Lower-alcohol Wines: The Lowdown

06 February, 2013

There is increasing awareness and demand for low and lower-alcohol wines. Christian Davis checks on who’s doing what

Alcoholic strength of wine is an issue that consumers take seriously across the world. There has been widespread criticism of 15.5% abv blockbusters and calls for winemakers to aim lower, according to Richard Halstead, CEO of global market researcher Wine Intelligence.

Clare Griffiths, European marketing director of Accolade Wines, says:Our Wine Nation Report 2012, which combines a study of 50,000 UK wine drinkers with data and insight from industry partners Nielsen, CGA and Kantar, has revealed that low-alcohol wine has experienced rapid growth in the UK off trade in the past year, with a 27% value and 29% volume uplift. The sector is now worth £38m in the UK.

“Lower-alcohol wines are becoming a crucial part of the market and they absolutely deliver on what they promise. We see no difference with our light wines versus full alcohol wines on complaints, returns or repeat purchase rates,” says Griffiths.

Torres general manager Miguel Torres Maczassek says: “In most of our markets we see a trend of responsible drinking and an interest in fewer calories, pregnancy etc as main drivers for the growing interest in this segment.”

Not everyone agrees that there is no difference between lighter wines and ‘full strength’ (for want of a better descriptor) wines. Tim Sykes, head of buying for leading mail order wine club The Wine Society, says: “My overall view is that taste is paramount and that unless a low-alcohol wine tastes decent most people would rather drink another non-alcoholic beverage instead. I also believe that low alcohol beer tends to be more palatable than most dealcoholised and low alcohol wines,” he says.

We have an increasing number of requests from members looking for recommendations of wines with moderate alcohol levels. We tend to recommend wines that have naturally low alcohol levels, such as Mosel Rieslings and Moscatos from northern Italy, rather than wines that have been mucked around with in their production.

“In addition to the above wines we list a “dealcoholised” sparkling wine from France (the Festian from Gratien & Meyer) and a Chardonnay “spritzer” called Green Ridge. Both wines sell well throughout the year, but the spritzer generally sells most during the summer months and the sparkler sells well at Christmas. Both wines taste fine, unlike the majority of ‘wines’ within the category,” says Sykes.

The UK arguably leads the race to the bottom and is probably the most challenging for two reasons. One is price – thanks to the UK multiple retailers British wine drinkers are some of the most price conscious – the other is that the UK has a tax break at 5.5% abv so the excise duty is about half that of mainstream wines – 81p rather than £1.90.

Torres makes and sells a 0.5% wine, Natureo, using the spinning cone column. Maczassek says: “I am sure price also plays a role in the buying decision, especially in the ‘low’ and ‘lower’ alcohol wines. Taxes can play an important incentive depending on the countries. In general ‘low’ has less than 5.5% and ‘lower’ between 5.6% and 11%.”

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