Recently, a growing number of U.S. winemakers has been ditching richness and emphasizing acidity to create wines that are light in body and, notably, that are lower in alcohol, with levels below 13.5% alcohol by volume (abv), rather than the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) definition of “low alcohol wines” at 11% abv and under.
With vines that climb up to the cooler heights of 6,000 feet, most wines produced by New Mexico’s Vivác Winery are inevitably lower in alcohol than, say, Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s valley floor.
The style appeals for a few reasons. For one, these pours are relatively easy to integrate into daily life.
“If the alcohol dominates, it kills the layered complexity of the wine,” says Michele Padberg, who co-owns the winery. She believes most of the state’s producers are pivoting toward restrained, lower alcohol wines.
And, within New Mexico as well as in the U.S. more broadly, she’s observed another trend rising: Drinkers have been as enthusiastic about wines with less alcohol as makers have been to create them.
“Many are purchasing that style of wine and honing their palates,” she says.
With a moderate climate, Long Island, New York’s North Fork is known for wines that typically fall at or below 13.5% abv. Here, Gabriella Macari, distribution, marketing and wine educator at Macari Vineyards, has noticed this general move toward mindful drinking.
“I think people are drinking less overall, but better and higher quality,” she says.
It was once common for the winery to field requests for the biggest, fullest reds, but that’s changing. Its elegant and light-bodied Pinot Meunier, for instance, has become an unexpected hit with its wine club.
Macari suspects this also signals drinkers are broadening their vinous horizons. “People are definitely aware that there’s more to wine than just an enormous, big, bold Cab,” she says.
Hristo Zisovski, beverage director for the Altamarea restaurant group, believes this shift in tastes ties into a larger desire for food-friendliness and longer lingering.
“Having a more balanced glass of wine with food is more palatable than having just that glass on its own,” he says.