Summer is well and truly underway in Ireland and it is the finest one I can remember. For many, the opportunity to go day drinking on these gorgeous weekends is grasped firmly with both hands as we flood to beaches, parks and garden barbeques.
Less appealing is that moment we pop open the 3rd bottle, a little light-headed, to realise its only 4:30 in the afternoon! By 6pm the last bottle of Shiraz, Chardonnay or even Rosé is starting to weigh on us in an all too tangible way.
But what can you do? Even the most conscientious producers can do little to negate the rising global temperatures that are leading to higher alcohol wines – at least, not without greatly sacrificing the quality or consistency of their product.
Fortunately, there exist wines that – due to geography, grape or winemaking – have naturally lower alcohol levels and are ideal for sipping on long summer evenings without having to dread the following morning’s hangover.
Some are a little out there, some have been right under your nose this whole time and some – in the particular case of Riesling – are of simply staggering quality. Allow me to introduce them to you…Most people’s go-to low alcohol sparkling wine – and often simply their go-to wine – is Prosecco. No shame in that and, in fact, some Prosecco is of truly excellent quality. However, I’m hoping to convince you to take a trip on the sweeter side and try one of my all-time favourites: Moscato d’Asti.
Moscato d’Asti is, like Prosecco, made to be drunk young and fresh. With a softer acidity, lower alcohol and elevated sweetness, it is less biting than your standard Prosecco allowing you to leave the Rennie at home. Muscat is one of the few grapes that actually tastes like grapes in wine, and nowhere is that more evident than here. “Grapey”, gently sweet and lightly effervescent with aromas of orange blossom, honeysuckle, white peach and happiness, this is one of two wines on this list that tastes like what a great summer feels like
Classic Producers – Ascheri, G.D. Vajra, La Spinetta
What to Pair – Moscato d’Asti’s sweetness has the wonderful ability to take the edge off middling spicy Asian cuisine. Its also excellent with charcuterie and cheese but its real forte is dessert. Try it chilled with an elegant fruity dessert incorporating lemon, orchard fruits or summer berries.
Where to Drink – A picnic in the park with friends, family and the wedding music from The Godfather playing in your head.The best Rieslings are some of the finest white wines on the planet and can often age in the bottle for generations, longer than the significantly more prestigious (and expensive) white Burgundies.
At its best Riesling is crisp, refreshing, elegant and complex all at the same time. Styles range from bone dry or lusciously sweet but for the lower alcohol examples try to find something in the off-dry to medium-dry category (often labelled Kabinett, Spätlese, halbtrocken or feinherb on German wines). These wines generally present between 7-11% abv with the lower end of the spectrum being sweeter.
In the prominent Mosel region of Germany Riesling displays aromas of citrus, peach, white flowers and often honey; it will taste steely and develop a distinctive and surprisingly pleasant petrol character as it ages. Alsatian Riesling tends to be even more floral and elegant, whilst the Australian’s produce a wine more fruit dominant, particularly limey in character (no pun intended Aussies).
Classic Producers – Trimbach (France: Alsace), Dr. Loosen (Germany: Mosel), Bründlmayer (Austria: Kamptal), Jeffery Grosset (Australia: Claire Valley)
What to Pair – Riesling’s high acidity, lack of oak and sweetness (where applicable) allow it to pair wonderfully with many dishes or even to serve as an aperitif by itself. Classic Riesling pairings include fatty poultry like goose and duck, spiced/cured meats like sausage and ham, dishes with a little chilli heat and many lighter desserts. Steer clear of anything too rich and dominant, and Riesling will thrive.
Where to Drink – Anywhere! Jancis Robinson MW quotes Riesling as her wine of choice whilst reading and writing as “it refreshes the palette and sharpens the brain”. What further endorsement do you need?Produced mainly along the banks of the River Po in the Modena province of Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy; Lambrusco genealogically stems from some of the oldest wines ever made and pre-dates even the Romans, on whose wine our modern Lambrusco is modelled.
Now, I know what you’re thinking; “a sparkling red? Good luck”! But hear me out – forget the tannin and the alcohol, and think for a moment of all that bursting red and black fruit, elegant floral notes filling the air and those refreshing bubbles lapping at the edge of the glass. Lambrusco presents us with subtle yet significant nuances across a range of quality wines to suit just about every palette.
Classic Producers – Cavicchioli, Villa di Corlo, Paltrinieri and Cleto Chiarli.
What to Pair – Emilia-Romagna is globally renowned for its food so why not pair the set? Try with some prosciutto di Parma ham, freshly baked Crescente bread and an olive oil/balsamic dip.
Where to Drink – Anywhere you want to surprise company with great food and a sparkling red on a summer’s day.Unfortunately, it can be pretty tricky to find a naturally low alcohol red wine that hasn’t been absolutely butchered somewhere along the way, especially on the Irish market.
Non-alcoholic (NA) wines have been tried before but to little success; enter Torres Natureo De-alcoholised wines from the ever-enigmatic Miguel Torres. Bodegas Torres produce 3 NA wines, a Syrah (red), a Muscat (white) and a Rosé. All are quite palatable and a wonderful option should you find yourself needing a break from the booze.
The Syrah presents good structure and aromas of ripe black fruits with a subtle hint of black pepper and sweet spice from the French oak. The lack of alcohol makes it very smooth, if lacking a little texture.
Producers – Torres and Tesco Own Brand (UK only for now)
What to Pair – Syrah generally pairs well with pasta, roasted red meats and gamey dishes.
For the Pro-Tip, try the NA Syrah with Indian food; the flavour profiles match wonderfully and you won’t have to worry about high alcohol clashing with the spicy heat of the dish.
Where to Drink – At home, with dinner and no worries about a headache at work the next day.My not-so-guilty pleasure, decadence made pink and the second wine on this list pictured next to “Summer” in the dictionary; Pink Moscato.
Referred to as “angel tears” by the folks at Innocent bystander and with aromas of strawberries, candyfloss and rose petals these wines are all fun and play. The sweetness on the palate is beautifully balanced by the freshness of the bubbles.
Classic Producers – Innocent Bystander.
What to Pair – Strawberries and cream or nothing at all, just chill and enjoy.
Where to Drink – Summer festivals, be they musical, sporting or even gardening. At 5.5% abv, you don’t need to watch the clock – take a sip, look around and appreciate life’s wonderful moments.
So there it is, a list of summer wines that included a single lonely Rosé – and a curious one at that – but the list doesn’t stop here! This is merely a foundation from which to go out and explore new and interesting wines that won’t leave you a thumping headache.
The Brachetto d’Acquis of Northern Italy, the Semillons of Australia’s Hunter Valley, the Alsatian Sylvaners and more are just waiting to be discovered. Better hurry though – Autumn is always just around the corner.
Rory Conniffe is a WSET Diploma student and Certified Sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Internationally experienced in fine dining, he currently lives and works in Belfast, plying his trade in Michelin starred restaurant; Deanes Eipic.
Having recently transitioned from business development and sales management back to hospitality, Rory is preparing to pursue higher level Sommelier certification and to expand his professional repertoire to include writing and teaching.