Lower-alcohol wines can be divine

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      My wife just returned from visiting her family in Perth, Western Australia. Although I was disappointed to miss out on the trip due to work commitments, I was able to vicariously enjoy hers via Face Time conversations, Facebook posts, and Instagram, where she documented many of her eating and drinking adventures.

      Upon her return, I asked about the wine scene there, what the buzz is these days. Much of it reflected what’s happening here and many other places around the globe. Pink wine is big, and the natural-wine scene continues to flourish, contrary to naysayers and natural-wine haters who seem to constantly claim the category is flaming out fast.

      The sparkling-wine category, as it is here, is still going strong, with Prosecco continuing to lead the way for those who end up following other fizzy paths, like Cava, Champagne, or homegrown fare.

      The one category she mentioned as big that I still don’t really see making a mark on home turf is the lower-alcohol side of wine. It’s far more common in Australia—and New Zealand, for that matter—to have a section in a wine store devoted to lower-alcohol wines. Rather than being manipulated in production to result in a single-digit percentage of booze in the bottle, these are often wines that can be made from grape varieties capable of being harvested earlier in the season (less sugar equalling less alcohol after fermentation) yet with enough concentration of flavour to be, well, yummy.

      There’s validity to the category, particularly in Australia, where laws concerning driving under the influence are notoriously strict. On the health-and-wellness front, these kinds of wine have less negative impact on us, and, of course, it can be pretty damn hot in Oz, so wines with less weight to them can be quite welcome.

      Although we have a kinship with our monarchical cousins, I wonder if this is a side of wine that can be embraced here too, even if many of the same benefits listed above ring true on Canadian soil as well. In our market, there’s a fairly common (false) perception that higher alcohol equals increased value, or the more of a bombastic fruit bomb a wine is, the better it is.

      In saying this, we’re starting to see wines along these lines here on our shores.

      I was at a Wines of New Zealand tasting recently, and spotted a table pouring the People’s Sessions Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (Marlborough, New Zealand; $15.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) along with a (delicious) pink edition of their wine that’s available in local private wine stores for a couple bucks more. As I approached the table and tasted, there were two things I noted.

      The first is that the majority of sommeliers and retailers in the room were ignoring the table (“A gimmick,” one colleague said under his breath while walking past), with the second being that the wine was tasty. At a mere nine percent alcohol (seriously, there are local craft beers that surpass that mark), the wine is indeed lower than what we’re used to, but the expected citrus, gooseberry, and herbal characteristics landed on the palate well. A little light on its feet, the wine totally delivers, and if poured in a lineup of regional brethren, it’s not like it’d be a wacky outlier.

      There are others along this vein here in town, but not many that wear their moderate nature on their respective sleeves. Rieslings, particularly from Germany, often fit the bill, but I’ve recently reacquainted with Yalumba “Christobel’s” Moscato 2016 (Barossa Valley, Australia; $13.99, $12.99 until June 1, B.C. Liquor Stores). A cheery, fizzy fruit salad in a glass (I’m talking the canned variety, in a good way), it’s just 8.5 percent alcohol. Not too sweet at all, and its lively acidity will have it singing through Cobb salads, Thai curries, cheese boards, and so much more.

      For those interested in a local take on the style, I just tried the Stag’s Hollow Muscat Frizzante 2018 (Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $22), and it’s just as solid as the 2017 vintage that found itself in regular rotation last summer for us. Pineapples, mangoes, limes, and apples are all juggled with jasmine and mint, surfing bubbly waves of flavour with a light smidge of lemon pith for texture. It scores 11.1 percent for alcohol but 100 percent for chugability.

      If you have a sailboat, this is totally a wine for sailing. In saying that, I’m not exactly at an “owning a boat” point in my life, so if you see me on a False Creek ferry swigging from a paper bag, just let me have my moment, ’kay?