Slow Buzz Builds For Low-Alcohol Wines

We hear a lot about "balance" these days; finding work-life balance or balancing the budget. Now, a group of vintners are trying to find balance in wine. They are making pinot noirs with less alcohol content, which they believe brings out the best flavors. Host Liane Hansen talks with Jamie Kutch, owner of Kutch Wines, about the increasingly popular selections of reduced-alcohol wines.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

We hear a lot about balance these days - finding work-life balance or balancing the budget. And now, a group of vintners are trying to find balance in wine. They are making pinot noirs with less alcohol content, which they believe brings out the best flavors.

Jamie Kutch can tell us more about the push toward low alcohol wines. He's the owner of Kutch Wines and Vineyards, and he's in our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMIE KUTCH (Owner, Kutch Wines and Vineyards): Thanks so much for having me.

HANSEN: Explain the relationship between alcohol content and taste.

Mr. KUTCH: Sure. As alcohol goes up in wine, it brings out different characteristics in the wine. Pinot noir, being the most sensitive or delicate, I'd almost say finesse-driven grape of all the varieties, has a big, big meaning when that alcohol changes or elevates or decreases. So, you really want to have it at a lower alcohol level because it brings out more of that beauty and finesse.

HANSEN: Describe the difference then in flavor. Will the wine taste lighter?

Mr. KUTCH: Not necessarily. A real important part or aspect of making the wine is the pick date. So, when you pick grapes earlier they tend to have and retain an acidity and the sugar levels are lower in those grapes. And then when you produce the wine, lower sugar levels equals lower alcohol levels. If you pick riper, the grapes are hanging on the vine longer, what in turn happens is you have higher sugar levels. Higher sugar levels translate in the fermentation to higher alcohol levels.

HANSEN: Is it just the selection of the grapes and the time that you pick them or do you manipulate the production of the wine as well?

Mr. KUTCH: There is no manipulation that's done in the winery. It's more done through, for myself, in a natural way. When you take or add, you skew the balance. And imagine a EKG that really has a lot of waves in it. I want a perfectly flat line. Wine goes in the mouth, you swallow, you taste, you finish, and it's just smooth all the way across.

HANSEN: Does it have fewer calories and can I drink more of it without feeling the effects?

Mr. KUTCH: I don't the calorie aspect of it but for me at least, I really do enjoy opening a bottle with my wife for dinner and really feeling too tipsy or else, you know, falling asleep on the couch.

HANSEN: You said it's just a small group of you that have gotten together to do this. What are some good buys?

Mr. KUTCH: Good question. So, a good friend is involved in spearheading the campaign. His name is Raj Parr, and he makes a wine called Sandi(ph). He's a sommelier in San Francisco and he's making some fantastic wines. Out on the Sonoma Coast, there's Hirsh Cobb and Littorai. So, there's plenty to choose from. It just takes a little bit more work and trying to dig the surface to find them.

HANSEN: Jamie Kutch runs Kutch Wines and Vineyards in California. He spoke to us from our New York bureau. Cheers.

Mr. KUTCH: Salud.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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