John Wilson: In search of lower-alcohol red wines

Four bottles, four countries, four grape varieties, and all with an ABV of 13% or less

I have been contacted by several frustrated readers unable to find lower alcohol wines. Lighter white wines are easier to find than reds; in general, white wines and sparkling wines tend to have higher acidity and less alcohol. Most are 13 per cent ABV or lower and very few reach 14 per cent. Many of those from cool climates, such as Muscadet, Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Australian Riesling are frequently less than 12.5 per cent, and the great German Rieslings are often less than 10 per cent.

Finding a lighter red wine can be tricky. Part of the problem is climate change. Regions such as Bordeaux once typically produced red wines at 12.5 per cent – 13 per cent alcohol; these days 14 per cent and 14.5 per cent is common. But it is also a stylistic choice by the producer. Red grapes are picked later when they are considered fully ripe. They have less acidity and higher sugar levels and as a result the wines will have more alcohol.

I suspect that many consumers in this country and other markets prefer richer red wines. There is something very seductive about a glass of velvety ripe fruit-sweet red wine – the alcohol provides texture, warmth and balances the tannins. Lighter reds tend to have higher acidity and taste fresher. This is not always to everyone’s taste, although the best have a delicious juiciness that is hard to beat.

I suspect it is going to become easier to find lower alcohol red wines in the future, as the multiples try to offer cheaper wines; under the new alcohol regulations, lower alcohol wines can be sold at lower prices

I suspect it is going to become easier to find lower alcohol red wines in the future, as the multiples try to offer cheaper wines; under the new alcohol regulations, lower alcohol wines can be sold at lower prices.

This week, the first of the summer reds; four wines from four different countries each made from a different grape variety and all with an ABV of 13 per cent or less. There will certainly be more as we move into summer.

Beaujolais, one of my favourite wines, tends to be lighter in alcohol, including the “crus” or villages such as Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent and Brouilly. The Domaine des Nugues below has been one of my go-to wines for many years. While there are many very insipid wines produced in Bardolino, wines such as the La Prendina are perfect in warm sunny weather. If you don’t live close to a Marks & Spencer, O’Briens has the delicious vibrant fruity Rizzardi Bardolino Classico Cuvée XV (13 per cent) for €15.45.

Many of the red wines from Austria and Germany (both have relatively cool climates) are lighter in alcohol. As well as the Zweigelt featured here, look out for wines made from Pinot Noir (sometimes called Spätburgunder here) and Blaufränkisch.

All of these wines should be served cool. As the weather warms up, you could even consider drinking them lightly chilled.

Bardolino 2020, La Prendina Estate 13%, €11 Light crunchy red cherry fruits, with a herby, earthy edge. This would be great with grilled fish or whipped goat's cheese with roast peppers. From Marks & Spencer

Beaujolais Villages 2018, Domaine des Nugues 13%, €19.50-€20 Utterly delicious smooth ripe but juicy dark and red fruits with very light tannins on the finish. A delight to drink, either by itself, with charcuterie, firm cheese, and most white meat recipes.  From siyps.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Beshoff, Howth

Thörle Spätburgunder 2018, Rheinhessen 12.5%, €21.95 Juicy ripe red cherry fruits with a lively peppery note. A true vin de soif. Drink this cool with tuna, duck breast, or risotto primavera. From the Corkscrew, D2

Pittnauer Zweigelt Heideboden 2019, Burgenland, Austria 12.5%, €22-€25 A lightly earthy fruit-filled treat with vibrant dark berries, and soft easy tannins on the finish. A great picnic wine, or with dishes featuring cooked tomato sauces.  From Drink Store, D7; The Corkscrew, D2; Martin’s Off Licence, D3; Morton’s, D6; SIYPS.com; Mitchell & Son, D1, Sandycove, and Avoca, Kilmacanogue & Dunboyne