Appeal to the Masses with Lower-alcohol Wines

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Move over, big heavy wines—there’s demand for something different.

Today’s guests are increasingly requesting low-alcohol wines, and bars and restaurants are trying to keep up with their demands.

At The Imperial in Washington, D.C., the move to add more low-alcohol wines came rapidly after it opened last November.

“We opened with the intent of having low-ABV cocktails to go with the food, which is heavily seafood/shellfish, and it just so happened that low-ABV wines went better with the food; it was a natural evolution,” says wine director Morgan Kirchner.

These wines have proved so popular that she’s in the process of adding the ABV of each wine to the menu, which is listed in order of least intense to most intense.

While guests may not explicitly say they’re looking for lower-alcohol wines, they do mention it, Kirchner says. “We’re seeing a whole movement away from big Napa Valley Cabs. Guests don’t want to ruin their palate or the next day. But it’s also not wanting something that dominates the palate.”

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Lower-ABV wines tend to be seen more often with certain varietals like Gamay and Pinot Grigio, and from areas like the Basque region of Spain, Kirchner says. But she’s also seeing some come out of the Old Westminster Winery in Maryland, where the winemakers are using a style called piquette, which is not specifically wine, but made by adding water to the grape skins after they’ve been pressed. A Pet Nat Piquette from there is 6.5 percent ABV, she says. Kirchner also likes Txakoli from Spain’s Basque Country, which is 11.5 percent.

Old Westminster Winery Pet Nat Piquette at The Imperial in Washington, DC
Photo credit: The Imperial

At 701West in the Times Square EDITION, Ian Schrager’s new luxury hotel, in New York City, there are about 25 wines in the 10 percent to 11 percent ABV range, as well as an alcohol-free sparkling wine.

In general, customers are trying to take care of themselves better, says wine director Amy Racine. “I do still see a good amount of quantity consumption but having several glasses of a 10-percent wine feels a lot better the next day than the same quantity of a 15-percent wine.”

She’s a big fan of these wines because “you can get into some really exciting pairings that don’t work for higher-ABV wines. Anything raw made with really great product, such as fresh fish as a crudo with fresh citrus, is excellent with German whites. Some wines like Gavi di Gavi or other low-ABV Italian whites are great with a carpaccio with arugula and really fresh olive oil. It enhances that peppery spice that a higher-ABV wine would mask.”

Her lower-ABV wines come from certain parts of certain countries, especially coastal, cool regions like Minho in Portugal (Vinho Verde), Muscadet in France, and the Basque region of Spain. “Also, high, mountainous regions where it’s too cold to get enough sugar in the grape to ferment, like many places in Germany, and Alsace, France,” she adds.

Among her favorites are Leitz Eins Zwei Zero alcohol-free Riesling, “that’s fun to sip.” She also likes Domaine de la Pépière La Pepie Muscadet de Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie 2016 (11.5 percent ABV), which is “a great, mineral-driven and lean white wine from the Loire,” and Trapl 2015 Reserve St. Laurent from Austria, “a light, fruity, and slightly spicy red that’s great on its own or with some charcuterie.”

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Racine keeps her lower-ABV wines intermingled with other wines on the menu rather than drawing attention to them. “The reason being we want a guest to be able to feel as though they are still selecting a great wine that we would categorize as just as high quality as the other wines listed.”

As for who’s drinking them, she says it’s just about everyone. Where she really sees a difference is at dinner, “when more guests are drinking a higher quantity of low ABV beverages.”

Ready for more? David Foss, managing partner at LaLou and integral member of the Invictus Hospitality team, and Adam Teeter, CEO of VinePair, will teach you how to create a moneymaking wine program free of intimidation during their Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 session “How to Create an Approachable & Profitable Wine Program Using Data & Professional Insights.” Jacob Hall, president of Craft Beverage Consultants is addressing shifts in guest drinking habits and expectations in his session “The New Normal in Drinking.” Make sure you register today!


The Imperial website

701West website

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