Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Low Should We Go with Wine Alcohol Levels?

Wine consumers have mixed thoughts about lower alcohol wines. Around the world countries such as the U.K, Australia, Canada and the US are offering wines with lower alcohol levels (a “lower alcohol” wine is considered to be 10.5% abv (alcohol by volume) or below.) But the question is, do consumers really like them? 

According to Wine Intelligence, a wine
 marketing research company, it depends on how low the alcohol level is. If you define lower alcohol as around 10.5% abv then the research shows that around 40% (about 80 million) of wine drinkers polled in the US, Canada, the UK, and Germany approve. But take the alcohol levels down to 5.5% or below and the acceptance rates drop to somewhere around 13% for wine consumers who would try it.

But lower alcohol wines are being considered for several reasons. Health benefits appear to be the number one advantage. Lower alcohol levels offer the reduced risk of alcohol-related health problems such as certain cancers, cirrhosis, and pancreatitis.

Another motive for contemplating a lower alcohol wine is to maintain control and avoid intoxication. This reason stems from the continuous change in drunk driving laws around the world.

Lower alcohol levels also affect the calorie count in a glass of wine. A sweet wine may have 150 calories per 5 ounce pour; a dry wine may have 90 calories for the same amount. Lower the alcohol level and you lower the calories.

Most wines have an alcohol level of 11% to 15% abv, and that is for a reason.
Go much above 15% abv and you venture into the realm of dessert wines, Sherries, and Ports. Go below and you begin to loose the nuance of the wine, the flavors, the aromas, and the balance.

Last year the British government launched a campaign called the Public Health Responsibility Deal that encouraged citizens to drink less and to enjoy “lighter alcohol wines.”  Supermarkets and retailers in the U.K. assisted by making low alcohol beverages more readily available to the British citizens. Sales for these “light alcohol” drinks were up about 15% for 2012, with government studies predicting a 30% increase by 2020.

But upon closer investigation it seems that acceptance to the British plan was
 spurred more by tax breaks to wine retailers and supermarkets on those alcohol beverages with 5.5% abv or lower, than by actual consumer satisfaction or demand.

Wine Intelligence Report
In a 2013 Wine Intelligence survey of almost 430 million adults in 8 markets (US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland) of which just over half, 221 million, were regular wine drinkers, 38% of the wine consumers had purchased a lower alcohol (11 or lower abv) wine and would consider buying one again – 16% have never purchased a lower alcohol wine but would consider trying one, and 47% of the regular wine drinkers had not and would not consider buying a lower alcohol wine.

While the idea has some merit, the problems still remain. Most wine consumers don’t care for the taste of a lower alcohol wine. When alcohol is removed it affects the fruity flavors of the wine and the subtle balance is destroyed. A wine with a reduced alcohol level to 8% might be passable; one with 5.5% would have a more bitter flavor and not the usual characteristics a wine lover would seek. The inherent traits of the wine have been lost.

If a lower alcohol wine makes more sense to you, there are many wines already produced that are naturally lower in alcohol; German Rieslings are usually 8 to 10% abv, Moscofilera wines from Greece are around 10 to 12% abv, and the Italian Moscato d’Asti is around 5% - 7% abv for a sparkling wine.

Or, you might consider what a friend said, “If I want less alcohol, then I’ll drink less wine.”

Hmmm…simple enough!

That allows winemakers to continue to concentrate on crafting wines with amazing favors and intricate aromas, thereby achieving that beautiful balance that provides wine lovers with wines to enjoy, as we like!

~ Joy