Wine: How low can you go?

McWilliam's Harmony. Picture: Contributed
McWilliam's Harmony. Picture: Contributed
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I have had a lot of feedback from readers about the rising level of alcohol in table wines today.

With the norm for a New World table wine at 13 per cent – and often up to 15 per cent for Californian zinfandel, Australian shiraz or South African pinotage – there is clearly a demand out there for wine producers to find a way to create a wine with lower alcohol without compromising on taste.

That is the challenge. Often removing some of the alcohol can mean taking away flavour, so the race is on worldwide to devise a method that creates a lower alcohol wine that tastes just as good.

The key is to distinguish between the low alcohol wines. There is a big difference tastewise in “lower alcohol” wine (between 8 per cent and 11 per cent) and a wine which is either “alcohol-free” (under 0.05 per cent) or with “reduced alcohol” (between 0.05 per cent and 5 per cent).

In the first category – the most successful to date appears to be the Australian wine company McWilliams. It has recently launched four wines varying from 6 per cent to 10 per cent under its new Harmony label. I tasted two of McWilliams’ Harmony wines; firstly an attractive semillon/sauvignon with 8 per cent which Lloyd Stephens of McWilliams states will mean that a 125ml glass has one third lower alcohol than a normal Aussie semillon/sauvignon. I would happily drink this on a hot summer’s day, it is eminently quaffable.

The second bottle was a very youthful shiraz with 9 per cent alcohol. This was less attractive – it just tasted diluted.

McWilliams also produce a sparkling Harmony at 6 per cent, which might well appeal to prosecco drinkers, and a Essenze Wine Dancer Marlborough sauvignon blanc at 10 per cent. To create these wines McWilliams pick the grapes early, then remove alcohol using the reverse osmosis filtration method rather than the usual spinning cone method – before reblending with full-strength wine.

If 8 per cent is still too high, you may prefer greatly reduced alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives – but this is where the real problem lies with little alcohol at all. Filtration, rotating cones and vapourisers are again used to remove the alcohol – but the key is that alcohol is a masking agent and a sweetener on the palate. By removing it almost completely down to 0.5 per cent, the wine tastes very dry and acidic.

Torres in Spain make a range called Natureo using the rotating cone method which disperses the alcohol without losing the vital flavour. At 0.5 per cent alcohol it is not officially a wine, but tastewise its white version made from moscatel, a naturally sweet varietal with a grapey bouquet, is pretty good.

However, I do not like Torres’ new Natureo Rosé at all – you may as well just drink grape juice.

Another alternative is to choose “naturally” lower alcohol wines between 8 per cent and 11 per cent – as they taste far better than those which have had alcohol artificially removed. You need to choose certain grapes like riesling or muscat, for example, from cooler regions like Mosel in Germany, Loire in France or even England. Prosecco is a good lower alcohol alternative for sparkling wine usually at 11–11.5 per cent.

De-alcoholised & low alcohol wines


Australia: McWilliams Harmony Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2012

(£6.99, reduced from £8.99, 6-26 March, Sainsbury’s)

A surprisingly good effort: it tastes just like a normal Aussie semillon/sauvignon with citric freshness, but has a slightly watery feel to the palate and a short finish.

Alcohol: 8 per cent


Spain: Torres Natureo De-alcoholised Muscat 2011

(£5.99, Waitrose)

Grapey, scented, very well-balanced, fleshy fruits and a surprisingly good length considering its low level of alcohol.

Alcohol: 0.5 per cent


Spain: Torres Natureo

De-alcoholised Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon RosÉ 2011

(£5.99, Waitrose & Asda)

Just like sipping a grape juice, faintly sweet and little flavour: not attractive: I cannot see the point of this one.

Alcohol: 0.5 per cent


Australia: McWilliams Harmony Shiraz 2011

(£6.99 reduced from £8.99, 6-26 March, Sainsbury’s)

Tastes just like a very youthful Aussie shiraz which has been slightly diluted – perfectly drinkable with a lighter feel to the palate which some drinkers might prefer to the usual heavyweight style of Aussie shiraz. Endorsed by Weight Watchers (2 pro points).

Alcohol: 9 per cent

Naturally lowish alcohol wines


Germany: Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2010

(£13.99, Waitrose; Majestic Wine; Tesco)

Deliciously light, fragrant, minerally undertones, beautifully made:

Alcohol: 7.5 per cent


Italy: Taste the Difference Prosecco di Conegliano NV

(£10.99, Sainsbury’s)

Gently floral/apricot aromas, soft mousse, faintly sweet, fresh dry finish: this is the normal alcohol level found in prosecco so a good choice for people looking for a lighter alcohol style.

Alcohol: 11 per cent

• Join Rose’s Champagne Masterclass on Friday 15 March in Glasgow, £40 (includes buffet),