Looking at trends is key to effective marketing. Being aware of wine trends is no exception.
Recently a few articles have appeared about low or lower alcohol wines as consumers consider their alcohol intake for all sorts of health and safety related reasons.
This trend leads me to consider the importance of the label on all bottles of wine, which must identify the alcohol percentage by volume of the wine, described as …%alc./vol. or sometimes …%vol.
Interestingly, most articles giving advice on wine don’t give the % alc./vol. of wine they write about. I too have neglected to do this in the past!!
The range of % alc./vol values in different wines is surprising.
I did a quick check on the wines in my “cellar” and purposefully selected wines with less than 14% alc./vol., which is quite a common figure for many red wines, in particular.
7 wines with lower alcoholic values
The 7 wines in the photo demonstrate an alcohol range from 10.5 % to 13.5% alc./vol The scale of difference is worth considering as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at 13.5% alc./vol. is 28% more alcoholic than the Riesling at 10.5% alc./vol.
The alcohol level in wines is not a static measure and will vary year by year as a factor of the terroir where the vines are grown: influenced by weather, sunlight, soil, latitude, altitude, vineyard management etc. Alcohol production in wine is a natural fermentation process of the interaction of yeasts on the sugar in the must (pressed grapes and often stalks) producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The greater the sugar the higher the alcohol.
In general terms what this can translate to, if choosing wines with a lower alcoholic value, is choosing wines from cooler climates.
White wines from Northern Europe will likely have less alcoholic content: consider a Riesling from Germany, a Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy or a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire, the Bordeaux area or British Columbia. Champagne is always a good choice for a lower alcoholic wine!
Red wines from Burgundy like a Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais are not only generally lower in alcohol but they are also a good flexible choice to pair with a number of dishes. Pinot Noir from British Columbia also fits the bill.
The list below itemizes the 7 wines in the photo and their alcoholic levels, for illustrative purposes only.
Toni Jost: Bacharacher Riesling, 2016 Kabinett Feinherb, MittelRhein, Germany
Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon
Lock and Worth Winery, 2019, Poplar Grove, Naramata, BC.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Reims, France
Beaujolais – Village 2016, Joseph Drouin, Beaune, Burgundy, France
Mission Hill Family Estate Reserve, 2020, Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Black Hills Estate Winery, 2017
Okanagan Valley, B.C.
Meyer Family Vineyards, Okanagan Valley 2018, Maclean Creek Rd Vineyard, Okanagan Falls, B.C.
I’m not advocating only drinking wines lower than 14%. Many of the beautiful Bordeaux wines that I wrote about in the last couple of blog posts as well as other wines I enjoy are in that range.
I am advocating carefully checking the bottle labels to be better informed about the wines we select.
Tasting the aromatic wines of Riesling and Gewürztraminer with spicy foods in the comfort of home has been a plan for some time. It’s a follow-up to my wine and food pairing comments in the April elizabethsvines.
The wine line up for the tasting and food and wine pairing
Selecting wine for a wine tasting and especially a wine and food pairing is an adventure! Somewhat constrained by availability of choice yet an enjoyable shopping expedition!
It’s fun in the BC Liquor Store checking out the choices and having sidebar conversations with other customers about our individual wine selections! People are curious about the idea of the food and wine tasting!
Two objectives are at the root of this food and wine pairing: to confirm the pairing of Chardonnay with a rich, creamy food choice and then to evaluate Rieslings and Gewurztraminers with spicy food. With the aromatic wines, I also want to consider different wine regions. The Rieslings and Gewürztraminers include wines from Alsace and Germany; I also include a British Columbia wine. For the Chardonnay, I include one from my current go-to local Chardonnay wine maker, Meyer Family Vineyards in B.C.
Here’s the list of wines to be tested and tasted in the order of tasting.
1. Chardonnay: Meyer Family Vineyards, Chardonnay Okanagan Valley 2017, McLean Creek Road Vineyard, Okanagan Falls, B.C. Canada. 13.5% alc./Vol $28.80
2.Riesling: Schloss Reinhartshausen, Riesling 2017, Rheingau, Germany. 11.5% alc./VOL $23.99
5. Gewürztraminer: Tinhorn Creek, Gewürztraminer 2018, Oliver,(Golden Mile sub region) B.C. Canada 13.5% alc./VOL $17.88
All the wines we tasted
In my April blog, I quote the famous American cook, Julia Child and her advice to be fearless, try new recipes and above all to have fun. I take this to heart in planning this whole food and wine pairing exercise. Her comments influence my menu selection too.
To accompany the Chardonnay tasting, I make one of my personal recipes of chicken breasts poached in white wine and chicken stock with sautéed shallots. The sauce is made by adding cream with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard to the reduced wine and chicken stock broth. I always slice the chicken breasts when cooked and serve on a heated platter with the sauce poured over the top of the chicken slices. This is a favourite dish, simple to make and always delicious.
The challenge is in choosing a chicken dish that would be spicy and also manageable to prepare and keep warm while the first chicken dish is being enjoyed with the Chardonnay.
