most definitely are and all have a lightness of touch that few white wines can compete with.
Riesling taster... from dry to sweet
Two dry Rieslings
2019 Stepp Pfalz Riesling RRP $29.99
Winemaker Gerd Stepp fermented this wine to dry (RS is 2.8 grams) partially with indigenous yeasts, temperature controlled and the wine took over two months to ferment.
It was aged on fine lees without stirring for six months - bottled filtered but unfined – so is vegan.
Vineyard sites: Herxheim am Berg and Bad Dürkheim - gentle slopes of the Haardt mountains, vineyard’s soils are a variety of loess-loam with shell-limestone (Muschelkalk) and the sites closer to Bad Dürkheim are rich in coloured sandstones.
2019 Mount Edward Riesling RRP $24.99
Duncan Forsyth is an extremely talented and highly skilled Riesling producer. He loves the variety and always makes a dry or, at a pinch, an off dry style, such as this one which contains
RS 8 grams per litre – a little higher than usual but definitely dry in taste, off dry in style
Combo of 2 vineyards – Morrison at Lowburn and a neighbouring one at Pisa – great sites
First certified organic Riesling for Mt Ed and will be going forward
He describes the 2019 vintage as very good for Riesling in Central Otago
Whole bunch pressed, fermentation in a mixture stainless steel barrels and tanks, wild yeasts, no temperature control and aged on gross less for 3 months.
One aged Riesling
2014 Jim Barry The Florita Riesling RRP $69.99
Widely regarded as one of Australia’s top five Rieslings – hand picked, destemmed, no crushing. Made from grapes grown on the Florita Vineyard in Watervale, at the south end of the Clare Valley in Australia.
In the 1940s wine merchant Leo Buring purchased the Florita site at Watervale, towards the southern end of South Australia’s Clare Valley. He planted pedro ximenez and palomino, and Riesling didn’t come until the 1950s when the vineyard was sold to Jim Barry Wines… The rest is history. A small portion of the Florita Vineyard has also now been planted in Assyrtiko by Peter Barry, who fell in love with it when he was on the Greek island of Santorini – why wouldn’t you? RS is 2 grams.
Great Alsace Riesling
2017 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru Saering RRP $66.99
Bone dry with residual sugar of 0.59 grams per litre of wine and a beautiful south facing vineyard at an altitude of 260 to 300 metres above sea level on limestone and sandstone soils. All grapes in this wine were hand picked, whole bunch pressed and fermented with temperature control then aged on lees for eight months.
This is a superlative wine with great character, made in small volumes and built to last - although it's so darned delicious right now that it may be hard to resist the urge to open...
Two crisp medium sweet Rieslings
2017 Pegasus Bay Riesling RRP $31.99
Pegasus Bay Riesling is made from old vines, all estate owned by the Donaldson family in the Waipara Valley, which is the heart of North Canterbury. Grapes in this wine were picked at 25 brix with about 40% botrytis, indicating the typically long hang time that defines the rich luscious style of this medium sweet Riesling. This style is defined by the chief winemaker, Mat Donaldson, a fan of flavoursome, full bodied Rieslings.
This wine was aged on lees then bottled fined and filtered. It is one of New Zealand's most iconic expressions of Riesling.
2018 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese RRP $85.99
Weingut JJ Prum produces many of the Mosel's most collectable Rieslings in a range of styles with residual sugar varying as a response to vintage. This spatlese is typically medium sweet, which means 20 to 40 grams RS, but its high acidity and high and ripe candied lime and peach flavours are so beautifully balanced, that this wine does not taste sweet - it rather seems light and lithe with a medium body and crisp refreshing finish. It's made from one of the great vineyards of the world in the middle Mosel – Germany’s most famous wine region where Riesling makes up the vast majority of the region’s total vineyard area.
Today the JJ Prum estate is run by Katharina, who looks after the 13.5 hectares of vines, which include some rare ungrafted vines.