Lower-alcohol Wines: The Lowdown

06 February, 2013

Lighter variations

Laura Jewell, a Master of Wine in global retailer Tesco’s wine buying department, endorses Vinni along with the FirstCape Discovery brand and lighter variations of Italian Pinot Grigio, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Californian white Zinfandel, which, she says, have all the flavours the consumer expects from the normal abv wines.

“Muscat and Muscatel from Spain make naturally low alcohol very appealing styles – our Simply Pink Muscatel sparkling is selling really well and is great well chilled. Several of the big brands have produced 5.5% versions such as Banrock and Blossom Hill which seem to be working,” Jewell says.

She adds: “At Tesco we merchandise our lighter wine styles separately, with Lambrini and products such as Bucks Fizz. This includes wines and wine-based cocktails at 5.5%. 

“More mainstream brands which have produced lighter styles such as the Jacob’s Creek Moscato at 9% sit in the Australian wine model alongside the brand. We have changed our range considerably in the time I have been here, from developing a brand with McWilliams, to choosing a range of well-known brands and styles which will have a broader appeal. We currently list more than 30 lines,” says Jewell.

The crux is: are consumers really seeking wines with a lower alcohol content? Jewell replies: “Some are, but it is not a deluge. The main area of take up we are seeing is by the younger consumer who does not think of them as low-alcohol wines but as flavoured drinks at the same sort of alcohol level as RTDs with wine style packaging. 

“The Fairhills Fair and Light brand was a great hit at consumer fairs with a younger audience. The price point and flavours appeal to students. We recently launched a range with a cross-category promotion on all the 5.5%s, which performed well.

Year-round appeal

Are they seasonal? “Light wines are relevant throughout the year as consumers are continually health-conscious, but there are occasions when light wines can be effectively promoted, for example in the summer for lunch-time alfresco drinking, and also around Christmas time when consumers often over-indulge and a lighter option is a welcome alternative,” says Griffiths. 

Whereas Jewell says: “Definitely January, but we are seeing sales all year round, and yes in summer when they are great over ice.”

Wine Intelligence’s Halstead concludes: “The UK has become a bit of a laboratory for 5.5% wines, purely due to a quirk in its tax system – and for that reason it’s hard to draw conclusions that will apply to the rest of the world. Twenty-three per cent of regular wine drinkers in the UK have bought them, and say they will continue to buy. Another 15% are open to the idea but have yet to take the plunge. That’s almost four in 10 wine drinkers – a respectable audience to aim at. 

“Sweden’s Systembolaget monopoly is introducing 5.5% wines in June 2013, and has been making space for more wines at around the 12.5% mark for some time. It says it wants to go even lower for health reasons, though there will be a significant price difference, because of a tax differential, at 5.5%,” he says.

“We’d like to think that, in future, nobody will buy 5.5% wine by mistake. That’s an issue that has been addressed. Consumers should, in theory, be taking home such products because they actually want them. But whether that’s because they really want lower abv, or simply the cheapest price tickets in the wine aisle, is a question the industry will continue to ask,” opines Halstead.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


Tess Posthumus

Tales shows it's shifting focus

Tess Posthumus reports from the recent tales of the cocktail – and finds it’s becoming so much more than just a cocktail festival.