Why low-alcohol wine doesn’t have to be disappointing

Low alcohol wine may be slow to catch on, there are plenty on the market full of flavour. It may even one day become an investment category for fine wine collectors.

Technically, a wine can’t be called a wine if it doesn’t contain alcohol. At least, according to the EU it can’t. However, it’s possible legal definitions like these will change after the UK leaves the EU on 31 January 2020. For now, in order to be called wine, fermented grape juice must have at least 8.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) content.

 

Zero alcohol versus low alcohol wine

But for most people, it’s not the legality of the name that concerns them about non-alcoholic ‘wine’, but rather what does it taste like? Wine with no alcohol at all has a distinctively different flavour.

However, low-alcohol wines are a different story. A winemaker in New Zealand called Dr John Forrest makes a popular range of low-alcohol wines. He says that while he’s happy to drop levels to the EU minimum, he won’t go lower because the alcohol is important for the flavour. According to Dr Forrest, the alcohol volume adds sweetness to the wine’s aroma, “ripeness to the fruit flavours, weight and ‘oily’ mouthfeel.”

Any lower than 8.5% ABV and you lose what Dr Forrest calls “the secondary chemical interactions” of alcohol to the wine. This affects the flavour and impact of its tannins and the complexity of its aroma.

Four low alcohol wines to try

This is probably why any ‘wine’ with zero alcohol definitely does taste different. It will be thinner, lighter and much simpler, without the complexity that wine usually gives the drinker. Good quality low-alcohol wines work by maintaining the robust flavour that people want, without resorting to just replacing the alcohol with sugar. So, we’d definitely suggest sticking to low-alcohol wines rather than cutting it out completely. Here are five of the best that are worth trying.

  1. Forrest The Doctor’s Sauvingnon Blanc 2018

Made in Marlborough, New Zealand, this is a cleverly low-alcohol wine. The work goes in at the vineyard and during production to cut alcohol but not compromise on quality. This version cuts alcohol down to 9.5% ABV but tastes like it’s much stronger. Packed with passion fruit and gooseberry flavours, it’s a lower alcohol wine that fools your palate into thinking it’s more like 14% ABV.

  1. Vale dos Pombos Vinho Verde 2018

This wine comes from the cooler northern region of Portugal and is a great choice if you’re looking for lower alcohol. This one is at 9.5% ABV and is a refreshing wine with a spritzy, citrusy finish.

  1. Les Nivieres Saumur 2018

From the Loire Valley in France, this is actually at 12.5% ABV. While that used to be thought of as an average strength for a red wine, but these days this is certainly on the lighter side. Despite the lower alcohol, this is a rich cabernet franc, rammed with blackcurrant fruits.

  1. Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese 2018

From the Mosel in Germany, this wine generally comes in at less than 8% ABV. It’s a delicious medium sweet Riesling, with a minerally flavour interspersed with spicy mandarin.

The growing popularity of Eastern Mediterranean wine

Wine from the Eastern Mediterranean isn’t always at the forefront of consumers’ minds. However, the region that goes from Lebanon to Croatia is home to many different types of wine. And it’s becoming more popular, thanks to new coverage in the World Atlas of Wine, the most recent edition of which has devoted pages to wine from Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus for the first time.

How is Eastern Mediterranean wine selling internationally?

Greece sells more internationally than the other countries from the region. For example, there has been an upsurge in popularity of wines from Santorini. In 2019, approximately two million hectolitres (each hectolitre = 100 litres) of wine was made in Greece.

From this volume, approximately 90% comes from the 200 grapes indigenous to the country. Around 13% of the total wine volume produced in Greece is exported internationally, and it’s worth about £71 million (82.6 million Euros).

Santorini wines are finally shifting into the fine wine bracket with prices equivalent to those of high-quality white Burgundy. This burgeoning interest in wines from Santorini is likely to have a knock-on effect for collectors and sommeliers.

Georgian wine is exporting more than ever before

Georgia, located at the apex of Europe and Asia is also increasing wine exports. In the second half of 2019, UK based importer Berkmann Wine Cellars began listing wine from a Georgian producer called Tbilvino.

According to data from the Wine Agency of Georgia, in the 12 months leading up to October 2019, Georgian wine exports increased by 20% in value and 11% in volume. It is exported to 50 different countries, with recently opened markets including Sweden, Germany, the UK, the US and Japan. Georgia exports the highest volume of wine to the Ukraine and Russia, with China in third. Interest from Scandinavia, the UK and the US is also increasing the growth of wine from this region.

Turkish wines, while traditionally not particularly successful in international markets, are also kickstarting growth plans. Varieties such as Narince made from an aromatic white grape, and Papakarasi, which makes soft fruity reds have potential for export markets.

Romanian and Israeli wines

There is also an untapped export market for Romanian wine. Philip Cox is the commercial director for Cramele Recas, the largest wine producer in the country. He says that Romania has huge potential thanks to its lengthy history of wine making, and fascinating local varieties. He also says that the country’s ‘flexible legislation’ allows wine producers to pick and choose from a vast range of varieties. Add this to relatively cheap land, low living costs and you have the ingredients for a very successful export market.