After a nostalgic and interesting time reviewing various recipe books in my collection, I rediscover the SoBo Cookbook my husband bought me after a visit some time ago to the SoBo Restaurant in Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The SoBo Cookbook with the Thai Chicken and Peanut Sauce recipes
To my delight, I find a recipe that I feel is appropriate: Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce. The chicken thighs are marinated for 24 hours in a special sauce from the recipe and then the cooked dish is served with a Peanut Sauce also included in the recipe. This Peanut Sauce is amazing, lasts up to 2 weeks in the fridge and I continue to enjoy it with items like avocado long after the Thai Chicken is finished! This Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce dish seems to have to right amount of spiciness to taste with the aromatic wines without being “over the top”. I enjoy making the recipe and encourage checking out The SoBo Cookbook.
Delicious spicy peanut sauce
Something to cleanse the palate between the two chicken dishes seems like a good idea and a salad is selected as an entremets. As it turns out, the salad is eaten after the two chicken dishes rather than in between and is perfect – oh well! one has to go with the flow!
Here’s how the menu lines up:
Sliced, poached chicken breast with cream and white wine sauce. (Personal recipe).
Entremets: Arugula with Parmesan Reggiano Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette, which includes lemon juice, lemon zest, Dijon mustard, olive oil, mayonnaise, Parmesan Reggiano, salt and pepper.
Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce (The SOBO Cookbook – Recipes from the Tofino Restaurant at the end of the Canadian Road: Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison and photography by Jeremy Koreski, Random House 2014).
Vegetables for both dishes: small roasted potatoes with sea salt and fresh rosemary from the garden, steamed asparagus.
Raspberries and Blueberries with a dash of Grand Marnier and cream. Lindt Chocolate (90% and Sea Salt)
In terms of process, we taste all the wines first and then taste them again with the food.
The Chardonnay is in a class of its own as it is chosen for the creamy chicken dish. It is enjoyed for dryness, citrus, biscuity notes and really comes into its own and is very good with the chicken and cream sauce and demonstrates that this grape is well suited to rich and cream based dishes. The Alsace Gewürztraminer is also enjoyed with this chicken dish.
In the tasting of the four aromatics, the Rheingau Riesling is a stand out with its acidity, floral style and characteristic slightly petrol aroma. It is the most popular of the aromatics and is very well suited to the Thai Chicken and also with the Manchego cheese.
The Alsace Riesling is less defined than the Rheingau but good with the fine fruit characteristics of pears and apricot. It is also well suited to the Thai Chicken and the Manchego.
The Alsace Gewürztraminer is considered a versatile wine. The characteristic nose of lychees, violets, mango, slight curry, ginger is delightful. This is also enjoyed with the Thai Chicken and the Manchego cheese.
The B.C. Gewürztraminer from Tinhorn Creek is a bit of a puzzle to begin with as it took some time to open up to its full Gewürztraminer characteristics. Its honeyed, fruit forward spiciness made it a particularly good selection with the salad. We also wonder if we could taste a hint of sage brush, as this is a characteristic herb in the area. This suitability with the salad was quite a revelation as salads are typically difficult to pair with wine but there is enough sweetness in the vinaigrette that it worked.
All the aromatic whites were enjoyed with the fruit salad and chocolate.
In terms of a popular vote for the four aromatics, the German Riesling and the Alsace Gewürztraminer were the most popular and the others two were enjoyed also.
The geographic areas of the wine growing areas is interesting to note and the impact on the individual terroirs, that magical mix of climate, soil, drainage, sunshine, and aspect that makes such a profound difference to the expression of the grapes in difficult locations.
Alsace is in the N E corner of France, in a valley between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River, which is the boundary with Germany. Alsace was part of the German Empire for a period of time after the Franco Prussian War but returned to France at the end of the First World War in November 1918. The area is known primarily for Riesling and Gewürztraminer. The Vosges Mountains cast a rain shadow over the wine growing area which results in low rainfall and a continental climate. The soils range from sandstone in the foothills to clay rich limestone on the plains.
The Rheingau area of Germany is near Frankfurt. At 50’N it is at the northern edge of Europe’s wine belt. The climate is cool and continental and the soil type differs throughout the area so there is great diversity within the region. Over 80% of the grapes grown are Riesling.
Alsace wine growing area of France
Map of Germany showing Rheingau
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia is between the Columbia Mountains and the Cascade Mountains, which together protect the valley from both the maritime influence of the Pacific and the frozen Arctic winds. It has a continental climate and mainly sand and clay glacial soils which are well drained. It is a semi-arid area with some areas experiencing very high temperatures in the summer. The vineyards are typically on the hillside of the valley. There is great diversity of terroir, especially with respect to mesoclimates represented in 5 subregions: Black Sage/Osoyoos, Golden Mile, Kelowna, Naramata Bench, Okanagan Falls. This diversity of terroir results in a wide range of wine styles being produced.
The great diversity in wine growing environments highlights the skill and knowledge needed by wine makers to maximize the wine growing potential of their individual wine regions.
As a result of the tasting and wine and food pairing, I now feel that I will be more inclined to select either a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer in a restaurant if choosing a spicy meal and it confirms my inclination to choose a Chardonnay to balance a rich creamy sauce as in the example of the Chicken with White Wine Sauce selection.
The benefit of a wine and food tasting event, however small, is that it expands wine tasting horizons and encourages us to be curious and try different wines and foods. It’s also fun!.
Julia Child would be proud of us!
References: Alsace and German wine area maps from the WSET course material.