Per cent proof

One of the hard-learned lessons that eventually came with age is that maybe it’s not always such a good idea to drink too stonkingly heavy red wines, and so these days I’m always on the look-out for potable stuff that’s not too high in alcohol.

Yesterday, I rediscovered some wine labels that I’d put between the pages of Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion in the late 1980s. A lot were from US and Australian wines and I was very surprised to see how many of these were 12% proof or less (not least because my memories of New World wines from that time are of giant zinfandels and chardonnays).

Today, I went into the newly re-vamped wine section of our local Casino, where the wines are now arranged in sections such as medal winners (yes I too thought all French wines won a medal somewhere or other) - nothing below 13% and many higher still. So went to the next section; which was Biologique, where the average was 14%+. Next, Sud-ouest where most of the bottles were (not too surprisingly) 13%+. However, eventually at the back of a shelf; I found a 2014 Cahors that was a mere 12.5% and, at 2014 prices, very reasonably priced.

Then, went to our local organic micro-brewery to get some IPA and red ale for Dutch friends up in the Cantal, who we’re seeing tomorrow. As we left the brewery, the lady gave me a free bottle of their latest product, which she described as a ‘session beer’. At home I looked at the label and saw it was 4.5%, which is a tad stronger than session beers from the English micro-breweries I used to frequent.

I read lots about winemakers shifting to making lighter wines, but see little evidence of it in the shops.

A Master of Wine friend insists it’s because summers now tend to be longer and dryer. More sugar = more alcohol.

My more cynical brain attributes the trend to marketing departments who probably use a different algorithm: More alcohol = more money.

I prefer lower alcohol wines and frequently add a generous splash of water to today’s SuperStrength varieties. If I didn’t do that I probably wouldn’t manage to get through nearly so much…


Your MoW friend’s explanation is only a partial one. In recent decades many French winemakers have adopted New World wine making techniques, not only to make bland international wines, but also to improve the quality, whether it be through use of stainless steel and plastic corks in white wine production, or techniques like canopy management where the vines’ leaves are trained over the grapes to shade them from the sun, rather than the traditional French method of exposing the fruit to the sun. The former reduces the sugar content and keeps the alcohol level down.

In S Africa, which is the only New World wine country I know much about, they’re now making wine much further north than traditionally and yet the alcohol content is still often lower than in SW France.

My solution for day to day drinking is to buy a local vin de table

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Thanks, Mark - most instructive.

I still blame the marketing departments…

Try Burgundy, Beaujolais, Loire Valley, or wines made from Pinot Gris/Noir grape varieties.

Thanks, Beaujolais’s probably the region I knew best when I lived in the UK - it’s easy to understand and you can drink the best for comparatively little outlay, but you don’t see much of it down here (12). I also like the Loire wines, particularly cab franc based ones, but again not often seen and lastly, good pinot ain’t cheap!

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I don’t believe so. More alcohol = more tax. So have to sell for higher price, and potentially not increase profit.

One can make lower alcohol wine even from sun drenched grapes, but more complicated apparently. We have friends who are vigneron in NZ who go on about the required processes.

I can’t cope with high levels of alcohol, so Saumur, Bourgeuil and so on.

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Good point…

NZ’s vineyards aren’t ‘sun-drenched’ compared to those of Oz or SA, that’s why they make very good cool climate wines like Marlborough sauv blancs and pinots. NZ to Oz is similar to Washington and Oregon’s winemaking relationship to California. Similarly the best SA chardonnays (Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson) are made in the cool(ish) coastal region of Hermanus, which was not traditionally a winemaking area.

Our box of local rouge (Coteaux de Quercy) comes in at 14°. Par contre the rosé (Gaillac) is a mere 12.5°. Rouge for lunch, rosé for summer (but what summer?).

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Our Julienas and Moulin a Vent is 13%.