Philip says: “[Romania] now has one of the most modern wine industries in Europe, with more than 200 new wineries built in the past decade.” The producer exports to 23 countries, and is nationally distributed in Myanmar, South Korea and Japan.

Over in Israel there is no official wine group pushing for exports. However, there is an unofficial group of wine producers working together to export increasing amounts to the UK wine market.

 

The group is led by Morris Herzogf from Kedem Europe, a specialist in Israeli wine. He believes the biggest challenge is to change people’s perceptions of wine from Israel. He points out that recently sommeliers and wine aficionados are discovering that there are many high-quality wines from the region.

 

Various London restaurants have become buyers for Israeli wine, and professionals are increasingly using it to match the cuisine from the region as it becomes more popular. Winemaker Faouzi Issa heads up the oldest commercial winery in Lebanon, which is called Domaine des Tourelles. He says that the UK is their main market and that: “… consumers [in the UK] are very open to discovering new wines, particularly those with an interesting story.”

 

His wines now reach 25 countries, and over the last ten years his export volumes have increased eight times. However, despite the undoubted increase in exports for wines from the Eastern Mediterranean, it’s likely that they will remain niche for the meantime, and won’t be named on any 2020 wine trends lists. For now, only wines from Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Greece are included on the International Organisation for Vin and Wine (OIV)’s list of countries that make more than one million hectolitres a year.

Why US wine industry is hoping tariffs on EU wine won’t go ahead

The US wine industry is currently reeling from the President’s decision to potentially  tax wine from Europe by 100%. In fact, some experts in the industry are saying that the threatened rise in import tax will have a similar impact on them as prohibition did more than 100 years ago.

Wine sellers in the US are hoping that the President will change his mind and drop the import tax raise. They say that their businesses will fail should the proposed taxes happen.

How would 100% EU tariffs affect the US wine industry?

Proposals to raise tax on EU imports is in retaliation for subsidies on American company Airbus. But the American wine industry is arguing that it shouldn’t take the hit for this trade battle. Representatives of wine merchants in the US argue that these proposed tariffs would hit the industry very hard.

Every year, the US imports wine worth £3.8 billion (approximately $5 billion) from European countries. In October 2019, the industry had to deal with a 25% tax on wines from Europe. This was imposed by the President after approval was granted from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the US to retaliate after subsidies imposed on Airbus.

This first round of tax increases was absorbed by wine sellers in the US. However, the suggestion that there will be another round of tax increases, this time at 100%, has shaken the industry once more.

Possible job losses and huge price rises

It is feared that the tariffs will lead to more retaliation and put potentially thousands of jobs on the brink. But what would the fallout be for the consumer? The National Association of Wine Retailers (NAWR), says that prices per bottle could more than double. Furthermore, some bottles will just be way too expensive to import.

The US Trade Representative has been open to comments, and according to the BBC, thousands of sellers have formally opposed the tariffs. Field Blend Solutions is a wine importer based in New York. A representative told the BBC that while the tariffs are supposed to cause problems for the countries of origin in Europe, “… instead, they are having a calamitous impact on American small businesses, American workers and American consumers.”

The president of the National Association of Beverage Importers (NABI) warns that the “impact on jobs” and “the impact on the US marketplace” are concerning.

Industry braces for impact of wine tariffs

This tariff was announced in December 2019 by the US Government, which says that the 100% increase is necessary. This, they say, is because of a “lack of progress” between the EU and the US in resolving the subsidy battle over Airbus.

President Trump says that Americans should drink home-grown wine instead. However, industry experts say that consumers may well turn to wines from the New World instead of the US.

Whether the 100% tariff on wine imports goes ahead remains to be seen. However, it’s likely that even if it doesn’t, some tariffs will remain for the US wine industry. It’s possible, for example, that Champagne will come under fire in a separate trade dispute over French taxes on tech companies. Whatever happens, collectors of fine wines and everyday consumers will be watching closely on both sides of the Atlantic.

What you need to know about fine wine investment

When it comes to fine wine investment, there’s one golden rule – don’t drink your collection! It’s one of the few asset classes that can’t be used in some way. Even with fine art collecting, you can generally look at your purchases. But serious fine wine investors store their wine in bonded warehouses.

 

Fine wine investment and bonded warehouses

Bonded warehouses are licensed by the Government, and the wine stored in them is therefore exempt from VAT (value added tax). Wine stored in bond means the bottles are stored safely in a controlled environment, and any wines not aimed at the UK market avoid customs duty.

Wine collectors who choose to sell ‘in bond’ is usually sold in the standard 12 bottle case. However, there are exceptions to this. Collectors with wine stored in bonded warehouse accounts can also get condition reports for a fee. The fee is usually relatively small, and certainly makes sense if you have a collection worth thousands of pounds.

There are, of course, fees and insurance costs when you choose to store wine in bonded warehouses. And, should you choose to drink it after all, you can arrange for bonded delivery. This will mean that you will have to pay VAT and customs duty. The VAT will be charged at a rate based on the original price of the wine rather than its current value.

