QUESTION: I particularly enjoy wine. However, for medical reasons I have been advised to cut back. I would appreciate if you could recommend a reasonable wine, $15 more or less, dry red or white, where the alcohol content is lower than 10 per cent.
ANSWER: May I offer a few tips on how to fish before I hand you a fish, so to speak?
Winemakers in recent decades have placed a greater emphasis on harvesting fully ripened grapes. This has been a laudable trend because riper grapes produce richer, fruitier and more complex wines - in the same way that local, fresh produce results in a more flavourful dish. But ripe grapes have come with a drawback, brain-numbing (and, in your case, health-compromising) higher alcohol. The biochemistry is basic. Yeast in the fermenting vat feeds off fruit sugar to produce, among other things, alcohol. More food in the vat means higher-octane chardonnays and shirazes. Wines from generally sunny, grape-ripening places such as California and most regions of Chile and South Australia now commonly exceed 14 per cent. Today, unless you're willing to switch from wine to beer, you have few options below the 10-per-cent mark. As a general rule, look to cooler climates, because less sunshine means less alcohol. The source of most of the world's best under-10-per-cent wines is Germany, which lies at the northernmost latitude for quality wine grapes. There's a widely available German riesling, a white, called Dr. L from Loosen Bros., which contains 9.5-per-cent alcohol. It sells for $13.95 in Ontario. But there's a trade-off with this and most other low-alcohol wines: noticeable sugar. In most cases, the alcohol level is kept low by intentionally cutting fermentation short, ending the yeast's meal before it can convert all the sugar into alcohol. That's the case, too, with a decent new offering from Niagara called Southbrook Connect Organic White, a pleasantly fruity, vidal-based wine selling for $14.95 in Ontario. Another good, and generally medium-sweet, category is moscato d'Asti from Italy, a delicious and slightly effervescent white, which typically carries 5- to 6-per-cent alcohol.
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