As the number of "low alcohol" wines for sale continues to grow, industry experts are divided over the demand for these products – and whether their taste will ever satisfy the sommelier's palate.
Australian Vintage has become the latest in a long line of global wine companies to launch low-alcohol – or 5.5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) – products. Its "Miranda Summer Light" range will sit alongside low-alcohol or non-alcoholic brands from producers including JP Chenet, First Cape, Gallo and Banrock Station.
Thomas Jung, Australian Vintage's chief winemaker told CNBC the decision to launch the product was a direct result of a growing demand for low-alcohol wines.
"In the U.K., certainly, and worldwide there is definitely a market for it," he said. "Places such as Scandinavia and Canada also have thriving markets for both low-alcohol and zero-alcohol wines."
Research by Kantar World Panel revealed that in the U.K. alone, the value of the low-alcohol wine market grew by over 70 percent year-on-year in the 12 months to February. Last year, sales of 12-bottle cases hit 950,000 – although this is still a tiny proportion of the total amount of wine sold over the period.
One reason for lower-alcohol wines' growing popularity could be the obvious health benefits. Not only do they reduce the risk of alcohol-associated health issues, they're lower in calories. A 125ml glass of 5.5 percent ABV wine typically contains between 45 and 60 calories, compared with around 90 calories in a glass of 13 percent ABV wine.
"This makes it a good choice for the health conscious consumer," Jung said. "It is all part of the growing consciousness to have a healthier lifestyle, but at the same time without necessarily giving up on your social enjoyment."
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The British government has certainly been promoting low-alcohol drinks, and last year launched a project that encourages drinks producers to reduce alcohol content, and retailers to improve the availability, marketing and promotion of the products.
All of the "big four" U.K. supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury's and Morrisons – signed up to the Public Health Responsibility Deal, and have reported strong demand for their low-alcohol wines. Sainsbury's, for instance, said sales of what it calls "lighter alcohol wines" were up 14 percent over the last year, and are expected to double by 2020.
In fact, the very first production of low-alcohol wines was driven by these supermarkets and other big retailers, according to Richard Halstead, chief operating officer of research firm Wine Intelligence.
Beverages with an ABV of 5.5 percent or lower are subject to a tax break in the U.K., and that – along with growing pressure from the government – led supermarkets to ask their wine suppliers for a new product.
"This whole category was created from tax breaks and a social responsibility drive – not calls from consumers," Halstead told CNBC.
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Although demand took off when the products were first launched, he said "most people only bought them because they were cheap and then were severely disappointed when they got home and tasted them."