The low down on low alcohol – Top summer drinks

The low down on low alcohol


What can you drink without breaking your New Year’s resolutions or the budget? Try this adventurous top 10

This story was first published in Living magazine in The Herald on Sunday on 28 December 2014.

How low can you go without sacrificing flavour when you lose alcohol content in drinks that are… ehem, alcoholic?
It’s a question that more New Zealanders have been asking themselves since 1 December when the new drink driving laws came into force, and also one that producers of alcoholic beverages might find a different answer to, if they stuck like glue to the Food Standards Codes.
The code defines low alcoholic beverages as drinks that contain 1.15% or less alcohol by volume.
This may come as a surprise but it means that all of those wines, beers and beverages out there labeled ‘low alcohol’ do not actually comply with their own labeling because the vast majority are significantly higher than 1.15% alcohol by volume (ABV).
But if the beverage in question does contain just 1.15% alcohol, it seems barely worth bothering with, if the consumer is looking for the warming, anaesthetizing and relaxing effects of alcohol. So, instead of being obsessed with low alcohol and calories (another minefield, which I won’t even start on, in this story), why not just enjoy the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption and great flavours?
If you want to enjoy alcohol and moderation, just pour less, consume less and be sure it’s decent quality. Or enjoy two or three glasses and do not attempt to drive, walk on the road or operate heavy machinery.
The weight of the glass in one hand and a savoury snack in the other are the ultimate ingredients for a real holiday; not a Clayton’s one.

Awesome spirity alternatives

Port and tonic

Calem Fine White Port $38 with tonic
If you’re a G and T fan, then this fortified white wine from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal will woo you every bit as much, without hitting the head quite so hard. This luscious medium-sweet white port cruises in at a cool, calm and sensationally tasty 19.5% alcohol and mixes beautifully in approximately half/half (equal) proportions with Schweppes tonic water and a twist of mandarin zest (rather than lemon, since this is a touch off-dry in style). Calem Port is new to New Zealand and the tawny port is not half bad either, served chilled.
From specialist stores or contact Co-Pilot Wines, email:

Summer cocktail

Sipsmith Summer Cup with soda, ice and fruit

If lemon zest, great gin and subtly aromatic tea spin your wheels, then here’s the ultimate summer drink; created by gin lovers as a new wave alternative to Pimm’s. Not that an alternative  Pimm’s is necessarily needed. Both taste delicious and are significantly lower in alcohol than most spirits; Sipsmith is 29% ABV.
To serve this, mix approximately 40% Sipsmith Summer Cup with 60% Schweppes Soda Water; add fresh mint, slices of fresh watermelon,  finely sliced strawberries and ice. Serve immediately.
And if you really want to push the boat out, then Sipsmith London Dry Gin was my clear winner at a blind tasting of 32 gins this year, although at 41.6% alcohol this gin cruises in at a slightly higher percentage than many standard spirits.

Sensational seafood vino

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino with seafood

This pale coloured Spanish wine is bone dry and tastes so intensely, refreshingly tangy that it is the ultimate seafood-friendly drink; it is a fortified wine, but only lightly. Like most dry sherry, this one is 15% alcohol, so a little goes a long way and it does need to be served chilled. I know, I know, sherry sounds like the tipple of maiden aunts, but it’s not. (Well, the sweet stuff might be, but this is dry.) Tio Pepe is the biggest sherry producer in the world and once you get the hang of this style, you’ll never put the green olives, salami and seafood away. Serve it chilled and eat something salty the first time you try it.
From Glengarry’s and most wine stores.

Italian stallions

Cocchi Americano Bianco Aperitivo $40 and Cocchi Rosa Aperitivo $40

This pair of delicious Italian mixers make outstanding substitutes to spirits since they contain just 16.5% alcohol and each have a distinctly different taste and style; the Bianco is made from the moscato grape (aka Muscat) while the Rosa is made from brachetto and malvasia (two Italian grapes) and is drier in style; similar to Aperol.
Serve in the same way as a spirit; about one third to one quarter with the balance being soda water, ice and a twist of orange peel or ruby grapefruit.

High spirits

The Ponsonby Colada
Here it is; the high alcohol drink of the story, which was devised by drinks sales representative, Jacqui Clark, who works for Tickety-Boo, which is the New Zealand agent for El Dorado.

Ingredients and method: Mix 30 mls of El Dorado Silver white rum on ice in a short glass with equal parts of coconut water and pineapple juice.

5 great light whites

The only thing low about these wines is their alcohol content. And the hangovers, which are (almost) non-existent after moderate consumption of these deliciously refreshing, widely available whites.

2013 Dr L Riesling $21-$22
8.5% ABV
This wine is light ‘n low in alcohol at 8.5% but it’s full and intense in flavour with deliciously zesty lime and green apple flavours practically leaping out of every glass; not to mention a lingering taste on the finish. Stunning, especially lightly chilled on a hot day.
From Caro’s Wines, St George’s Bay Road, Parnell, Auckland, phone (09) 377 9974.

2013 Kerpen Riesling $17-$18
9.5% ABV
If a 9.5% alcohol white appeals while when you’re sitting on the sand, camping by the river or holidaying at the bach, then check out this delicious German Riesling from an eight-generation family winery in Bernkasatel in the middle Mosel; Germany’s most famous wine region. This wine is medium-dry in taste. And what you lose in alcohol, you more than make up for in its refreshing, zingy and flavoursome (think green apples, lime zest and lemon juice) flavours.
From Pak n Save and New World supermarkets or contact Macvine, phone (09) 579 7451.

2013 Millton Te Arai Muskats @ Dawn Gisborne $25
9.5% ABV
This wine has the feel-good factor in spades, thanks to being lighter than usual in alcohol and body but biodynamically produced by organic wine pioneers James and Annie Millton, who just so happen to champion some of the world’s lesser known white grapes and wine styles, such as this super flavoursome, off-dry muscat, which tastes of fresh orange concentrate, mangos and white peaches.
From specialist stores or phone The Millton Vineyard, or phone (06) 862 8680 or online:

2014 Mt Difficulty Long Gully Chenin Blanc $26-$27
Winemaker Matt Dicey describes this succulent new wave Central Otago white as a work in progress, but it’s damned tasty for an experimental wine from a vineyard that is mostly devoted to reds. Chenin is high in acidity, which makes it the ultimate summer white.
10.9% ABV
From specialist stores or

2013 Amisfield Dry Riesling $25-$26
11% ABV
Central Otago’s great underrated white is Riesling and here is a sensational crisp, dry version that puts the ‘f’ in fresh and the ‘l’ in luscious. A winning combo.
From specialist wine stores or buy online: