Food & Drink

American Thirst For Low Alcohol Wine Continues

As the American appetite for wellness and health-oriented food and drink continues, the wine industry is doing all it can to satisfy this desire. Wine shop and grocery store shelves have had to make space for new wine brands or new versions of familiar wines that offer lower alcohol, fewer calories, and less carbohydrates. The first half of 2021 has seen the introduction of quite a few brands making these claims or marketing themselves as vegan, organic, or lacking in additives. According to Nielsen, the “Better For You” wine category increased almost 100% in 2020 versus the previous year, and the trend shows no signs of abating.

Wine lovers give a variety of reasons for looking to swap full calorie and higher ABV (percent of alcohol by volume) wines for lighter options. One of the most cited rationales is the increase in drinking at home over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Other reasons include a shift towards an overall healthy lifestyle and the search for easier-drinking alternatives during the summer months. Moderation is a keyword that often pops up in conversations about lifestyle alteration and drinking, and younger people who enjoy nonalcoholic drinks or partake in intermittent sobriety also seek out lower ABV beverages when they are imbibing.

One of the largest hurdles that the wine industry has had to overcome in its entry into the category is price, as many of these items are more expensive than their traditional counterparts. A second challenge is flavor, because the processes that remove alcohol can also remove the components in wine that make it taste good. 

Of the many wines in this new category that we have tried, one brand that appears to have surmounted both impediments is Yellow Tail, with its new Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT line. We reached out to Casella Family Brands (Yellow Tail’s parent company) Senior Winemaker David Joeky, who told us that he and his team set out to create a line of wines that would offer consumers lower alcohol and calories as compared to one of their own wine brands, with the primary goal of retaining the flavor and quality of the original. While the previous threshold in the category was around $10 a bottle with prices rising from there, this is the first lower calorie, lower alcohol wine offered in the US market at less than seven dollars a bottle. It is available in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay, and has 85 calories or less in a five fluid ounce glass.

Joeky also told us that Yellow Tail put several years into research and trial and error winemaking to create a process that would accentuate flavor while reducing calories and alcohol. Regarding Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT, Casella Family Brands Managing Director John Casella stated, “Until now, lower calorie wines have been seen as light on flavor. That was a trade-off we weren’t willing to make. We took the opposite approach, ensuring great taste and then working our way backward to deliver on making it lighter.” 

 In an effort to determine whether Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT lives up to its objective, we “blind tasted” pours of the three Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT varieties alongside glasses of the traditional Yellow Tail wines. In all three cases we found the Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT wines to be as tasty as their traditional brand counterparts, if not more so. We could not completely agree on our favorite; one of us preferred the Pinot Grigio while the other liked the Sauvignon Blanc best. Our tasting notes are as follows:

Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Chardonnay 2020:This wine is bright on the palate, with crisp flavors of citrus and pineapple and a clean, bright finish.

Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Sauvignon Blanc 2020:This wine has a soft, fruity bouquet with just a touch of fresh cut grass. Flavors of passion fruit and pineapple wind down towards a crisp citrus finish.

Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Pinot Grigio 2020: This wine has flavors of guava, kiwi, and almond blossom. It is bright in the mouth from first sip through the lingering citrus finish.   

Speaking about his new wine’s flavor profile, Joeky echoed John Casella’s thoughts, telling us, “Wine drinkers often have the perception that wines which are lower in alcohol and calories are watery, sweet, or lack in flavor. At Yellow Tail our goal was to create a range of lighter wines which did not compromise on taste or quality and stayed true to the flavor of the variety. We are extremely proud of the range we have released to the market and are confident that our consumers will not be disappointed.”

As winemakers often say, “All wine begins in the vineyard,” and this wine is no exception. As Joeky explains, “Everything begins with the grapes, which we specially cultivate and pick at exactly the right time to maximize brightness and acidity. Australia’s warm climate is perfect for Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT grapes. We then carefully prune the vines to maximize leaf protection from the hot summer sun. This protects the grapes and slows development, while promoting fruit flavor and intensity. We harvest early, while grapes have a lower natural sugar content which naturally lowers the amount of alcohol in the finished wine. We do it at night, helping keep grapes cool and crisp, which maximizes aroma and flavor.”

While many of the newer wines on the market make unsupported health claims and bash existing wine brands as being unhealthy, Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT has not engaged in this negative marketing, instead focusing on its own positive characteristics. With that in mind, Joeky added, “Yellow Tail’s mission has always been to make delicious wines that everyone can enjoy. Increasingly, many of us want to achieve better balance in life. We are busy, juggling so much. At the end of the day, we want to unwind with a light, refreshing glass or two of wine. Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT was made for these moments, full of flavor but with twenty-five percent less calories and alcohol compared to our core range of wines.”  

Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Sauvignon Blanc offers 80 calories and 8.5% ABV per five-ounce glass, while Yellow Tail “core” Sauvignon Blanc has 107 calories and 11% ABV for the same volume. Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Pinot Grigio contains 80 calories and 8.5% ABV per five ounces, as opposed to 107 calories and 11.5% ABV for core Yellow Tail of the same variety. Finally, a five-ounce pour of Yellow Tail PURE BRIGHT Chardonnay has 85 calories and 9.6 ABV; core Yellow Tail Chardonnay of the same volume provides 120 calories and 13% ABV.   

Explaining how this is possible, Joeky added, “We run the grapes through a cooler fermentation process using special yeast to maximize flavor at lower alcohol levels. Our expert wine making team blends the wines to deliver overall balance and great taste. A key aspect of this is gentle reverse osmosis, which is a specific type of filtration. It is a way to protect and concentrate all the flavors and aromas in the wine. While I can’t get into how exactly we do it, we do utilize specific filtration and other similar techniques incorporated with blending to deliver a wine that we believe that has no compromise on quality or flavor, and the added benefit of reduced calories.”

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