The stars seemed to have aligned in my small part of the universe to afford me not only the opportunity of meeting Dr. John Forrest of Forrest Wines but to taste one of his low alcohol wines.
After reading a recent Drinks Business article about New Zealand investing significantly in the research of low alcohol, low calorie, “lifestyle” wines I was intrigued … not only am I not a fan of anything low calorie but I have serious doubts about the quality of low alcohol wines. Needless to say I was very interested to learn that Forrest Wines produced a couple of low alcohol wines and they were gracious enough, along with Kerry Wines in Quarry Bay, to invite me along for a tasting.
We tasted The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc at 9% abv alongside the Forrest Collection Sauvignon Blanc at 12.5%. The Doctor’s Sauvignon Blanc is the second of Forrest Wines low alcohol wines. The first, a riesling was so successful, in particular with female consumers that it led to exploring other potential candidates for a low alcohol version.
The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc is a blend of 90% lower alcohol wine with 10% higher alcohol wine, including in that 10% a very small amount of wine from other grapes. This highly aromatic wine showed leafy aromas of crushed tomato leaf and asparagus with fresh fruits such as lemon, white peach and a touch of gooseberry. On the palate flavours of green apple, passionfruit, grapefruit and white peach finished with mineral notes. The texture, weight and body of the wine belied the low alcohol and certainly made me think it would be a great food wine – what came to mind was a delicious seafood chowder I had recently. The acidity and freshness of this wine would contrast nicely with the richness of the chowder.
Dr. John Forrest, Kerry Wines, Quarry Bay
In speaking with John about his research into producing wines with lower alcohol levels it was apparent that his research had been ongoing for a number of years and, as you might expect with his current successes, John will be an integral member of the body heading up research for the New Zealand Winegrowers Association. After experimenting with using chemical dealcoholisation which produced wines of unsatisfactory quality, it was research at the Geisenheim Institute about managing alcohol levels for rieslings that provided the direction for Forrest Wines. The challenge in Germany was managing climate change and the rising sugar levels in grapes which in turn was leading to higher alcohol levels in the wines – something not desired for German rieslings.
The low alcohol is achieved by carefully managing the rate at which the grape ripens and therefore the rate at which the sugars in the grape develop – too much sugar for the yeasts to convert to alcohol and you have a high alcohol wine. To manage this Forrest Wines strips leaves from the vines early in the season, around growth stage 19, which slows the vines photosynthetic capacities, thus slowing the rate of sugar production in the grape. The final result is a grape that ripens fully while maintaining a lower sugar measurement of around 17-19 Brix . Another benefit of limiting the photosynthetic capability of the vine is that the berries are able to stay on the vine longer as the sugar accumulation rate is slower, this means continued exposure to sunlight and all the benefits that brings – colour development, ripening of the grape skin and of the aromatic qualities of the grape skin. If sugar accumulation was not able to be managed in this way the grapes would require harvesting much earlier, around early March rather than the current timing of mid-April, and that all important exposure to sunlight would be significantly reduced.
As I mentioned this is a highly aromatic Sauvignon Blanc achieved in part by the techniques mentioned above and in part by the selection of a yeast that will liberate more flavour precursors from the grapes and then finally in the blend – there is the tiniest amount of Gewürztraminer added for its aromatic qualities.
For comparison, we then tasted the Forrest Collection Sauvignon Blanc (12.5%). Different winemaking techniques have produced a wine that is more subtle in aromatics and slightly richer and fuller in the mouth, likely due to the 7-9 months the wine spent on lees. Aromas and flavours of guava, ripe white peach, cooked gooseberries and jasmine made this my favourite of the two wines. The aromatic complexity continued to unfold on the palate in an array of subtle fruit flavours through to a lingering mineral finish. That said, I certainly was impressed by the quality of The Doctors’ Sauvignon Blanc – the mouthfeel and texture of this wine suggested more than a mere 9% abv.
Having previously come across the Forrest Collection Pinot Noir from Waitaki, North Otago, it was particularly enjoyable to taste these two wines and to discover that The Doctors’ series is for those “small, experimental and unusual” grape varietals – my favourite kind! On that note I was curious to hear the next instalment in the The Doctors’ series is a low alcohol dry rosé – a delicious sounding pink wine made from the St Laurent grape. Not yet available but possibly within the year, I know I will certainly be looking out for it – hopefully in time for Hong Kong’s hot and humid summer and if you are in New Zealand you are in for a treat, you lucky people!
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Robinson, J. (Ed.) (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
1. Brix: scale of measuring total dissolved compounds in grape juice, and therefore its approximate concentration of grape sugars. It is used in the United States and, like other scales used elsewhere (see baumé and oechsle), it can be measured with either a refractometer or hydrometer. Degrees Brix indicate the percentage of solutes (of which about 90 per cent are sugars in ripe grapes) by weight in the liquid, at a temperature specified for the instrument used. One degree Brix corresponds approximately to 10 g/l sugar. Robinson, J. (Ed.) (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine. New York: Oxford University Press Inc.