Expert toasts 'a wine which isn't going to knock them flat'

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2014
Jim Harre wine
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ
WHOSE NOSE KNOWS? New World Wine Awards chairman of judges Jim Harre says there has been a surge in entries in the low-alcohol category. 

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Low-alcohol wines are moving away from the flavourless, thin drops of the past to a new hi-tech era of varieties that hold their body and weight, a leading wine judge says.

Jim Harre, a former air steward and veteran wine expert, is the chairman of judges at the Westpac Stadium-hosted New World Wine Awards, and said he noticed low-alcohol wines really coming of age at last year's awards.

Sophisticated new high-speed spinning and vacuum pressure techniques allow winemakers to produce low-alcohol wines in the 6 per cent to 8 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) range that retain their flavour, weight and body.

The trend to quality low and reduced alcohol wines was largely consumer-led. "People want to have a glass of wine in the afternoon which isn't going to knock them flat on their face afterwards," Harre said.

The awards are the only ones to feature a low-alcohol category and there have been nearly double the number of entries in this division compared to last year.

However, Harre said it was not yet clear whether the low-alcohol trend would become established in the sauvignon blanc and pinot noir-dominated New Zealand wine industry.

Low-ABV wine also faced stiff competition from natural and organic wines, which were beginning to gain a good chunk of the market, he said.

Wines entered in the awards must sell for $25 or less, and there must be at least 6000 bottles available for sale.

It was an exciting time for pinot noir, Harre said. "Five years ago a good quality pinot noir under $30 was as rare as hen's teeth - now we're seeing really good quality pinot noir coming in under the $25 mark."

Dropping prices while retaining quality was a sign the industry was maturing and becoming more efficient.

This year the awards attracted a record 186 new vintage 2014 wines, compared to 128 last year. Judging ends today and winners will be announced in late September.

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- The Dominion Post

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