Is Yeast the Answer to Lower Alcohol Wines?

February 25th 2014

There was a time not so long ago when 15 percent alcohol was reserved for fortified wines. A Bordeaux red that reached the 15-percent mark was inconceivable, yet in 2010, La Mission Haut-Brion hit 15.1, with its white wine trailing just behind at 15 percent. And the Graves estate is not alone in breaching previously unexplored territory.

A warming climate, improved viticultural techniques, efficient fermentation yeasts, and consumer demand for riper styles are all factors in the rise of higher alcohol levels. But the times are a-changin’ as health-conscious consumers and lunchtime drinkers look for a lower-alcohol alternative to liver-bruising styles.

Researchers at the Australia Wine Research Institute (AWRI) point out that high-alcohol wines can not only leave your mouth burning; they can also compromise quality. While high alcohol might increase body and the perception of sweetness, “it can lead to a decrease in aroma and flavour intensity.” There’s also an economic concern: higher alcohol levels mean higher taxes.

As a result, wine producers have trying to make lower-alcohol wines by employing techniques in both the vineyard and winery. Picking early is one obvious way to reduce alcohol, but it is often at the expense of flavor ripeness. In the winery, technologies like spinning cone and reverse osmosis have been used as a method of alcohol removal, but many purists view this sort of intervention as the devil incarnate. Adding water to the tank in another option. While illegal in the European Union, it is not uncommon in warm New World countries – although getting anyone to admit to it is about as likely as Screaming Eagle throwing an open house…

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Posted in - Articles & Wine-Searcher on February 25th 2014 0 Comments

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