• Simon Reilly

How low can you go?

This article was originally published in Issue 17 of root + bone magazine, in March 2018.

Illustration courtesy of the very talented Ellis van der Does

The concept of abstinence is fine for things you feel morally against, like wearing fur coats or eating dogs. But when someone suggests abstaining from your passion, the thing you love the most in life, then that is a different ball game.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child I continued to drink wine whilst she abstained for the good of our unborn child. Rather than join her in a show of solidarity and support, I alleviated the mild pangs of guilt by sourcing a bottle of the best de-alcoholised wine money could buy. The “wine” was called Natureo, and was made from the Muscat grape by the Spanish wine giant Torres.

I poured her a glass of the Natureo and myself a glass of Vincent Dauvissat’s Le Forets Premier Cru Chablis. She told me the Natureo tasted awful so the rest of the bottle went down the sink. In case you were wondering, the Dauvissat was delicious.

You can still buy the Natureo today in Waitrose for £5.99 a bottle, but if you are looking to abstain from drinking wine completely, I’d suggest you drink something that actually tastes nice, like Orangina.

However, if you are just trying to cut down on alcohol then I can help you out…

First of all, it is helpful to define “low alcohol wine”. A low alcohol beer is probably anywhere under 3% but you drink that in pints rather than a small wine glass, so by definition a low alcohol wine is going to have a higher ABV. Single figures would be a good start, but I am afraid you will struggle to find a drinkable red wine under 10%.

If there is some flexibility here, one of my favourite wines of last year was a Vin de France called “Les Tetes Noires” by Domaine Cahut et Prodiges in the Loire Valley. At 11% abv it is a delicious red berried fruit concoction, made from Cot (or Malbec as it is also known). Buy it from 161 Food and Drink in Sydenham for £21.40.

Even lower in alcohol is the wonderful Kleine Wanderlust 2015, made by 2NatureKinder in Franken, Germany. Weighing in at 10.5% alcohol this is as close to juice as red wine gets.

Not only is it low in alcohol and delicious, but it is made from grapes called Regent and Dornfelder, both of which are Molly the sheep-style cloned grape varieties cooked up by the German grape breeding institute. I know that sounds like a news story from The Day Today, but it is true. Get it from 161 Food and Drink for £19.60.

To truly dip into single figures you need to go white and sweet. Your first stop is the Mosel Valley in Germany, home to the finest Rieslings money can buy.

Despite the fact that the majority of German Riesling produced is now dry, or “trocken”, traditionally us Brits have had a taste for a touch of sweetness in our Riesling. As an aperitif, or even better with spicy food, particularly Thai, a German Kabinett Riesling is a wonderful thing. And at anywhere between 7.5-9.5% its getting you down towards craft beer strength.

Berry Brothers’ & Rudds own label Mosel Kabinett is great value at £10.95, or if you fancy a new world equivalent, which is much drier, the Tinpot Hut Turner Vineyard Riesling from New Zealand is worth a look at £18.99 from The New Zealand House of Wine via Liberty Wines.

Moving towards premium lager strength, we enter the world of “breakfast wine”. Nothing says breakfast quite like a Moscato D’Asti; a mildly sparkling, slightly sweet, red berry and tropical fruit flavoured wine of about 5% alcohol.

Perfect with light, fruit based deserts, or a breakfast fruit salad, Moscato D’asti is made from the Muscat grape and hales from Piedmont in North-West Italy. A very fine example is GD Vajra’s Moscato D’Asti 2017, weighing in at a meagre 5.5% alcohol. £15.99 from Highbury Vintners via Liberty Wines.

To get down to table lager strength, I have had to look beyond fermented grape juice.

Eric Bordelet, an ex-sommelier from Alain Passard’s legendary Parisian restaurant, Arpege, grows more than 20 varieties of apple and 15 varieties of pear on his family’s property in Normandy.

Rather than make cider and perry like everyone else in Normandy, he believes that his fruit should be turned into wine. The result is the most amazing drink that feels like Champagne but isn’t. His Poire Granit is made from pears grown on 300 year old trees, contains only 3.5% alcohol, and is one of the most profound and complex drinks imaginable. Available from Le Caves de Pyrene for £20.