IT is well recorded that, as a result of Covid-19, supermarket alcohol sales have shot up by as much as 40%.
Part of the reason for this of course is due to the fact that for a large part of 2020 pubs, restaurants, and other places in which we usually gather to down a pint or two were off-limits.
I know that my own alcohol consumption has increased dramatically, largely because having barely left the house for nine months now, I have not had to worry about getting in the car to drive from one end of the country to the other.
As we move towards the end of the year, I am determined to decrease my intake, which will also help me to lose some of the weight I have gained. In fact, I have travelled fewer miles in nine months than I often do in a week.
In an effort to cut down my alcohol consumption, I have tried a large number of non-alcoholic alternatives over the years, and to be honest not one of them ticks the box for me.
While non-alcoholic beers can be more convincing, wines and spirits just seem to have no soul, tasting thin and lacking complexity. This can be attributed to the range of measures used to remove the alcohol, from centrifuges to organic solvents.
For me, as much as anything it is the actual ‘taste’ that is lacking. Alcohol does have the ability to add weight and texture, providing an unctuous mouthfeel, in addition to enhancing aromas with ripe fruit flavours.
A happy medium between those blockbusters that pack a punch at around 15%abv. and going without altogether, can be found by considering drinks that have a lower alcohol content.
Many areas of the world naturally produce wines that have a lower alcohol content; grapes grown in cooler climates often struggle to ripen so their lower sugar content results in less alcohol.
Interestingly, according to EU rules, which now no longer apply to us, a wine without alcohol cannot legally be called wine. With one or two exceptions, fermented grape juice must reach at least 8.5% abv. in order to qualify for the word ‘wine’ to appear on the label.
One of the exceptions is a style of German Riesling that comes in at just 7.5% abv., yet has good acidity to prevent it being perceived as overly sweet.
For white wines, Germany, and in particular the Mosel, is a good starting point. Wines with less than 10%abv. are likely to have an element of sweetness as having arrested fermentation, the natural sweetness of the grapes remains in the resulting wine.
Vale dos Pombos Vinho Verde, Portugal 2018 (£6, The Co-op) 9.5%abv.
This refreshing wine from Northern Portugal, typically has a slight spritz to it and benefits from a lively orange citrus character, with a tropical fruit tang.
Forrest The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand 2018 (£8.99, Waitrose; Tesco) 9.5%abv.
Thanks to some smart thinking in the vineyard, this typical Marlborough sauvignon blanc manages to retain its gooseberry and passion-fruit flavours.
Dr Loosen is one of my favourite winemakers, and this Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese, Mosel, Germany 2018 (£24.99, Majestic) 8% abv. is a super off-dry, Riesling, with a zesty mandarin tingle, with a mineral vitality. And well worth the price tag.
Schloss Johannisberger Riesling Grunlack Spätlese Rheingau 2017 (£39, Waitrose) 8.5%abv. This well balanced wine, from this historic vineyard, has an outstanding bouquet with white peach, fresh pineapple, green apple, nettle and sorrel. The soft acidity balances out its lovely sweetness with a long citrus aftertaste.
When it comes to finding red wines below 12% it can be tricky, but it is not impossible if you turn to cooler climate regions around the world.
Going low for 2021 will certainly help to repair the effects of holiday over-indulgence, starting you on the road to a healthier, fitter year ahead.