Wines that are lower in alcohol are well-suited for a variety of situations, including as a perfect lunch time sipper or to help stay focused during a socially-distanced, intense board game night. White wines have less alcohol than reds, but even they frequently approach and surpass 13% alcohol by volume (abv). And, with our ever-warming climate, red wines tend to get boozier every year, sometimes going as high as 18% abv.
These 11 wines are low on alcohol, topping out at just 12% abv, yet still packed with flavor.
Millton 2017 Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc (Gisborne); $33, 97 points. Gorgeously textured, swinging between unctuousness and freshness, this is a soulful wine from New Zealand’s godfather of biodynamics, James Millton. Millton’s reputation for Chenin Blanc is equally mighty, and this honey-hued beauty lives up to it in every way. Highly aromatic, like a flower garden, it offers heady scents of jasmine, hyacinth and lavender combining with raw honeycomb, guava and pineapple rind. Wine Dogs Imports LLC. —Christina Pickard
Van Volxem 2016 Goldberg GG Riesling (Mosel); $40, 96 points. Ephemeral compared with grand cru expressions from the Mosel that are increasingly stout, this finely etched dry Riesling offers invigorating lemon and yellow-plum flavors layered in smoke, flint and dusty minerals. It’s lithe but silky, too, with a bracing steel edge. Tasted in 2020, it’s brilliantly fresh. Should continue to improve well through 2035 and hold further still. Vintus LLC. —Anna Lee C. Iijima
Anselmo Mendes 2019 Pássaros Colheita Alvarinho-Loureiro White (Vinho Verde); $14, 93 points. A blend of two of the major grapes of Vinho Verde has produced a ripe, full and impressively ageworthy wine. With its ripe apple and citrus fruits and its taut, mineral texture, it will mature well and will be best from 2021. Grape2Glass. Best Buy. —Roger Voss
Hermann J. Wiemer 2018 Magdalena Vineyard Riesling (Seneca Lake); $35, 93 points. Zesty aromas of waxy lemon peels, crushed stone and fennel bulb carry the refreshing nose. The palate is more ripe in nature, showing creamy apricot and red apple flavors, with well-integrated acidity propping it up. Zesty tangerine and lemon peels give a textured quality to the rounded orchard fruit, while a pulsing mineral tone pervades throughout. A gentle pithiness lingers on the close to dry it up. —Alexander Peartree
Mac Forbes 2016 Coldstream Pinot Noir (Yarra Valley); $55, 93 points. This cherry-hued Pinot from the relatively warm Coldstream subregion in the lower Yarra offers cherry aromas, too, backed by savory, earthy tones, touches of florals and some tar-like mineral notes. There’s just a touch of volatility, too, adding balsamic notes and a general lift to the wine. In the mouth, it’s light, juicy, savory and mineral, the silky texture and soft, granular tannins sliced by crystalline acidity. A stripped-back wine that avoids any semblance of funk. Hudson Wine Brokers. —C.P.
Brand & Family 2017 Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc (Paicines); $30, 93 points. There’s a regal sense of restraint in this bottling, starting with a light color and aromas of strawberry, white pepper, marjoram and baked soil. Crisp cranberry and raspberry flavors are layered with wild chaparral and desert herbs, a style that will work well with a wide variety of foods, from tacos to tenderloin. Editors’ Choice. —Matt Kettmann
Odonata 2019 Cote du Denis Circle B Vineyard Carbonic Carignan (Paso Robles); $28, 93 points. Winemaker Denis Hoey hops on the carbonic train with this elegantly labeled bottling, and it hits all the marks. Bright raspberry, hibiscus and rainy cement aromas lead into a zesty palate of plum, strawberry and more wet rock flavors. Editors’ Choice. —M.K.
Palmento Costanzo 2019 Mofete (Etna); $25, 92 points. Spring blossom, white stone fruit and Mediterranean scrub aromas form the delicate, enticing nose. On the racy palate, crisp acidity accompanies ripe pear, apple and lemon drop candy, while a briny note backs up the already energized finish. Artisanal Cellars. —Kerin O’Keefe
Sattlerhof 2019 Sauvignon Blanc (Südsteiermark); $25, 92 points. A touch of smoke and flint appears first on the subtle nose alongside a notion of nettle. The palate then offers glorious lemon, balm and nettle notes on its lithe, bright and ever so slightly spritzy body. This may be light, but it is also flavored and bone dry. Craft+Estate–Winebow. —Anne Krebiehl, MW
Clau de Nell 2017 Grolleau (Val de Loire); $62, 91 points. It is rare to find a red wine made from Grolleau, which is normally used for rosés. However, this rich, structured wine with funky aromas and dense tannins shows the grape’s aptitude for red. From biodynamically grown grapes, the wine is worth aging more. Drink from 2022. Wilson Daniels Ltd. —R.V.
Umathum 2018 St. Laurent (Burgenland); $20, 90 points. A funky, gamy note hovers on the nose, lending spice to the fresh cherry notes. The palate then sweeps in with juicy cherry freshness and an uncommon viviaciousness. Silky tannins accompany the merry dance of the fruit while the finish is fresh, juicy and dry. Winemonger. —A.K.