Whether it’s something to pop open when you get home from work on a warm summer night, or an incentive to sit outside and soak in some sun, every wine drinker should have a few options on hand for easy-drinking, summer sippers. Low-alcohol wines are crowd pleasers year-round, of course, but there’s something about hot summer days that make them especially appealing. Plus, these are the sorts of bottles that you don’t need to debate opening. You can simply uncork (or twist off) and enjoy.
What Is Low-Alcohol Wine?
Low-alcohol wines are typically under 11% alcohol-by-volume (ABV), according to the Wine and Spirits Education Trust. In comparison, a typical wine from California is closer to 13.5% to 14.5% ABV, explains Wine Enthusiast Senior Tasting Editor Jim Gordon.
How Are Low-Alcohol Wines Made?
There are many ways that winemakers can make a low-alcohol wine. The first option is to use natural methods, explains Gordon. “You harvest the grapes on the early side when they haven’t developed a whole lot of sugar, because it’s the sugar content of the grapes that turns directly into alcohol when it’s fermented by yeast,” he says. “If you harvest the grapes early, at 19% sugar, and then you ferment them, you might get 11% alcohol. If you wait until they taste really ripe, at least 23% to 25% sugar, then it’s going to be 13.5% to 14.5% or higher in alcohol.”
Alternatively, some areas of the world, like Germany, Austria and other Northern European countries, produce slightly sweet wines that have lower alcohol but maintain their fuller body, Gordon says. “The winemaker stops the fermentation when there is some residual sugar left, so it’s not converting all the sugar to alcohol. It’s going to be lower alcohol,” he explains.
Winemakers can also use other methods that aren’t considered “natural” to lower the alcohol content of wine. Some use spinning cone technology, a type of distillation that removes alcohol. Others use reverse osmosis, sometimes called membrane filtration, which filters wine through a semi-permeable membrane and removes some of the alcohol, Gordon says.
Best Low-Alcohol Wines
Best Red Low-Alcohol Wines
Schnaitmann 2020 Alte Reben Dry Trollinger (Württemberg)
Here’s a beautiful, vibrant red, with a bright, lively profile, thanks to its racy, blood orange acidity, whic supports flavors of red cherry, pomegranate and currant. Silky texture and mineral bring up the complexity, as this goes to a long finish. 92 Points — Aleks Zecevic$ Varies Wine Searcher
Itä 2022 Nouveau of Zinfandel Zinfandel (Walla Walla Valley (WA))
Zinfandel grapes from Les Collines Vineyard are given the carbonic maceration treatment to create this wondrous wine. It’s light-bodied, almost piquette-like, with zippy acidity, a chalky texture and aromas of cranberries, brick dust and muddled mint. Raspberry and basil flavors vibrate. Big time fun. 93 Points— Michael Alberty$30 Itä Winery
Osmote 2021 DeChaunac Dechaunac (Finger Lakes)
A hazy cherry juice hue, this hybrid variety, fermented on chardonnay skins from small batch, natural-leaning producer Ben Riccardi, is vibrantly aromatic, with succulent cran-raspberry fruit wound in white pepper spice and flower stalks. The silky palate is feather light, dominated by tart, fresh cranberry-like acidity, smudgy, skinsy tannins and red berry juiciness. Chill down and knock back any time of the year. 90 Points — Christina Pickard$ Varies Wine Searcher
Six Eighty Cellars 2020 Pinot Noir (Finger Lakes)
This takes its time opening but eventually offers rich, distinctive notes of damp soil, mushrooms, chocolate, plum pudding, raspberry tart and dried herbs. It’s light to medium bodied but still feels heavy, with an astringency to the tannins. Walks to its own beat but lacks the vibrancy possible in a climate as cool as the Finger Lakes. 88 Points— C.P.$42 Six Eighty Cellars
Best White Low-Alcohol Wines
Fess Parker 2021 Rodney’s Vineyard Riesling (Santa Barbara County)
