Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lower Alcohol Wines – Oh, the irony of it all!

Those who favor lower alcohol in their wines point, not infrequently, to European wines as the saving grace against the onslaught of high alcohol wines from the New World. And in fairness the argument does have some merit as many white wines particularly those with residual sugar, including the sweeter Riesling styles, do have quite low alcohol. But even if a wine does have high alcohol the anti-high alcohol league has remedies. All you have to do is run it through reverse osmosis or a spinning cone and watch the alcohol drop off like the extra pounds on a dieting Oprah! The problem is that both practices "are not currently permitted in the production of wine for sale within the European Union", and that has the potential to create significant problems. In recent weeks wines have been banned from sale in the UK because their lower alcohol levels were achieved by these practices. Sovio, a semi-sparkling Spanish wine, bottled at 8% abv, had been subjected to spinning cone treatment, and the French Plume wine range sold by Tesco achieved its alcohol levels by reverse osmosis.

What to do, what to do? Well, wines from the USA and Australia (pending agreement) that have undergone alcohol reduction by either treatment can be sold in the UK due to bilateral agreements with the EU. But that subjects EU wines to unfair competition from both non-EU nations. To address the problem the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) in the UK is seeking a temporary derogation under the appropriate EC Council Regulation to allow lower alcohol wines made using these two practices to be marketed and sold in the UK.

Problem solved? Not really because the European Union will need to develop uniform legislation to address this problem as its member states appear to have different solutions to the dilemma. Both reverse osmosis (in France) and spinning-cone technology (in Spain) are under experimental use but the wines made using these processes can only be sold in their country of origin. However, according to French producers, wines made using reverse osmosis are being sold and marketed in the Netherlands, Austria and Germany.

Getting lower alcohol wines to consumers in Europe, especially lower alcohol European wines, looks like being a tricky process. Who would have thought that would be the case?

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