So this morning was a conference on lighter-style lower alcohol wines here in Santiago, for the Chilean wine industry. I was one of the speakers. This is a growing category that looks set to get quite big. Only today New Zealand Wine Growers announced a seven-year project researching lighter-style wines with NZ$17 million funding.
The bottom line is that while in the UK we have seen mostly 5.5% alcohol wines because of the favourable tax break at this level, the real future for the category is with wines at 8-9% alcohol. These actually taste of wine if they are made well, and can be premium products. The current crop of 5.5% wines are a bit of a sorry bunch, and they are filling in at the bottom end of the UK market as duty rises have pushed up the price of normal strength wine. Many of these wines are made with dilution and the addition of fruit juice. The more serious products at 9% alcohol are made with a mixture of vineyard work, early picking, and sophisticated alcohol reduction (spinning cone, reverse osmosis or Memstar).
For Chile, there’s no point in making 5.5% alcohol wines. If they are to enter the lighter wine category they should be looking at making more serious wines at 8 or 9% alcohol that taste and work just like higher strength wines.
After the conference, I went for a wander round in the sunshine, followed by a gym session. I’m back home tomorrow morning after a hideously brief trip, but it has been great to get back to Chile, however briefly. Tonight there’s a Chilean fine wine event at the Hyatt which promises to be interesting. Then it’s onto a plane early tomorrow.