The advent of low-alcohol wine varieties poses the question: Why is it we drink it in the first place? If you enjoy a tipple but value your health, low-alcohol wine might be what you're looking for.
Thanks to Roger Corder and his book, The Red Wine Diet, which advocates drinking two glasses of red wine daily, it's well known there are health benefits from drinking wine in moderation. It's all to do with anti-oxidants and plant compounds found in red wine, which are superheroes for your insides.
However, while anti-oxidants have proven health benefits it's often overlooked that alcohol does not. Alcohol impairs the liver and nervous system, burdens our bodies with nutritionally empty calories and can lead to a host of diseases and conditions, including depression.
Keeping wine on the menu
But aside from anti-oxidants, many health-conscious adults enjoy a glass of wine with dinner because it's relaxing and the perfect accompaniment to food. Yet with the naturally high alcohol content of Australian wines (like other warm regions, Australian wine is high in alcohol, about 13-15 percent), even quaffing in moderation can push you over the limits recommended by the federal government. For women, this is no more than 10 standard drinks a week.
McLaren Vale winemaker Geoff Johnston had this in mind when developing his lower-alcohol Pirra range.
"Restaurateurs told me their customers couldn't enjoy wine with their meal because they couldn't drive home," Johnston says. "So I decided to make a range that allowed people to have half a bottle of wine, enjoy their food and still drive home under the legal limit."
The result is the Pirra range two whites with 9.5 percent alcohol and a red with 11.5 percent.
Its market turned out to be bigger than Johnston expected. As women metabolise alcohol slower than men, many enjoy a low-alcohol wine while cooking. "They like that it's not going to put them to sleep by the time the meal is ready," he jokes.
Asia is also proving to be an emerging market. "People there are missing the dehydrogenase gene which breaks down alcohol," Johnston says. "So it's a market that doesn't want wine with much alcohol."
Making low-alcohol wine
There are three major reasons low-alcohol wine can be produced. Firstly, some varieties of wine are naturally lower in alcohol. These are usually from grapes grown in colder climates, for example Hunter Valley semillon. There are also chemical means known as reverse osmosis or the spinning core method. These technologies remove alcohol from the fermented grape juice. And finally, there is a technique known as the early harvest, where the grapes are picked slightly early, resulting in less sugar, and therefore less alcohol.
Johnston uses his own technology and says the key to making good low-alcohol wine is to take care with what you do once the alcohol has been removed. "You have to compensate for the loss of sweetness. It requires self-education to make these sort of wines," he says. "A lot of people use sugar, which I prefer not to do because it tricks the wine up."
Which raises an important point: low-alcohol wine isn't necessary low-kilojoule. It can have as many, if not more kilojoules, than a regular wine, so be sure to check the label if that's your priority.
Does low-alcohol wine taste as good?
Not surprisingly, Johnston thinks his does. "We spent seven or eight years developing ways to remove alcohol without affecting the flavour," he says. If he's right and it is as pleasing to the palette as regular wine, then low-alcohol wine may be the future, especially for drinking in the home.
"The market research tells us that as long as it tastes the same as normal wine, people would be very happy to drink lower-alcohol varieties," Johnston says.
Cutting back the booze