Dr. Carien Coetzee
29 January 2021
Part 1: Importance and Overview
Low- and reduced-alcohol beverages have become increasingly popular and more acceptable among consumers from all over the world with different factors driving the change, the COVID19 pandemic and the local alcohol ban being a significant force for South African consumers in the past 12 months. Compared with standard wines, low-alcohol wines may have several social and health benefits and are often perceived as a way to reduce the negative health-related consequences caused by alcohol consumption and therefore suit the general trend towards living healthier lifestyles1,2. Forecasts assume a continuous growth for this segment3 and the South African wine industry must keep up with the demand.
Reducing the alcohol, but keeping the quality
Even though wines with reduced alcohol content are very much sought after by the consumer, the general perception is still that these wines are of inferior quality. Innovations in the production process of reduced-alcohol wine have resulted in a wine with highly acceptable sensory properties and a taste very similar to the standard wine4. The continuous technical improvements are needed to elevate the sector and tap into the growing trend while protecting the industry’s reputation.
Why use Sauvignon blanc?
The advantage of using Sauvignon blanc for the production of wine with reduced alcohol content is that the consumer knows and trusts the variety. Being South Africa’s best selling variety, Sauvignon blanc will likely be considered a safer option to purchase compared to another variety.
Popular Sauvignon blanc styles are also well suited for a low alcohol product as sensory factors such as sweetness, increased carbon dioxide content and sufficient acidity can all help to contribute to the body of the wine that might otherwise be lacking due to the reduced alcohol content. Being an aromatic variety, Sauvignon blanc also provides the potential for a flavourful low alcohol product with character and complexity.
No silver bullet
There are several strategies across the production chain for reducing the alcohol concentration in wine. The idea is to achieve balance without sacrificing flavour and to find the sweet spot in terms of the alcohol concentration and how it fits in with the rest of the wine’s components. Other than the post-fermentation strategies (where alcohol reduction can be obtained relatively quickly by using, for example, alcohol removal technology), there is no single “natural” winemaking process or practice to deliver a wine with significantly lower alcohol content.
Adjustments in the conventional winemaking processes can, however, bring about small reductions in final alcohol concentration and combining these strategies can eventually lead to an accumulated effect resulting in a wine with a much lower alcohol concentration compared to a wine prepared with the conventional winemaking strategies.
This blog series will summarise some of the latest international research developments in the production of quality wines with reduced alcohol content5–7.
The main strategies for producing wines with lower alcohol content includes:
1) Adjusting the conventional winemaking processes to obtain a product that is naturally lower in alcohol
- Viticultural practices
2) Adding water
- Currently not permitted in South Africa
- Please consult legal documentation – links below
3) Alcohol removal after fermentation
Please note that not all processes/products/technologies mentioned in this blog series are permitted for the production of wine in South Africa under the current Regulations (LIQUOR PRODUCTS ACT 60 of 1989) and the Wine of Origin Scheme. Please consult the relevant documentation for more information: http://www.sawis.co.za/winelaw/southafrica.php
Further requirements and guidelines for the production of low alcohol wine, de-alcoholised wine and alcohol free wine can be accessed here.
(1) Bucher, T.; Deroover, K.; Stockley, C. Low-Alcohol Wine: A Narrative Review on Consumer Perception and Behaviour. Beverages 2018, 4 (4), 82. https://doi.org/10.3390/beverages4040082.
(2) Saliba, A.; Ovington; Moran, C. Consumer Demand for Low-Alcohol Wine in an Australian Sample. International Journal of Wine Research 2013, 1. https://doi.org/10.2147/IJWR.S41448.
(3) Chrysochou, P. Drink to Get Drunk or Stay Healthy? Exploring Consumers’ Perceptions, Motives and Preferences for Light Beer. Food Quality and Preference 2014, 31, 156–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2013.08.006.
(4) Bucher, T.; Frey, E.; Wilczynska, M.; Deroover, K.; Dohle, S. Consumer Perception and Behaviour Related to Low-Alcohol Wine: Do People Overcompensate? Public Health Nutrition 2020, 23 (11), 1939–1947. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1368980019005238.
(5) Varela, C.; Dry, P. R.; Kutyna, D. R.; Francis, I. L.; Henschke, P. A.; Curtin, C. D.; Chambers, P. J. Strategies for Reducing Alcohol Concentration in Wine. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research 2015, 21, 670–679. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajgw.12187.
(6) Novello, V.; De Palma, L. Viticultural Strategy to Reduce Alcohol Levels in Wine. OENOVITI INTERNATIONAL Network 2013, Alcohol le.
(7) Schmidtke, L. M.; Blackman, J. W.; Agboola, S. O. Production Technologies for Reduced Alcoholic Wines. Journal of Food Science 2012, 77 (1). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02448.x.