I’m at the pizza Express launch of two Leggara low-alcohol wines; both Italian. The red, a Sangiovese, is from Sicily while the white, a Pinot Bianco, was sourced from up north somewhere (no, not Leeds) but Piedmonte I believe.
Pizza Express gave their wine buyer, Adrian Garforth MW, the brief to create two wines to accompany their low-calorie Leggara pizzas. This range, incidentally, have proved to be hugely popular and are now Pizza Express’s 2nd best selling pizzas. Not bad for a low calorie pizza that has a round cut out of the middle filled with a mound of rocket and a tomato!
A small glass of these new wines plus one of the Leggara Pizzas supply just 600 calories. That’s 30% fewer calories than a standard pizza; great indeed for a lunch or those watching that midriff more intently than I.
The wines, to repeat, are not aimed at the likes of me (meaning a dedicated wine-person). If you ‘go out for a pizza’ you don’t pick Pizza Express for the wine list (however much Adrian would like you to) but for the quality of the pizza. If you like to drink wine you can – they offer a decent little selection – but for the majority the wine is immaterial, it is simply part of the total ambience.
Pizza Express is right on trend though. Lower alcohol and lower calories are highly placed criteria for many, so offering a crisp white with 9% alcohol or a medium-bodied red with 9.5% alcohol and 1.6 (1.7 for the red) alcohol units per glass is going to resonate with many.
Both wines cost £4.50 for a small glass, £5.90 for a large and £16.55 for a bottle, about standard for a house wine.
The white is fine – picked early to keep the sugar levels down it is of course quite acidic but does have enough weight and flavour in support. The red I thought less of. Little in the way of tannins it lacked a backbone, being too soft and fruity overall for me. It appeared rather sweet too, even with just 4g residual sugar. Interesting, talking to Adrian regarding its development, just by adding 4% Merlot to the Sangiovese “added so much more in terms of flavour”. They have made 10,000 cases of the red and 6-7,000 cases of the white.
It’s all about “striking the balance” as Adrian put it. A difficult one to pull off I imagine – you have to pick early to lessen the sugars (which turn to alcohol or remain as sweetness) but not so early so as to actually have some flavour and get some colour. There is no de-alcoholising allowed as this harsh process also strips flavour. In addition to keeping the calorie count low you have to watch the price; paying a premium for grapes that are not totally ripe for example. But Pizza Express have pulled it off producing two highly drinkable wines with flavour, but low in alcohol and calories.
There will be a rosé, also made from Sangiovese, currently in development and due for a spring/summer release.