 

Follow the global marketplace listing for trading wine

Of course, the idea of fine wine investment is to ensure your assets are increasing in value. You’re not looking to enjoy drinking the wine but making as much money as possible on your chosen asset class.

The global marketplace for wine trading is called Liv-ex. Following this regularly will help you keep on top of the wines that are hot right now. According to the Liv-ex Fine Wine 1000 wine index, the top one thousand bottles have increased in value by 48.35% since 2014. While that sounds very encouraging, it’s worth noting that the index has only gone up by 0.11% during 2019.

 

Which wine regions should you invest in?

Traditionally, Burgundy and Bordeaux have been popular regions for fine wine investors and collectors. The Liv-ex Burgundy 150 index shows that Burgundy has gained by 94.9% over the five years. And in 2018, a bottle of burgundy made a record smashing £434,850 ($558,000) at Sotheby’s. The bottle of 1945 Romanee-Conti wasn’t alone, with another bottle selling at the same auction for almost as much (£386,533/ $496,000).

After such highs, perhaps it’s not surprising that the French fine wine market is showing signs of fatigue. In the 12 months up to the end of June 2019, the index dropped by 6.2%.

 

Head for Italy for Tuscan and Piedmont wines

As for wines that are worth investing in right now, Italian wine is always a good bed. There is evidence to show that wine has been made in Italy for at least six thousand years. But when it comes to the investment market, Italy is relatively new. Just like France, the Italian wine market is dominated by two regions – Piedmont and Tuscany.

Examples of wines known as ‘super Tuscans’ include Sassicaia. The most coveted wines from Piedmont are probably Barbaresco and Barolo. In terms of the Liv-ex indexes, the Italy 100 was the highest performing. It gained 3% and while it’s not the best yet, it is definitely worth considering for wine investors.

Winemakers are producing delicious red wine from the UK

When it comes to selecting a nice full-bodied red wine, which country of origin do you go for? There are plenty of fine reds available from Italy, France, Germany and New Zealand, for example. But what about red wine from the UK? Not convinced? Read on…

It may not be where you expect to find a delicious red wine. It’s not even where you’d expect to find the location of the future UK wine industry, but a wine maker in Wolverhampton is turning expectations on their head.

 

How red wine from the UK is making a splash

A vineyard around nine miles south-west from the Midlands city of Wolverhampton is growing a grape from Switzerland. And it turns out that this hardy little grape is turning into delicious red wine.

The Halfpenny Green wine estate is technically in Staffordshire. They grow around 3,000 vines, all of which are producing a brand-new variety of grape for Britain. Winemakers are hoping that this grape will completely transform the burgeoning wine industry in the UK.

And the star of the show is the divico grape. Imported all the way from Switzerland, this grape is different from most grown in the UK. It isn’t used to make sparkling wine. More than 70% of the UK’s wine industry is devoted to making sparkling wine. But the divico grape is making full-bodied, rich reds.

 

Achieving the previously impossible

A good red wine from the UK was previously thought pretty much impossible to achieve. And for the estate’s founder, Martin Vickers, it was a calculated gamble based on nearly four decades of vineyard experience. He told the Guardian that they “put in a great deal of thought” before installing the country’s first divico vineyard.

Having first learned about the grape during a wine symposium in 2016, which was dedicated to wines from cool climates, he was impressed enough to bring it to the UK. The vines were planted in 2018 and the first bottles of the brand-new red should go on sale in 2022. A consortium of UK based wine producers is backing trials of the grape, including Nyetimber, Chapel Down, Bolney Wine Estate and Gusbourne.

At the moment, red wine makes up a tiny 5% of the UK’s total wine production. However, the industry is keen to develop the divico grape and believe that there is huge commercial potential in red wine from the UK.

 

Hardy Swiss grape ideal for cooler climate wines

The divico grape is ideal for UK growers as it comes into flower in early June. This is generally late enough in the season to completely avoid any frosts. Temperatures in June in the UK are higher than ever before, and this creates the perfect conditions for pollination. All of this improves both the quality and the yield of the grape. It is also very resistant to the kinds of problems that adversely affect vineyards in the UK, such as powdery mildew.

There have been trials of other grapes in the UK to make red wines. And while some pinot noirs have done fairly well in taste tests, there are rarely dark and rich enough for the consumer. If any producer can produce a consistently good, deep, rich red wine in the UK there will be a market.

It will take about 18 months to see whether the divico gamble has paid off, but early results are positive. Early taste tests from a vineyard in Kent last year have produced a silky red, reminiscent of a decent burgundy. The grape could be used to make a variety of red wines.

 

Red wine contributing to growth of UK wine industry

We are seeing an increasingly buoyant and successful UK wine industry. There are currently more than 500 vineyards and around 160 wineries across Great Britain. England and Wales export their wines to 40 different countries. The area of land under vine has shot up 160% since 2009, and now covers more than 7,000 acres.

This acreage is currently sustaining a record number of vines. This year saw 3 million vines planted, which is almost double 2018’s number. Predictions estimate that the UK could produce more than 40 million bottles of wine by 2040. And grapes like the divico could further open the market in the cooler north of the country.