Although the current fashion is for rich, oaky wines with alcohol levels that can often climb to 14 percent, light, low-alcohol whites are still being made in Europe and other parts of the world. Whether intense and complex or simple and accessible, these lower-alcohol alternatives are some of the most food-friendly and refreshing drinks of the season.
Finding Light Whites
Germany is, without question, the most important producer of lower-alcohol wines, but Italy, Switzerland and France supply their share as well. Other sources include Greece and Portugal (whose Vinho Verdes can be as little as 8.5 percent alcohol) and even unexpected places such as Napa.
The Low Numbers
The wines here are all 12 percent alcohol or less and most have spent very little or no time in oak. The grapes range from Sauvignon Blanc to Chasselas to little known native Greek varietals like Moschofilero.
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2002 Aminea Fiano di Avellino $19 This modern new winery in Taurasi (the shin of Italy's boot) gives the ancient Fiano grape a fresh and vibrant twist with a hint of lemon.
2003 Bovard Epesses Terre à Boire $28 This slow-to-unfold Swiss white, made from the Chasselas grape in the Lake Geneva region, is unusual: light but concentrated, with notes of mineral and peach.
2003 Château Lamothe de Haux $14 A classic blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle, this white is made at a gorgeous Bordeaux manor. It's well-knit but light-bodied, with melon and citrus flavors.
2003 Boutari Moschofilero $16 Flamboyant and exotic, this slightly off-dry wine, made from the Moschofilero grape, is the best-selling white in its native Greece.
2003 Domaine de la Louvetrie Sèvre-et-Maine Amphibolite Nature Muscadet $12 Fresh, bright and lively, with hints of citrus and anise, this Loire white is perfect with shellfish, but has the intensity and acidity to go with anything fried as well.
2003 Gatào Vinho Verde $7 The name of this Portuguese white—which translates directly as "green wine"—refers to its youth, not its color. It's light, bright and mildly spritzy.
2004 Indaba Sauvignon Blanc $9 Dry, delicious and mildly herby, this unoaked South African white is a great summer find.
2003 Sofia Blanc de Blancs $20 Named for Francis Ford Coppola's daughter, Sofia Coppola, this sparkling wine is made at Napa's Niebaum-Coppola winery in the style of an Italian Prosecco. Light in both carbonation and alcohol, it's a little bit crisper than most Proseccos.
2003 Stella Pinot Grigio $9 Bottled for importer Leonardo LoCascio, this Pinot Grigio from Umbria, Italy, is clean and stylish, with lots of fresh fruit flavors and a refreshing personality.
2003 Josef Leitz Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Riesling Spätlese ($25) One of Germany's most talented young winemakers, Josef Leitz managed to capture the warmth of the great 2003 vintage in an 8 percent-alcohol wine. An initial impression of soft, ripe sweetness leads to a firm, clean finish.