Wine: The light stuff

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Should summer wines be lower in alcohol? In response to demand for lighter styles, retailers are starting to come up with wines that use early harvesting to lower strength – without going so far as ghastly "wines" such as Eisberg that remove the alcohol altogether.

The wine merchant Bibendum has come up with a white, red and rosé French vins de pays at 10.5 per cent called Altege, which I find bland, lean and, at £7.49, expensive. Marks and Spencer have also developed three 50cl Italian wines at 9.5 per cent, a spritzy white 2007 Verduzzo, a light, redcurranty Raboso Rosé and a grassy Venetian cabernet sauvignon, all at £3.49. I'm all in favour of the idea of catering for the demand for wines that are lighter in alcohol, as long as the wines themselves aren't compromised by the reduction in strength.

I'd rather go for a wine that is naturally light in alcohol thanks to the climatic conditions in which it manages to achieve ripeness, or near ripeness – without having to resort to unnaturally early picking or the removal of alcohol through technological wizardry. Among them are the refreshingly petillant "green" wines of vinho verde in northern Portugal such as the 2007 Quinta de Azevedo, £5.99, or buy two = £4.99 each, Majestic, whose zippy green apple bite and lemon sherbety tang at 11 per cent alcohol is achieved through the loureiro grape.

Arguably the best grape variety here is alvarinho, which is the same grape across the Spanish border as Galicia's appetising, seafood-friendly albariño. Not quite as light as it seems with alcohol levels hovering at around 12.5 per cent, it's nevertheless one of summer's most piercingly vivid and refreshing dry whites, especially with the crisp 2007s now coming on stream. Good examples include the mouthwateringly grapefruity 2007 Lagar de Cervera Albariño, summer offer price £9.95, down from £12.45, Jeroboams, the intense fresh apple-and-pear-juicy 2007 Pazo de Señorans Albariño, £12.50, Philglas & Swiggot (020-7924 4494), and the distinctively spicy, intensely refreshingly crisp 2007 Terras Gauda o Rosal Albariño, around £12.25, Les Caves de Pyrène (01483 554750), Philglas & Swiggot, Eurovines, Isle of Wight (01983 811743). Continuing north into Basque country brings you to another Spanish delicacy, the tongue-twisting, tongue-tingling hondarrabi zuri grape, which, with its cousin, the hondarrabi beltza, makes an intriguingly fresh, thirst-quenchingly dry, lighter alcohol style in the 10.5 per cent 2007 Txomin Etxaniz Gataria, £12.99-£15.99, D.Byrne, Clitheroe (01200 423152), Haslemere Cellars (020-8880 9200), Handford (020-7589 6113), Harvey Nichols.

With the riesling grape, Germany is capable of lightness that most New World countries can only aspire to. With 12 per cent alcohol, the 2007 Mineralstein Riesling, £6.49, Masks & Spencer, displays an aromatic sweet pea fragrance and refreshingly juicy floral fruit to make the perfect summer glugger. Even Australia, where dry rieslings tend to weigh more heavily, you can find wines such as the Lowe family's 2007 Tinja Mudgee Riesling, £10.95, Vin du Van, Kent (01233 758727), whose youthful, floral, lemon- and lime-like citrusy flavours and bone-dry acidity at 11 per cent quench the thirst spectacularly.

At just 1 per cent higher, also from Australia, the 2007 St Hallett Poachers Blend Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, £6.99, makes for another lemon-citrusy refresher. No rosé? I hear you say. Not to worry, the pessimist in me is keeping that in reserve for balmier summer days.