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Are we ready for low-calorie wines?

The `light’ phenomenon that invaded the local alcohol beverage industry covering beer, brandy, rum to gin, is also expanding to the wine category. Light in this case loosely refers to lower alcohol, lower carbohydrate or both, in order to lower the calorie count. Eva Pilipinas Inc., a newly established import company in the country is bringing in Bella Wines, a low alcohol premium wine range from New Zealand.

 Eva Pilipinas Inc.

 This new import company officially started business just this March 2013, and is headed by the very genial Vadim Mishin (a Kiwi citizen of Russian descent) and two Filipino business partners. The three partners are all alumni and former classmates at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The vision of the company is to bring the best New Zealand food & beverage products into the Philippines, and wines became a natural mix into their portfolio. It also helped that Vadim is a good friend of Rob Cameron, the owner and winemaker of Invivo Wines – one of the fastest rising New Zealand wine brands in the world. Invivo Wines, formed barely five years ago, has been making headlines by winning very prestigious international awards, especially for their Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, including Decanter World Wine Awards, Sydney International Wine Competition, Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition and the London Sommelier Wine Awards.

 Low alcohol, low calorie wines

Vadim Mishin of Eva Pilipinas Inc., exclusive distributor of Invivo Wines
In 2010, Invivo launched their low alcohol, low calorie Bella Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at less than 10 percent alcohol (exactly 9.5 percent). The Bella Sauvignon Blanc, because of its huge success, was quickly followed by the Bella Marlborough Rose, another 9.5 percent alcohol wine made from 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent Pinot Noir. Now, the Bella range is growing exponentially for Invivo and may have created a new exciting wine category, targeted at health and calorie conscious wine drinkers. Low alcohol wines are however nothing new. In fact one of the most popular varietals as of the late, the Moscato - whether this be the Piedmont Moscato d’Asti or the more omnipresent Australian Moscato versions, the wines still contain just around 7-10 percent alcohol, but the difference is that Moscato wines have tendencies of containing very high residual sugar, thus a sweet or semi-sweet wine. The calories of the residual sugar therefore make up for the less alcohol, and one ends up with the same calorie intake. Winemakers will tell you that high grape sugar (brix count) translates to higher alcohol wines, when fermented dry. Inversely then, if alcohol is low, then the wine will have more residual sugar, and expected to be sweeter. Given the new challenges of global warming (which has already transformed many dry wines to up to 16 percent alcohol level), how does viticulturists pick grapes early and at lower ripeness level, to produce drier style wines at low alcohol without suffering the tartness of unripe grapes?!

 The invivo way

 
The Invivo wines paired extremely well with Via Mare food
Rather than a green, sour and very unripe dry wine from early harvest, another method I guess winemakers can perform is to manipulate the wine from its regular alcohol strength. This means to harvest at regular ripeness level to make a typical 13 percent alcohol wine, and then dilute this wine with unfermented grape juice to lower alcohol potency to less than 10  percent. This will still make a real wine, and not a beverage wine nor wine spritzer, but taste may lack the punch and wine may turn out too grapey without much structure. Invivo however has their own special way of doing their low alcohol wines. According to their press materials, Invivo found a way to create very good low alcohol wines by choosing the right vineyards and also changing their work patterns in these vineyards. The Bella wines, both Sauvignon Blanc and Rose come from very select blocks within Marlborough that allows vines to achieve ripe flavors at relatively lower sugar levels, so harvest is still done weeks earlier than normal. The ripeness is also created by change in canopy management that allows more sunlight in the mornings, for ripening without sugar accumulation. Then, the actual grape picking is done at night when sugar levels are slightly lower. And to round this off, the company uses reverse-osmosis technology to further lower alcohol to its final desirable 9.5 percent strength.

Crunching calorie numbers

 A gram of alcohol is roughly seven calories, and a  percentage of alcohol is equivalent to roughly 8 grams per liter. So the total calories per bottle of 750ml of wine at average of 13.5 percent is 567 calories (8gms  x 75 percent x 7 calories x 13.5 alcohol). A regular glass of 125 ml., 1/6 of each bottle will therefore give you 94.5 calories (567/6). This one is just on alcohol content, then we add the relatively low residual sugar of say five grams per liter, with each gram roughly four calories, and once again converted into a 125ml. glass, the subsequent number will be 2.5 calories (5gms x 75 percent x 4 calories). Note that this looks small, but many of the sweeter wines like Moscato would have over 50 grams of residual sugar easily. Therefore, calories for low alcohol sweet wines may in fact be equal to high alcohol dry wines. The Invivo wines on the other hand, are immediately 30 percent lesser in calories because of its lower alcohol, and these are very good relatively dry wines. In fact, the Bella wines are one of the very few wines I know that contains a nutritional panel, containing a calorie count in their back label.

 Tasting notes

 I had a chance to taste the two low calorie wines from Invivo, plus their two award winning regular alcohol strength wines at the Via Mare Oyster Bar in Greenbelt 3, and below are my notes: Bella Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012  (9.5 percent alcohol) -  `gooseberry nose, longan, grapefruit, taste quite light and fresh, good citrus, easy and very quaffable wine; the nose still show very typical Marlborough aromas despite its lighter alcohol’ Bella Marlborough Rose 2012 (9.5 percent alcohol) - `made from 70 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 30 percent  Pinot Noir, fresh strawberries, floral, subtle elegance, tangy acid, light, refreshing and crisp finish; a real aperitif wine treat’ Invivo Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (12.5 percent alcohol) – `zesty lemon, capsicum, good herbal notes, excellent acid backbone, long and deliciously citrusy at the finish’ Invivo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2011 (14.5 percent alcohol) - `violets, fruit jam, cinnamon, complex nose, earthy and leafy, supple tannins with slight tartness, and a bitter-dry finish; may need more bottle aging to reach its potential’ With the imminent implementation of Republic Act 10586, or the Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act of 2013, the Bella low calorie wines may be a great wine to consider. The Bella wines in my tastings showed real Marlborough flavors in both Sauvignon Blanc and Rose, at 30 percent less alcohol, and the perk of lesser calories too. It is time we support this government in this new law, and drink responsibly, and maybe, drink lighter as well. For particulars on Invivo Wines, please call Eva Pilipinas Inc. at (02)843-1031, or check out their website at www.evapilipinas.com.ph.

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For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, please e-mail me at [email protected] I am a proud member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. You can also follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/sherwinlao.
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