Every now and then I get sent some wine. I never tire of this. Even if the wine is insipid, badly labeled, and I have to get my panga out of storage to hack through the multi-layered coating of bubble wrap I am happy. I love free shit. I don’t care that I will probably chuck it away soon after opening; it’s the pure and simple joy of opening something that you know you didn’t pay for but is yours. This feeling lasts but a fleeting moment, but oh, it is sweet.
What comes after is another story. Here is one right now.
I was very happy to find a robust looking box waiting for me at 2oceansvibe HQ the other day. Eagerly, smiling all the while like my 2-year-old self under the christmas tree I tore open the outer wrapping and found a rectangular blue box . I took the lid off.
“Bastardly breathed breaths of Bacchus, what is this?” I thought.
I could see no vintage. I could see no brand I recognized. But with my liver recoiling, my brain unbelieving, I read the words searing the back of my eyeballs:
“Low Alcohol Wine”
“What,” I gasped. “Who the hell would send me low alcohol wines?”
Feeling faint, and not having anything proper to drink on top of it, I scrambled to find the envelope that houses the predictable PR drivel. You know the stuff:
“Grapes licked clean by an idiot-savant, Proust reading cow.”
You know, the typical stuff.
But this was different. Someone had thought that I may want low alcoholic wines. This gumption alone has lead to this column, and me to rip open the envelope with my teeth.
Ahhh,” I sighed, “Distell you old bugger, I should have known.”
Inside the box were the three new low alcohol wines from Two Oceans, called Quay 5. (A short quay on which I would have told anybody suggesting me low alcohol wines to take a long walk on). I stared at the bottles. Unseeing, they stared back.
In today’s communication fixated society, the normal thing to do when confronted with something outside your normal experience is to broadcast it. So, I got out my phone and promptly tweeted:
“Oh god” [with an accompanying image].
But then I felt bad. I had pre-judged these wines horribly. They were cheap, I noted, and could possibly be delicious. Imagine someone who wants delicious cheap wine but doesn’t want to get drunk. In my personal universe this is as niche a market as you will find. But, as we don’t all live there I guess these people may exist.
So I got out a wine glass, opened all three bottles. And this is what I found.
All non-vintage, all sweet, all manipulated (beyond ‘simply’ lowering alcohol), all gross. But let’s start with the white blend.
(my notes are, with a little editing and plumping, what I wrote as I tasted. The technical analysis was received a week later)
Two Oceans Quay 5 White NV Alc: 5.5% - Residual Sugar: 32g/l - Total Acidity: 6.2g/l
They say: “Expertly blended for light, fruity and floral aromas and a great taste of fresh, lively tropical fruit with a spark of citrus.”
I say: Nice nose, floral, with some Chenin-like pear character. Wowser. What in the candy-flossing fuck? This wine is sweet. Sugar sweet. Sickly sweet. A word NOT MENTIONED IN THEIR TASTING NOTE! The added acidity doesn’t work, and my mouth feels like it has been raped by a white sparkle.
Two Oceans Quay 5 Rose NV Alc: 5.5% - RS: 34g/l - TA: 6.2g/l
They say: “Expertly blended for light, fruity and berry aromas and flavours of tangy, refreshing berries, Turkish Delight and candy floss.
I say: It has a very lurid colour; a cheap and whorish colour*. The nose is confected. Palate again very very sweet. Expected this now though. This one actually does taste like candy floss. I feel as sticky and dirty after tasting it as I do after shoving a stick-full of candy floss in my face. It is about as serious as a circus sideshow, and twice as scary.
Two Oceans Quay 5 Red NV Alc: 5.5% – RS: 40g/l – TA: 5.3g/l
They say: Expertly blended for lively, spicy berry aromas and tastes with traces of chocolate and spice. Plush and soft in the mouth.
I say: The nose is not unattractive, red fruits, touch of spice. Again very sweet. Sticky, sickly and bordering on the undrinkable. How can anyone drink this? Why would they? Why am I tasting this. Aaaarrrghhh [in my notes this is scribbled 4 cm high and trails off the page]
I spat all of these wines (not because I had to, come on they are 5% alcohol); they really are that distasteful to me. Not only do they represent the worst of the wine products out there – I feel that calling these drinks wines is bordering on illegal; but even as I faced these wines with an open mind, willing them to surprise me, I couldn’t even swallow them.
Low alcohol wines are occurring all over the world. According to a favourite wine writer of mine Jamie Goode
technology and consumer demand have come together to create the potential for an entirely new category of wine: reduced alcohol table wines that (in theory at least) should taste every bit as good as their full-strength peers.
Using various techniques such as reverse osmosis, spinning cone columns, or simply adding water, wine makers can reduce the alcohol levels in wines. When I asked what Two Oceans all I got as a reply was ”a globally recognised technology”. You can read Goode’s long piece on these wines here.
This does make sense. make good wines, get rid of the alcohol to appeal to those who enjoy wine, but want a low alcohol drink. What doesn’t make sense is to make really crappy sweet wines with low-alcohol. As far as I can tell the Two Oceans wines make a standard wine, ‘de-alcholize’ it, and then add grape concentrate as well as acid. This is what they must mean by “expert blending”.
What amazed me beyond how foul the wines tasted was the PR fluff that came with it.
For example these wines are for “young and young-at-heart urbanites . . . wine lovers with a desire to enjoy life responsibly.”
This makes sense if by ‘young-at-heart’ they mean ‘sweet toothed’, by ‘urbanites’ they mean ‘haters of all things natural’ and by ‘wine-lovers” they mean “those who have probably never tasted wine’.
Incredibly, one of the words used in the press release to describe the wines was ‘authentic’. If nothing else, Two Oceans should win a prize for the most incorrect use of the word authentic in history. This is worse than genuine imitation leather. The only authentic thing about these wines is their manipulation.
They also go on to say how Quay 5 “allows smart wine drinkers to confidently enjoy their favourite companion for longer – but without compromising on taste.” No Distell it does not. It is not simply a compromise, but a travesty, an insult, and a thumb in the eye of my companion, wine.
The Quay 5 wines are cynical. They are aimed at fat people who want to indulge in something sweet with the promise that it is ‘healthy’ or ‘responsible’; aimed at those who couldn’t give one flying festering fuck what they drink as long as it is sweet and about the right colour. They have nothing to do with making good, mediocre, or even just OK wine, and all to do with the bottom line. Sadly, it will in all likelihood be very good for Distell’s bottom line.
I think producing lower alcohol wines that can compare to other wines on the market is not a terrible idea. I don’t want to drink them, but the idea of them is fine. Not Quay 5; with these wines I have a problem. They are vile. Short, nasty, out of balance and sickly sweet. The worst part is that I can’t even say, “well at least you’ll get drunk” because you wont.
*on reflection I think this may be unfair to whores.
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