The Secret's In The Sugar: Lower-Alcohol Wines Are Taking Off : The Salt This summer is bringing a bumper crop of lighter, more subtle wines like Vinho Verde, Riesling and Txakoli. While lower in alcohol, these wines are also winning fans for their low cost.
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The Secret's In The Sugar: Lower-Alcohol Wines Are Taking Off

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The Secret's In The Sugar: Lower-Alcohol Wines Are Taking Off

The Secret's In The Sugar: Lower-Alcohol Wines Are Taking Off

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Now, when allied troops broke out from the Normandy beaches in 1944 and liberated Paris, there was no doubt that some celebrated with a bottle of wine or two. France is a nation of wine lovers. The United States has not always been so, but in recent years, more Americans sip a glass of wine with dinner. And wines with a lower alcohol content are catching a bigger share of the market. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: A few months back, before any of us were thinking about barbecues, I happen to be talking to Andrew Waterhouse. He's a professor at UC Davis, who studies wine chemistry. And he told me a story about how his wife had picked up an inexpensive bottle French red from Trader Joe's one night.

ANDREW WATERHOUSE: Cost six bucks. And she said, well, let's try it. We're having chili so we'll try this red wine.

AUBREY: His expectations were low, given the price, and he says, the first sip was a little underwhelming.

WATERHOUSE: So here's what happened. At the end of the evening, the bottle was empty.

AUBREY: Waterhouse says, the wine was not bold or fruity. It was much more subtle. And he says it kind of grew on them.

WATERHOUSE: It had acidity, so it complimented the food really well. And one of the effects I noticed was I wasn't feeling the alcohol, and I thought wow.

AUBREY: When he inspected the label he saw the wine had only 11 percent alcohol. That's significantly lower than typical California reds, which in recent years, pushed into the 14 percent range. And he says as his look into it further, these lower alcohol wines, especially white wines, are turning up everywhere.

DEVON BROGLIE: We're seeing more request for more balanced, lighter bodied, lower alcohol wine.

AUBREY: That's sommelier, Devon Broglie, of Whole Foods. He says, from sparkling Italian Proseccos to Rieslings and Moscatos, many of these lighter wines are trending. And lots of factors influence alcohol levels - the type of grapes used, the climate where they're grown, and winemakers have several techniques to manipulate alcohol levels. They can halt the conversion of sugar to alcohol in the bottle, and they can adjust how long the grapes stay on the vine.

BROGLIE: Lower alcohol is indicative of the grapes were picked at not over-ripe, but maybe just ripe.

AUBREY: He says, after years of winemakers, pushing the envelope to produce very ripe, sugary grapes that make bold, hit-you-over-the-head wines, the tide has turned.

BROGLIE: Now we're just seeing, I think, a natural trend, the other direction towards more subtlety in wines, which I see it gaining momentum.

ANTHONY RIKER: Good afternoon Tenleytown shoppers, I wanted to let you know about a great wine tasting that were starting back in our prepared foods area.

AUBREY: Take for instance, some of the top-selling wines being sampled at this Whole Foods in Washington, D.C.

RIKER: So the first wine we have is a Vino Verde, which come from Portugal.

AUBREY: As wine buy, Anthony Riker pours samples, he explains Vino Verde, which translates as green wine or young wine, is made from grapes that don't get very ripe.

RIKER: And it's just a nice, flashing white wine. It's got a little bit of an effervescence to it.

AUBREY: A few shoppers who've gathered around Ellen Seigel and Simone Andrew give the Vino Verde a try.

SIMONE ANDREW: I like this one a lot.

ELLEN SEIGEL: Oh, good. Very refreshing.

AUBREY: How would you describe it?

ANDREW: It's pretty good. It's got a little bit of bubble to it. It kind of reminds me of champagne.

AUBREY: And Stacey Graham tries it too.

STACEY GRAHAM: I thought that was refreshing. I think it would be good for backyard drinking, maybe with a barbecue.

AUBREY: She surprised when I point out to her that the wine's alcohol content is just nine percent. Typical Chardonnay hovers around 14 percent. Does that make it any more or less appealing to you that it has less alcohol?

GRAHAM: It makes it more appealing, I think.

AUBREY: Why is that?

GRAHAM: I think I wouldn't get tired after having two glasses. I could enjoy it without worrying that I won't be able to take care of my kids, if they're running around the backyard and I need to start doing stuff with them.

AUBREY: And another surprise, the price. Many of these Vino Verdes and other lower alcohol wines retail in the $8 to $10 range. One reason, winemakers spend less time ripening and fussing over the grapes. And many of these lines are meant to be drunk young. This also lowers costs.

GRAHAM: I think a lot of times when you have a cheaper wine, something the under $10, you know it's cheap. You know you can drink it and it's passable, but this more is enjoyable. I thought it was very good.

AUBREY: And more winemakers are betting that the mix of affordability and a lighter, more refreshing style is a winning combination. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.


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