Being called a professional cynic has never bothered me. So when I sat down to write a beginning-the-year wine article, I immediately was drawn to New Year’s resolutions that only a curmudgeon could put down.
Such a person could easily ask, “Why not resolve to improve your life on July 12, or Sept. 25?”
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day most people overindulge in one way or another and thus feel it best to start anew, with a period of reflection or abstinence.
Most often, our resolutions have to do with losing weight, and since wine has calories (120 to 140 calories in a typical five-ounce glass of dry table wine), reducing or eliminating consumption helps in any diet situation.
But there are other ways to attack the problem, and one of them is simply to moderate the way we drink.
One strategy is to simply add an ounce of water to each five-ounce glass of wine, increasing the volume and decreasing the overall calorie count.
This actually can be beneficial with wines of 14.5 percent alcohol or higher. It is a well-known phenomenon that higher-alcohol wines deliver less flavor of the grape because alcohol, all by itself, has no grape flavor.
Harold McGee, one of the nation’s top writers on food science, in an article in The New York Times a few years ago, suggested that a small amount of water added to intensely concentrated beverages (such as red wine and coffee) actually expands the aromas and flavors of such drinks.
And professional spirits tasters regularly add distilled water to the products they are evaluating because it helps to release important subtleties that might be masked by higher alcohols.
Reducing the alcohol in a wine can help improve the aroma, and occasionally the taste, if it doesn’t go too far. But the lower you go in alcohol, the more you risk dilution of the most important elements.
One lower alcohol wine that works well with food is the Portuguese Vinho Verde, which is typically less than 10 percent alcohol.
Another lower alcohol wine, many German rieslings, can be a fabulous taste treat, notably with Thai food, but calories are often not affected since many of these wines also have some residual sugar, which contain calories.
Most alcohol-free wines are rather lackluster in wine character. And even one of the best, the Fre alcohol by Trinchero, doesn’t have very much real wine character.
One good reason some people use for trying non-alcoholic wine is that they observe Dry January, a period of abstinence developed in 1990s in the United Kingdom, and which has become popular in some communities.
Reducing the alcohol in traditional table wines has become a goal for Geoff Johnston, wine maker for Pirramimma in McLaren Vale, Australia.
A line of wines called Pirra that he has developed for the winery, and which sells only to the Australian market, is reportedly excellent and has lower alcohol levels using a proprietary technology that was invented by Sonoma Count wine maker Clark Smith.
Although those wines are not available in the United States, Brancott Wines of New Zealand has introduced into this market a sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir under the name Flight Song. These wines are exceptionally good and have alcohol levels just over 7 percent
Moreover, prices are about $15.
Wine of the Week: NV Fre Brut, California ($8)—Of all the alcohol-reduced wines in the marketplace, this is my favorite. It has a clean, fresh aroma that carries a whiff of tropical fruit, and although the entry is sweeter than I prefer, the balance based on good acidity allows the product to work nicely both before dinner and with food. Wine lovers will easily see the lack of a mid palate, but for those who prefer to consume beverage that has no alcohol, this is a perfectly fine alternative.