New Orleans is not known for moderation, but low-alcohol drinks, including wine and beer, are becoming more popular at local stores, breweries and restaurants.
In recent years, Europe has seen a trend toward lower alcohol drinks for reasons including aging populations, stricter laws regulating drinking and driving and a health movement that became more of a passion than a fad.
Importing European bottlings helped spread interest in wines with lower alcohol by volume. On the West Coast, people interested in healthier lifestyles embraced lighter, refreshing wine styles, and the trend for lower alcohol drinks has crossed the country and beverage categories.
Beer producers and distillers in the U.S. are investing in nonalcoholic and lower-alcohol products, looking to reduce the alcohol but not the character of their beverages.
“Our best-seller is a light American lager called Paradise Park, an easy drinking light beer,” says Urban South Brewery Co-founder Kyle Huling. “It’s the No. 1 craft beer in our brewery with customers … (and) also our distributor’s top craft beer.”
“Our challenge is to build a lighter-style beer that compromises nothing in taste nor structure,” he adds, recommending the beer be paired with food found at barbecues and crawfish boils.
Wine drinkers are showing greater appreciation of lower-alcohol options as well. At Trader Joe’s in Metairie, General Manager Nick Parnell likes lighter, lower-alcohol, well-structured wines.
“Lots of young, accessible Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese wines traditionally have naturally lower alcohol levels,” Parnell says. “I find them light, easy drinking, fuss–free and approachable.”
“The Espiral Vinho Verde is a perfect example, not a very sophisticated wine,” he says. The effervescent white wine has flavors of green apple and melon and an alcohol level of 9 percent, and Its $4.49 price tag hasn’t hurt its popularity.
Parnell also recommends Secco, an Italian frizzante, or sparkling wine, with 10 percent alcohol. It costs $5.59.
“It’s a proprietary blend with some pinot grigio — off-dry, easy-drinking and appears to appeal to everyone,” he says.
At Trader Joe’s, a French classic from the Loire Valley, La Chateau Muscadet Sur Lie, has an alcohol level of 12 percent.
“[It has] soft, showing lemony flavors, chalky with minerality, delicious acidity, tangy aftertaste and aromatics like seawater with a brininess,” he says.
Muscadet wines go well with shellfish and other seafood.
At Antoine’s, wine director Kevin O’Neill also noticed the growing popularity of lower-alcohol wines.
“My clientele at Antoine's mostly select European wines like Sancerre from France’s Loire Valley, French Burgundy, northern Italian wines, Austria’s Gruner Veltliners and German Rieslings in the Trocken (dry) style,” O’Neill says. “Most of our usual clients prefer lighter, lower-alcohol and more neutral wines when dining on seafood and vegetables.”
With meat dishes, many people prefer European Burgundies and Bordeaux wines instead of the often higher-alcohol cabernet sauvignons and blends from California.
“French Bordeaux wines are quite different than our California wines,” O’Neill says. Bordeaux wines have alcohol levels at 13.5 to 14 percent, while some California wines top 16 percent.
There also are lower-alcohol wines coming from California.
“A couple of notable wines are Fort Ross Seaview pinot noir from Sonoma Coast and Populis sauvignon blanc out of Mendocino Valley,” O’Neill says.
The interest in lower-alcohol wines is spreading in California.
“A lot of newer wineries along the Russian River are making ‘food-friendly’ wines,” O’Neill says. “Some call them neutral, lighter wines.”