With Australians officially decreasing their alcohol intake in recent times, interest in finding a wine which strikes a balance between alcohol content and flavour is more in vogue than ever.

What is a low-alcohol wine exactly? They tend to sit around the nine per cent ABV (alcohol by volume) mark, which is substantially lower than your average vino – around 13 per cent ABV.

But with some clever science, some winemakers have been able to bring down the alcohol content even lower without skimping on the flavour, body and aroma of wines much higher in alcohol. And because alcohol comes from fermented sugars in wine, less alcohol also means less calories in the average glass.

Brett Fullerton is one of these winemakers. Head winemaker at State of Light, part of the Selaks group based in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Fullerton has been in the wine game long enough to recognise subtle shifts in drinkers’ tastes.

Growing up in New Zealand’s West Auckland, he worked in vineyards while still at school, before moving to Australia to study oenology (the science of wine and winemaking) at The University of Adelaide. He then returned home in 2005 to plant a vineyard and launch Selaks winery in Hawkes Bay.

The trend in low ABV wines
Fullerton says the demand for low alcohol wine is being driven by a shift in drinkers’ lifestyles. “It’s [coming from] people thinking about balance,” says Fullerton, “and [drinks] offering more utility than what’s just in the bottle. [They think] ‘I’m driving, I can only have one glass.’ People are more mindful of that at the moment – healthy options [but the] choice to still drink wine they love.”

How it’s made
Lower alcohol wines sitting around that 9% abv mark tend to be made in the traditional way of “harvesting fruit at lower sugar levels,” says Fullerton. But for his State of Light varieties, which see a rosé, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris come in at just seven per cent ABV, Fullerton uses distillation to bring the alcohol content down, whilst preserving the delicate flavours and aromas of the wines.

“It’s a low temperature vacuum distillation,” says Fullerton. “You put your wine through it and volatile aromas come off the wine to be captured. So essentially we capture the very light aromatic compounds and keep them to one side. Then we capture the alcohol from the wine and remove it. But [because] we’ve preserved all the aromatics from the wine, we can then put that back in. [This] way we can distill some of the alcohol out of the wine but retain all of the aromatic characters of it.”

How it tastes
Fullerton’s success with the method is evident in the bottle. State of Light’s sauvignon blanc is a classic example of the NZ Marlborough style, coming from a killer 2020 vintage – full of punchy tropical and herbaceous characters, a familiar bouquet produced by Marlborough’s cool, coastal climate. Fullerton says it’s a great match for light and fresh Asian dishes that can match its zesty nature.

Fullerton is also proud of his pinot gris, which he says can be compared to any other style of pinot gris, low abv or not. “It’s very similar to what you would see in any pinot gris of any alcohol content,” says Fullerton. “There’s a bit of Turkish delight in there, a bit of that rosewater-type aromatics, and some nice pear characters on the aromas. Pinot gris is as much about the palate and texture as the aroma.”

Rounding out the low abv trio is rosé. Made from merlot grapes from Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island, the rosé is dry, and full of plum, blackberry and strawberry notes. Ideal for salads and aromatic Asian dishes, it makes for a flavour option as full as its higher-alcohol cousins.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with State of Light.