Even if you’re not doing Dry January, this month presents a good opportunity to cut back on booze, both by drinking less (obviously) and by choosing bottles with lower alcohol levels than usual.
For wine drinkers, this is apt for pairings if you’re also eating fresh and healthy food. The light whites are your go-to drinks if you’re matching salads, fish and simple vegetarian/vegan dishes.
By “light” I mean relatively so – I’m currently drinking unoaked whites at 12% or under, having got a little tired of big, barrel-aged styles over Christmas. So with a January budget firmly in mind, where are the best regions for sourcing this type of wine?
Cooler climates usually produce lighter whites, so start in France’s Loire valley. Muscadet is one of my favourite refreshing whites, and quality is much better overall than it was a decade ago.
Try the Château l’Oiselinière de la Ramée Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine 2018 (12%, The Wine Society, £8.50) for a juicy example from a warm year that’s delicious with mussels. Crisper, with a racy lemon streak, is the super-fresh Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (11.5%, Marks & Spencer, £7, but on offer at £6 from Jan 26-March 1 if you can wait until then).
Italian pinot grigio also springs to mind, but you might understandably stifle a yawn when it comes to the blander versions. I do like Asda’s Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2019 (12%, £6.50), which comes from the cool north-east region of Trentino (often a good sign on a PG label) and has an attractive apple and pear flavour. And for something a bit different, I’ve found an appealing blend of pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc from Slovenia (see below).
Talking of different, two more unusual light whites I can recommend are Elbling 2019, Mosel, Germany – a zesty, grapefruity wine made from the eponymous ancient grape variety (12%, Waitrose, £6.99), and Perle Evocation 2019, from Gaillac. Gaillac is in the hot south of France, but here a blend of three local grapes has delivered a spritzy, slightly tart white with notes of grapefruit, hazelnut and apple blossom (12%, Majestic, £8.99 or £7.99 as part of a mixed six).
Back to a cooler, damper area and northern Portugal’s vinho verde region near the Atlantic coast, which often delivers snappily fresh whites with low alcohol levels. Calafia Vinho Verde 2019, Portugal (9%, Asda, £5.25) is an easy-going featherweight white, and I’ve highlighted another Portuguese pick below.
And finally to Australia, which might sound like the last place to head for this style of white. However, the Clare Valley in South Australia turns out some nicely balanced, restrained dry rieslings, and happily there’s one each, both well-priced, at Lidl and Aldi. Lidl Clare Valley Riesling 2019, Australia (11.5%, £6.99) is distinctly dry with citrus and a floral note, and Aldi’s is below.