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Ask a Somm: What Are Some Good Low-Alcohol Wines?

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Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine.

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Culinary honcho José Andrés, best known for his progressive Spanish cuisine, operates a smattering of restaurants across the country, and next the chef is bound for New York. Master Sommelier Andy Myers heads up wine decisions for Andres' 22 properties under the ThinkFoodGroup umbrella, and below he reflects on great grape options that are low in alcohol.

Q: For the New Year, I am trying to keep my alcohol intake as low as possible. Could you suggest some great reds and whites that are low-alcohol?

Excessive alcohol levels are most certainly a hot topic in the wine world these days. Blame global warming for increased ripeness, blame pandering to the palates of certain critics, or just blame an increased desire to get a bit more banged up than usual. Whatever the reasons, we are certainly seeing alcohol levels increase in a lot of wines. So what’s a drinker to do when they still want some wine, but don’t want to fall on the floor after a glass or two? For the record, in my world, "lower alcohol" wines are 13 percent ABV or lower. I love these wines because I like to drink a fair amount, but I don’t enjoy getting really drunk. Weird, huh?

Cooler climate wines are a great option for lower alcohol.

Cooler climate wines are a great option for lower alcohol. The short explanation is that grapes develop sugars as they ripen and sugar is converted into tasty booze. The more sugar, the more booze. Cooler climates have a difficult time getting grapes ripe at all, let alone overripe and full of alcohol. These types of growing conditions also tend to produce wines with higher levels of natural acidity, which rules, as I am a complete acid freak with my wines.

I am cuckoo for Riesling, and it happens to be one of the most alcohol-moderate wines on the planet, as well as the tastiest grape in the history of ever. Before you go all "I don’t like sweet wine" on me, hear me out. First, a bit of residual sugar never hurt anyone. Second, there is a huge difference between off-dry and sweet. Many of the best Rieslings are off-dry (Kabinett style, specifically). Finally, there is a ton of dry Riesling in the world too. M’kay? Good. Now quit hating on Riesling.

  • 2013 August Kessler "R" Kabinett Riesling ($9): 10 percent ABV. Seriously, 10 percent!! That’s almost alcohol free. This wine is so delicious. One of the best bargains in the wine world right now if you ask me. Crisp, fresh melon fruit, clean, laser-like minerality and super fresh acid. Yes, it has a tiny bit of sugar. So what? It’s awesome.
  • 2014 Château l'Oiselinière de la Ramée, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine ($14): 12 percent ABV. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. Muscadet is the perfect light wine. Light, tart lemon juice flavors and a little bit of salinity make it the perfect wine to sip while slurping down oysters and at 12 percent alcohol it’s not a big deal to finish off the bottle before moving on to entrées and red wines.
  • 2009 Bodegas Quinta da Muradella "Alanda" Tinto ($17): 13 percent ABV. Raul Perez is such an exciting wine maker. Out in NW Spain he is making vibrant wines like this Alanda. It’s loaded with wild and bruised berry notes on a framework of crunchy, rocky earth flavors and just a skosh of oak to add a little spice and fine tannin. Awesome wine.
  • 2012 Jean Foillard, Morgon, "Côte du Py" ($32): 12.5 percent ABV. Morgon is a small village in the Beaujolais region of France. Gamay is the grape here and in the hands of the great Jean Foillard it expresses itself brilliantly. Wild, dried raspberries and tart plums balance the slightly peppery notes of this wine. Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty icky and has given the real deal wines of Beaujolais a bad name. Try this to learn what Beaujolais is really about.

Have a wine-related question you'd like answered? Hit the comments.

Minibar by José Andrés

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