It would be easy to knock Tesco's new raft of lower alcohol wines, given that few wine lovers would be likely to enjoy these saccharine 0-5 per cent confections. You have to wonder whether "encouraging customers to be mindful of the amount of alcohol they consume" plays second fiddle to the commercial imperative that "lower alcohol wines have seen positive sales growth over the past year". According to the research company Wine Intelligence, lower alcohol sales will increase to 6-8 per cent of the wine market.
As I recall from readers' responses to a piece in which I once recommended some summer wines weighing in at a hefty 14 per cent, alcohol today is a burning issue. In two decades, wine alcohol levels have risen on average 2 per cent. That may not sound much but it can make the difference between drinkability and a wine that palls. Climate change is the usual scapegoat but a recent conference in Washington blamed wine critics for encouraging wineries to pick riper not just for higher ratings but to satisfy a taste for richer, full-bodied wines.
It seemed timely to focus on lower alcohol during The Wine Gang's talks at May's London International Wine Fair. Of the six wines I showed, the five white and one red illustrated that it's generally easier to find lighter styles in whites than reds. I kicked off with the 2011 Hilltop, Cserszegi Fuszeres from Hungary, £5.75, The Wine Society. Like a cross between an Alsace gewurztraminer and a muscat, its floral-spicy aromatics morph into a herby fruit quality etched with acidity.
It was followed by a 2010 Domaine de Maubet, Côtes de Gascogne, £6.85, Oxford Wine Company (01865 301144), a south-west French blend with an elderflower fragrance and gooseberry flavours. The most distinctive white was a 2010 Domaine de l'Idylle Vieilles Vignes, £9.50, Yapp Brothers (01747 860423), from France's Savoie region. With an appley, Alpine bite, its 11 per cent alcohol belies its punchy flavour.
Next up, Tyrrell's 10.8 per cent 2006 HDV Hunter Valley Semillon from museum stock showed the astonishing capacity of Hunter semillon to gain complexity without losing freshness. Finally to 2010 Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, £11.99, Sainsbury's, a featherweight off-dry Mosel riesling with a smoky fragrance. Most intriguing of all, at a bantamweight 12 per cent alcohol, Best's 2010 Great Western Young Vine Pinot Meunier, £20.95, slurp.co.uk, Bibendum, a sumptuous raspberries-and-cream red that could easily be mistaken for red Burgundy.