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Delhi Wine Club
Insulting good wine by reducing its potency

Posted: Wednesday, 21 August 2013 16:13

Insulting good wine by reducing its potency

Aug 21: It would be better to drink less wine, or even water it down with ice, than to cut alcohol levels, says our Guest writer, Charles Metcalfe in response to our article in the previous issue which focussed on the British Health Secretary wanting to lower the legal limits to 4.5% at which the drink may be called wine, reasoning that wines with alcohol lowered to 4.5% don’t taste decent.

Do you consciously seek out wines with lower alcohol because you believe they will be less bad for you? Have you ever tried wines that have had their alcohol lowered during production by one of the processes permitted by the EU, such as reverse osmosis, or the curiously named “spinning cone”?

Believe me; few of them taste half-decent.

Not all wines are high in alcohol, though the trend has been upward in recent years. Some styles naturally have less, such as Portuguese Vinho Verde (typically 11 per cent), German Riesling Kabinett (7 to 8 per cent) and Italian Asti (7 to 9 per cent). Although 8.5 per cent is the minimum alcoholic strength allowed for wine in the EU, Mosel Riesling Kabinett and Asti are two permitted exceptions.

Earl Howe, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, wants to lower the legal limit, so that a drink that has had its alcohol cut to 4.5 per cent may still be called “wine”. And he has the health lobby solidly behind him. Prof Roger Williams, director of the Institute of Hepatology in London and consultant to the London Clinic, is strongly supportive. “Anything that would reduce the danger of alcohol to the British public is good,” he says. “There are 1.3 million alcohol-related admissions to hospital each year, and that has roughly doubled over the past 10 years.” In France, Germany and Italy, on the other hand, alcohol-related admissions are down – below the UK figures, in fact.

Prof Williams firmly believes that two glasses of wine a day is the safe limit for women, and three for men. “The drinks industry encourages alcohol consumption,” he says. “Seventy-five per cent of the industry’s profits come from heavy drinkers.” And he is scornful of the Government’s retreat from minimum unit-pricing of alcohol, which he says is down to lobbying from the drinks industry.

Prof Williams sees nothing wrong with sticking to those limits of two and three glasses a day. But whether he would enjoy a glass of artificially alcohol-reduced wine is another matter.

And that’s the point. Both Prof Williams and Dr Stuart Cairns, gastroenterologist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals, emphasise that it doesn’t matter what the drink is, it’s the alcohol content that counts. “Down-and-outs will drink the cheapest alcohol available,” says Dr Cairns. “Not many get liver disease from drinking champagne.”

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, suggests increasing the amount of alcohol that is permitted to be removed from wine. At present, it stands at 2 per cent. He believes producers should be allowed to take more alcohol out “to meet market demand”. Even if our EU partners agreed to this change of nomenclature (imagine a Frenchman’s reaction to the news that a Bordeaux red at 4.5 per cent could still be called “wine”), would anyone want to drink it? Better, surely, just to drink less wine.

Do we really want to live in a country that bans Barolo for having too much alcohol? That shuns Aussie Shiraz and proscribes port? We practically invented port, for goodness’ sake. These are wine styles, with many others, that have evolved over centuries, that contribute hugely to the gastronomic culture of the regions where they are made, and that give pleasure and relaxation to millions of people every day.

Anyone who wants to drink less alcohol is free to do so. What to have with meals? Well, water is a brilliant drink. What’s more, it doesn’t have to come out of an expensively designed bottle, or cost as much as a bottle of cheap wine. Here’s a tip: for a delicious non-alcoholic drink, fill up an empty screw-cap wine bottle with water from the tap (yes, your household tap) and leave it in the fridge for 24 hours. Or, if you prefer your water at room temperature, just leave it out of the fridge.

And leave wine alone. Don’t foist concoctions of spineless, denatured, alcohol-reduced “wines” on to us. We know what wine should taste like, and these drinks are nothing like the real thing.

In mainland Europe, children are first introduced to wine at family meals by mixing a little wine into plenty of water. Why shouldn’t adults do that, too? On a hot day, a lump or two of ice can cool your glass of wine, and bring down the alcohol at the same time.

A couple of years ago, I was at a conference in the South of France to debate the glories of wines made from the Grenache grape. There was a lively discussion as to how to get over the problem of the high alcohol in most Grenache-based wines (Château Neuf-du-Pape being a typical example). A wise old Frenchman contributed his answer to the debate. “It’s simple,” he said. “Changing the composition is unthinkable. You just pour less wine into your glass.”

Charles Metcalfe

The edited article was originally published in the Telegraph. Charles Metcalfe is a renowned wine critic, speaker, writer and a TV personality, who has spent 12 years as drinks co-presenter on ‘This Morning’. He has also presented food and drinks programmes and appeared on UK Food, Granada Breeze, Carlton Food Network and the Discovery Channel. ‘The Wine & Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal’, co-written with his wife, Kathryn McWhirter, won the 2008 Louis Roederer International Wine Book of the Year Award. He has also written books on matching wine with food. He is wine consultant to restaurants in London and India, and one of two wine consultants to the Corporation of London. He is co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge.

The article has been published with the permission of the author.

Tags: Charles Metcalfe, Spinning cone, Vinho Verde, Riesling Kabinett, Asti, Earl Howe, Prof. Roger Williams, Dr. Stuart Cairns, Miles Beale, Wine & Spirit Trade Association, The Wine & Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal


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