The hallmark Riesling scent of petrol kicks off the nose on this bottling, which also shows orange pith and Granny Smith apple aromas. The palate dries the mouth out because it’s so dry and grippy, relenting just enough to let pear peel and chalk flavors shine. 92 Points— Matt Kettmann$13 Total Wine & More
Reinhold Haart 2011 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese Riesling (Mosel)
Impressive integration of elements marks this beautifully-aged Spätlese that shows subtle power and density. The mix of passion fruit, mango, white raspberry and star anise all mingle at the core, complementing each other as they unravel in layers. This just keeps coming at you. It shows impeccable balance, hence its impression is effortless. Ethereal finish doesn’t let you put the bottle down. Drink through 2035. 97 Points — A.Z.$ Varies Wine Searcher
Zilliken 2021 Saarburg Rausch Spätlese Riesling (Mosel)
The silky texture of this semisweet white adds to the overall experience, but orange blossom aroma and flavors of persimmon, clementine and sage are the main act. It is mouthwatering and long, with terrific balance between fruit and acidity. 93 Points— A.Z.$ Varies Wine Searcher
Osmote 2021 This is Pet Nat Cayuga White (Finger Lakes)
At under 10% abv, this raw, wild, hybrid-based Pet Nat makes for easy porch pounding. It smells like a winery crush pad combined with freshly baled hay, baker’s yeast, wild herbs and flowers still on their stalks, with preserved lemon and other citrus in the background. It’s dry and crisp with prickly, tangy acidity and gentle fizz. 91 Points— C.P.$ Varies Wine Searcher
Integrity 2019 Late Harvest Riesling (Santa Lucia Highlands)
Lemon, wax, petrol and herb aromas show on the nose of this dessert wine, which is very lightly colored in the glass. It’s viscous on the palate, with a brisk acidity that cuts through the wet stone and candied-apple flavors. 89 Points— M.K.$28 Integrity Wines
Fritz Haag 2021 Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Riesling (Mosel)
There is a seductive saffron note that introduces this Riesling and wraps around the juicy core, which sports nectarine and apple flavors, with floral hints for added charm. It has a good flow and impeccable balance, with an inviting finish. 91 Points— A.Z.$ Varies Wine Searcher
Dr. Loosen 2021 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling (Mosel)
There is a beautiful harmony in this white, between the well-defined flavors of apricot, cantaloupe, baked pear and allspice, and its prominent acidity that lends it a vivid structure. The texture is sleek and the finish is long, luscious and filled with marzipan paste. It is so delicious now, but with 5-10 years, this will be a real beauty. 93 Points— A.Z.$ Varies Wine Searcher
Are Low-Alcohol Wines Good?
This is based on personal preference. “Wines can taste really lean if they’re only 11% or less,” says Gordon. “The alcohol gives you the feeling of roundness and richness, and the riper flavors that come later in the season are from grapes that have more sugar.” He adds that lower-alcohol wines can come off a little acidic and tart.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not delicious. If you don’t mind a lighter bodied, acidic wine or a sweet wine—these are worth opening. “I personally enjoy the wines that are naturally lower in alcohol,” he says.
How Do You Choose a Low-Alcohol Wine?
The best way to determine if a wine is low alcohol is by looking at the abv listed on the bottle. Anything below 11% abv is considered low alcohol. Additionally, some regions produce styles of wine lower in alcohol, like Germany. Unfortunately, most bottles will not indicate what method they used to lower the alcohol in the wine.
Is Low-Alcohol Wine Better for You?
This is very dependent on the wine and what you’re looking for. Because alcohol itself contains calories, a lower-alcohol wine will tend to have fewer calories than a higher-alcohol wine. If it is a dry, low-alcohol wine, it may also contain less sugar than its higher-alcohol counterparts.
Why Trust Us?
All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.
Last Updated: August 17, 2023