April 22, 2021, 5:35PM
Updated 5 hours ago
Dry January may be over, but that doesn’t mean the desire to consume less alcohol ‒ or become more mindful alcohol consumers ‒ has disappeared.
“Lower alcohol wines have a lot to offer,” says local sommelier Todd Jolly. “You can drink more of them, they are farmed intentionally (the winemaker has to be aware of when the grapes have reached ideal ripeness and harvest them right at that point), they are fun and refreshing.”
From wine styles that are historically lower in alcohol, to piquettes, local ciders and creative co-ferments, Sonoma County has several options for light and easy sippers that won’t do you in. Great for daytime picnics in warmer weather, here are some of the light, refreshing bottles that locals are buying this spring.
Within the world of natural wine, piquette is made by adding water to grape pomace (the seeds, skins and stems leftover after making wine). While piquette has been popular since the 18th century in France as a great shift drink for vineyard and cellar workers, due to its lower alcohol content and thrifty nature, it has only recently become popular here.
Local natural winemakers are also beginning to experiment with “co-ferments” or wines fermented with grapes or grape skins and other fruit (such as apples). Somewhere between a cider and a wine, these bottles tend to be lower in alcohol, around the 9 percent mark.
“I think of low-alcohol wines as a new category, not as a trend,” says Jolly, who buys all the wines sold at Sonoma’s Best wine shop. “They’re here to stay.” He considers any bottle under 13 percent ABV to be “low-alcohol” and a great choice for casual consumption.
“Wine is no longer just enjoyed at dinner parties; more people are drinking it in more places, times of day and scenarios,” he said.
When stocking his shelves, Jolly prioritizes small and family-owned operations that farm organically. His top picks right now for spring wines that clock in below 12.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) all see minimal intervention in the cellar; two are locally made, while one is a German riesling from a cult-favorite producer.
Rosé – Matthiasson (Napa)
This 2019 rosé is a blend of grenache, mourvèdre, counoise and syrah and comes in at 11.5 percent ABV. With citrus notes, bright flavors and a crisp palate, it’s the perfect match for spring flavors and daytime affairs.
Lune Juice Carbonic Zinfandel (Forestville)
The process of carbonic maceration results in a fruity, lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol, red wine that takes well to a slight chill. This bottle, which comes in at 12.5 percent ABV is made from 50-year-old, dry-farmed vines in Mendocino County. It’s zippy, spicy and fresh, making it “super crushable” and a great pairing with pizza.
“Barrel X” Riesling – Peter Lauer (Saar, Germany)
This bottle, at 10 percent ABV, is made from a regional blend of grapes and glimmers with bright stone fruit, lots of acidity and just a touch of sweetness.
Valley Bar + Bottle
One of the newest spots on the Sonoma Plaza, Valley, is a great place to score some unique low-alcohol bottles. In addition to natural, low-alcohol, German rieslings and a rosé, Valley stocks three ciders, two of which are made locally. Co-owner Lauren Feldman said that they are always getting new bottles in, including piquettes and co-ferments, and encourages people to stop by and ask what low-alcohol options they have at the moment.
Sidra – Ashanta (Glen Ellen)
This co-ferment, from a newly-established, Black/female-owned winery is a dry, sparkling wine-cider hybrid made with carignan, viognier and apples from Mendocino. Fruit forward, wild and dry, this bottle is only 9.3 percent ABV. Sidra is made in the petlient natural style, meaning it’s not yet disgorged and it’s extra fizzy, so chill it down very well and open it outside.
Mestizo – Bardos (Sebastopol)
This striking cider gives any bottle of sparkling wine a run for its money. At 8.5 percent ABV, it’s arguably the perfect amount of alcohol for light sipping. Totally dry with bitter apple, mineral notes, earthiness and salinity. A great alternative to champagne or sparkling rosé and a great thirst quencher to cap a hot, sunny day.
Schiller – Domaine de Beudon (Valais, Switzerland)
An older rosé that has aged elegantly, is low in alcohol and is perfectly balanced.
Jack’s Filling Station
Jack’s Filling Station is a surprise spot for local, often experimental, low-alcohol options. In the cold cases you’ll find a wide array of sophisticated ciders, canned wines, piquettes and co-ferments, as well as some natural wines that often come in under the 13 percent ABV mark.
MIHA Piquette – Marioni/Fresh Wines (Sonoma)
Made by Dan Marioni of Marioni Wines and Jack Sporer of Fresh Wines, MIHA is a piquette coming in at 9.3 percent ABV that is vinified at Magnolia Custom Crush on Eighth Street East with gewurztraminer pomace, water and lemon juice. Like the Ashanta Sidra, it’s really alive, so chill it extremely well and open outside.
California Wine Cooler – Wavy Wines (Los Angeles)
This piquette option, described as a wine cooler, is an ode to lower ABV drinks of the past, but don’t worry, their version is dry. The winemakers add water to the pinot gris and chardonnay solids and end up with a light pink, 9.7 percent ABV. Wavy Wines sources their grapes from Sonoma and vinifies their wine in L.A.
“Wine Like Beverage” – The Marigny (Willamette Valley, Oregon)
Made from grape pomace and water, this piquette is only 4.2 percent ABV.
This eclectic wine shop, which recently relocated from a bungalow on West Napa Street to a petite spot across the street, has a well-curated selection of hard-to-find wines, including a few under 13 percent ABV. Owner Darlene Rhodes picks for easy sipping as the weather heats up are all from overseas.
“Turbullent” Sparkling Rosé – Domaine Sérol (Loire Valley, France)
At just 9 percent ABV, this fun and fruity sparkling rosé of Gamay from the Loire is a wonderful low-alcohol sparkling choice.
HID1 Furmint – Hidden Treasures (Tokaji, Hungary)
This crisp and complex white comes in at 12.5 percent ABV. It is made from furmint, the white grape used to make Tokaji’s beloved sweet wine, but used here in a dry style.
Bico Amarelo – Esporão (Minho, Portugal)
A light and crowd-pleasing white wine style perfect for the warm weather is Vinho Verde. This bottle is a blend of Loureiro, Alvarinho and Avessograpes and it comes in at 11.5 percent ABV.