Are flavoured wines the solution at the bottom end of the market?
Victoria Moore’s wine column focused this week on the phenomenon of flavoured wines. Apparently, they are on the rise. The French are falling for grapefruit-flavoured rosés and passionfruit-flavoured whites, and someone has just launched a red wine flavoured with cola. It has sparked quite a bit of discussion on Twitter.
Where do you stand on this?
From the discussions on Twitter, some people seem to want to cast those with opinions on this subject into one of two camps:
First, we have the die-hard traditionalists: those who stoutly defend wine as it is, who cling to tradition, and who are out-of-touch snobs who’d rather the wine category died altogether than compromise in this way.
Second, we have the enlightened liberals: those who see the need for progress, and embrace these sorts of wines at the bottom end of the market. They could bring new drinkers into the category, and why shouldn’t people enjoy wines with flavours that they like?
I am going to propose a third way. I suggest that a sensible approach to flavoured wines falls outside these two positions; that it’s possible to recognize the need for the wine category to innovate and embrace new consumers, without taking what I fear is a perilous path towards the erosion of wine as a privileged alcoholic beverage. Let me explain.
Wine is special. Among alcoholic beverages, it occupies a privileged position, and is uniquely associated with the table in a way that other drinks aren’t. Whether or not it deserves this special place is a separate question. But it does have it at present, and it doesn’t want to lose it.
Wine is legally protected. You can only call wine wine if it is made from freshly crushed grape juice, and you aren’t allowed to add any flavourings to it. If you do, you have to label it as a wine-based alcoholic beverage. This is important. If a wine is made from fruits other than grapes, it is called a fruit wine.
If we were to change this, and were to allow wine to be called wine when it has had flavourings added, then we would be in trouble. It will be much cheaper to make commercial wines by such means than by using only fresh grapes. And once commercial wines are made in this way, who’s going to stop producers using flavourings for more expensive wines? How would consumers ever know that these now-legal additions are being made to their wine?
Suddenly, you can envisage a scenario where the commercial end of wine becomes even more of a horror show than it is at the moment. There are many leading brands that I would hate to drink, but at least I know they are made from fresh grapes and don’t have flavouring added. Wine, in this sense, is still unique and special. Allow flavourings, and it could rapidly lose its privileged position in society, and that would be a disaster for the wine industry as a whole.
So while it seems liberal and progressive to embrace flavoured wines, I think they’re a huge mistake. You can innovate without compromising the essence of wine’s nature, as the recent success of Moscato and Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc has shown.
So, to summarize in a sentence. Cheap commercial wine is already pretty bad: anyone who wants to make it worse must be completely mad.