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Sep 21

Spain grapples with high alcohol wines

Tag: Ländersigi.hiss @ 12:22

by Victor de la Serna  – If the burgeoning trend toward a return to lower-alcohol wine is confirmed by market behaviour over the next few years, Spain will be in trouble. Climate change on top of its dry, hot natural conditions has translated into an increasing number of wines above 14% and, quite often, 15% alcohol, and that is more and more frowned upon by some critics and at least part of the public.
One likely answer will be a growing recourse to the technical gimmicks, headed by the spinning cone, that are used worldwide to lower the alcohol content in wine. These are not yet as widespread in Spain as they are in California or Australia, but there’s no question that sheer necessity will foster their increased use.

Another answer is being explored aggressively by two leading Spanish wineries, which are banking on a much more radical answer: low-alcohol or even de-alcoholized wines. With the current crackdown on drunk driving in Spain, this has attracted a lot of attention domestically. Wine consumption has been in a free fall in Spain. But the ultimate success will depend on foreign markets‘ reactions.

One problem is that under European Union regulations such drinks may not be called ‚wine‘, and at least one prior attempt by a Spanish producer to introduce a de-alcoholized wine in the United Kingdom failed because British authorities turned it down.

Miguel Torres, the Catalan giant, always a pioneer in viticulture and winemaking, has made sure that its new Natureo be labeled as a „drink, derived from de-alcoholized wine“. Alcohol content is 0.5%. It’s white, made from muscat grapes to ensure some aromatics are retained, and is not unpleasant. However, it does not ‚feel‘ like a wine, but rather like grape juice without the sugar, if such a product can be imagined. The jury is out on market reaction.

Casa de la Ermita, one of the leading producers in the Jumilla DO, has taken a different tack: its Altos de la Ermita red is just partly de-alcoholized, to 6.5% alc. The problem is that this blend of Monastrell (mourvèdre), Tempranillo and Petit Verdot has been heavily advertised by its producers as „low-alcohol wine“, which – again – it is not under European rules. This, added to a rather inscrutable explanation on alleged viticultural methods to lower alcohol in the vineyard (by exploiting hydric stress to obtain fully ripe grapes with only 12º potential alcohol), raises doubts about this product.

But one thing is sure: with deepening concern in the Spanish wine world about the market, there will be more products along these lines appearing in this country.

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